4/26/21: The 93rd Academy Awards — The Oscars We Needed, a Review #poetry
Show business was missing at the Oscars last night. Thank God. When people are in trouble, the artists step in, and the salesmen disappear. When people need inspiration, direction and hope, poetry takes over and entertainment takes a walk. We need truth right now, and escapism could destroy us.
This was the most serious Academy Awards show, probably, of all time. It certainly was the most serious Oscar show that I’ve ever seen. We always need serious, and we need serious now, probably, more than ever.
The pandemic made the proceedings intimate and small. There weren’t any loud comedians and musical numbers roaring like plane engines over a cavernous auditorium. Instead we had at least the appearance of a community of artists celebrating its good work in a venue built on a human scale. Smiles were the result of warm human interactions, not crafted jokes.
There was a non – performative aspect of the entire show. Good film making is oddly technical and non – performative. The theatricality of the typical Oscar telecast puts film professionals strangely out of their element. Film is projected by machinery. That automation spares artists the trouble of having to project themselves. Engineers make sure that faces are seen and words are heard. In filmmaking, artists can just concentrate on shaping their images, free of worries about amplification. Even the loudest effects of filmmakers are created with quiet, delicate precision. Los Angeles’ Union Station replaced the Dolby Theater as the site of the Oscars for one year, for pandemic reasons. The change liberated the nominees and the presenters. There was seemingly little of the usual showing off, or the usual subtext of competition. What was celebrated was not the best of the best, but rather the inclusion — and potential for real human connection — of everyone.
Deaf people, black people, Arab people, Asian people, European people, old people, beginners, women … I am sure I am missing more groups … all given equal time, all given their due. The winner for Best Live Action Short Film was honored with the same intensity as the winner for Best Picture.
The show itself not only brought diverse equity to the lists of nominees and winners — the presentation itself was different. This was an Oscars for a nation and world that senses that it has to change. There were no apologies for speaking simply and clearly about social justice. There was no self-consciousness in handing the microphone repeatedly to people who previously had been rarely heard, if at all.
This was not an evening of make believe. Paul Raci, a child of deaf parents, and a rock musician, was nominated for a movie that was about, among other things, deafness and rock music. Black actors represented several movies advocating justice for their people in America, while the nation faces a great reckoning about the killing of African-Americans through inequities related to policing, public health, the labor market and other aspects of a systemically racist social system.
The Best Actor winner, 83 year-old Anthony Hopkins, didn’t show up to accept his award for “The Father”, a story about an elderly man’s descent into dementia. Hopkins visited his father’s grave in Wales instead, and tweeted a video reading from the gravesite of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”. This unseen moment was truly poetic and unsentimental. There was nothing self – serving about it. We are lucky in this moment to have a 78 year-old President who is beyond the time of life when personal ambition is important. These old men and their respective seas, Biden and Hopkins, are out applying their mastery in an attempt to heal the world. The Oscars are old too — 93, and they looked it — warm-hearted, slow, downsized and wise …
The Oscars theme was to make the show look like a movie … this movie said that if we listen to each other, and take care of one another, and honor what is best in us — our kindness, our intelligence, our seriousness, and enjoy each other, celebrating our differences and recognizing our commonality — we will be more than all right.
The 93rd Academy Awards showed us what authentic community looks like. Let’s see if we can pull it off in the rest of the world.
Artists are on a frontier, not reforming the present, but rather creating incomparable values for the future.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas