By Christina Schultz
The Oscars were all the way back in February yet I couldn’t help but think that those who were shocked, upset or angry with the fact that Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017 felt similarly about the fact that The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, 2017) won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2018. Why could the past two winners for Best Picture cause such an uproar? Personally, I think the Oscars, and Hollywood at large, while not perfect entities – because let’s face it, they’ve f*cked up a lot and perpetuate so much that makes the industry so problematic – made the right decisions these past two years. Decisions that show audiences worldwide the U.S. film industry is moving away from the mainstream, the conventional, the heteronormative, the blandness, the whiteness and the head-up-the-assness of Hollywood.
Naturally audiences will react to such decisions (especially after the brilliant envelope slip up, #schadenfreude) and react they did. But how hard is it to understand that audiences consist of, well, every type of person on the spectrum of human beings? So instead of giving awards to a small sliver of this spectrum, i.e. straight white people, for films about said spectrum, we might actually be able to, or even should, bestow awards on “different” films? How could so many people say films like Moonlight or The Shape of Water are garbage, disgusting or indecent? They most certainly are not, especially if you view films with an open mind and fully comprehend the power of images. But yet I kept reading and hearing: *Sex with a fish man? Gross. *A love story between gay black men? Revolting. *La La Land [or other film nominated for Best Picture] was such a great film. You are entitled to your personal opinions, although I respectfully have to disagree with you, because the past two Best Picture winners certainly deserved the Oscars for so many reasons, and more importantly not because they were objectively “good films” (a term one tends to use lightly).
Allow me to use fan favorite La La Land as an example to prove why Moonlight and The Shape of Water deserved to win. La La Land is a simultaneous tribute to and self-aggrandizement of white Hollywood. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who are just so darn cute, are not professional singers or dancers, and I would argue even their acting skills are lacking. They are nothing more than pretty white people and Hollywood has plenty of them. Despite all the buzz around the movie, it by no means deserved Best Picture. Dramas almost exclusively take home the Oscar, so if Warren Beatty had been right and La La Land won, not only would Hollywood be upholding its own superiority but it would have neglected to make an important political statement at this crucial time in American history. Moonlight was the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Think about that for a minute. One year later, The Shape of Water wins, a film in which “love trumps hate, monsters become lovers and freaks, geeks and the typically marginalized become heroes” (tiff_net). In other words, a mute woman (Sally Hawkins), her African-American friend (Octavia Spencer), a Russian scientist and a gay man (as it turns out, all types of people hated by 1950s conservative America, which sadly still seems true today) rescue a beautiful, highly intelligent creature from white men in power because they are willing to give it a chance and open their hearts. Two bold and aesthetically beautiful films featuring marginalized people that challenge the status quo. I could not think of more deserving films!
And before people say I'm a jerk or not giving the La La Land crew any credit for their work, let me explain why I'm writing this. While I enjoyed the film to a degree, it still left me cold, mainly because of the singing and the dancing and its retelling of an all-too familiar story. Besides representing white Hollywood, it was nothing like the ultimate musical from the 1950s. You know the one I'm talking about. Wait, you don't? Then let me tell you about it...
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's 1952 musical, Singin' in the Rain, is to this day considered one of the best Hollywood pictures ever. And why you might ask? Because so much work went into the film. It is a masterpiece of choreography, musical composition, cinematography, acting, set design and screenwriting. Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds, may they all rest in peace, danced and sang up a storm (get it? Singin’ in the Rain...storm?). However, the three main actors did not particularly like each other. Gene Kelly was such a notorious tyrant and taskmaster on set that he had a voice double (Betty Noyes) for Debbie Reynolds when she couldn't cut it and he had his co-stars frightened and upset by his incessant push for perfection.
And the craziest part of all? Debbie Reynolds wasn't a dancer (see below). Gene Kelly trained her so hard that you wouldn’t know she wasn't just as skilled as the others. Even though this is problematic (which I should probably address in another post), that is hard work. That is love for your craft. That makes history. Singin’ in the Rain is the far superior musical. Oh, and it has already been done. In 1952.
To connect the main threads here: we are moving beyond the time of the pretty white people in Hollywood; we are moving beyond the one-dimensional representation of the world; we are honoring the work and stories of people who have so often been marginalized in Hollywood and the film industry at large. And that is why La La Land is La La Lame.
For more information about Singin' in the Rain, click here:
*Note: I know my audience largely consists of intelligent, worldly people, so please understand this is a Schultzian rant about the film industry and is not directed at my readers! I thank you for taking the time to read and support my work, and the work of my team, at Femfilmfans. So please, do not in any way feel offended. Or if you are offended, let me know! Or if you disagree. Or if you love it. Any feedback is good feedback. I love to hear what my readers think.