Our Town: The 2023 Oscars: Ascension of the disenfranchised

Our Town: The 2023 Oscars: Ascension of the disenfranchised

Films that are embraced by the American public win Oscars because they manage to tap into the American zeitgeist.   They are awarded honors not only because they have high production value, great direction, wonderful music or superb acting.  They win Oscars because they have somehow channeled the future of America.

Filmmakers are our cultural anthropologists and the great films, those that are embraced by the mass audience, have tapped into our deepest wishes and fears.  Sometimes they are eerily predictive of our future, as the film “Contagion” was.  “Contagion” was made in 2011 and starred Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. Even though it was shot nine years before COVID, it predicted its arrival and its severity with uncanny accuracy.

So if one wants to understand what America dreams about, fears or wishes for,  then all one has to do is watch the top ten nominated films in this year’s Oscars.  It is clear by looking at the films nominated for Best Picture that as a nation we dream of a future of inclusion and diversity.  It was said most movingly by the winner of best supporting actor, Ke Huy Quan, who was in the film “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” He seemed to be in shock and disbelief at his victory and tearfully shouted as he raised his Oscar triumphantly and shouted “This is truly the American dream!”

Films channel the American dream like nothing else.   And the American dream is demanding that all of the marginalized and disenfranchised be heard and respected.  You had Brendan Fraser playing a 600-pound, morbidly obese man. So much for the power of Twiggy. You had a veritable tsunami of Asian talent seen in the films “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” and “The Whale. Then you had the Irish seen in the film “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

You have a film about the power of black women in “The Woman King” starring Viola Davis. Another film about autocratic woman director in “Tar” starring Cate Blanchett. The faint whisper of the old guard was seen in the films “Elvis” about the rock-n-roll legend and “Top Gun, Maverick”  which was about …well it was about Tom Cruise.   Steven Spielberg was represented with a bitter sweet film about his family in “The Fabelmans.”

One begins to wonder if all the talk about Hollywood  running out of ideas may be true. I should have realized all this many years ago.   Let me tell you a true story.   In the year 1998 I was in Beverly Hills having breakfast at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I was there to give a talk at a political psychology convention and I had the day off so I treated myself to a quiet breakfast at this wonderfully swanky hotel.

As I sat down and gazed about the room I could see Gary Oldman seating quietly by himself far off in a corner and having some coffee so I figured I was in the right place.  As I looked over the menu and decided what I wanted, I began to listen in on a table conversation taking place next to me. There were six people sitting at a circular table. Three were elderly white gentleman about 65 years old or so. They looked wealthy,  overfed  and confident. Seated next to each man was a woman of about 50 years of age.

Since I was sitting alone and most of the restaurant was empty,  I had a chance to hear what they were talking about. They were planning a new movie and it became apparent that these were producers  and that the woman were their assistants. All that is not of particular interest but what was of interest was that the women were actually doing all of the talking, idea creation, planning and decision making. The men were just sitting there.   And I suddenly realized that 50-year-old women were the ones running Hollywood, not 65- year-old fat cat men.    And now there’s a film that expresses what I saw in that Beverly Wilshire Hotel. It’s called “Women Talking.”

It is right and good that now those who have been doing the heavy lifting for all these years finally have their day in the sun and have come to the head of the table.  If you want to see the true nature of America in all of its diversity, excellence, and  beauty, go watch some of these films. You will learn that despite all of our contention and polarized thinking, our greatest strength is still seen in the way we are a melting pot, blending us into this grand mixture of talent, hope and energy.

The ascension of the disenfranchised continues with a full head of steam.

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