Interregnum? I Never Met ‘Em

The Oscars are around the corner, and even if we can’t have the Olympics, Thanksgiving dinner, or sex, the Academy Awards must go on. The Academy has been widely criticized in the last decade or so for its rather… monochromatic roster of nominees and winners. #OscarsSoWhite in particular gave a pithy summation of Hollywood’s failure to reckon with the legacy of white supremacy in its own house. In its characteristically doddering fashion, the Academy has made some fumbly steps toward greater inclusion, but the deck remains heavily stacked against creators of color in Tinseltown. (Hey, at least we got Moonlight and Parasite — proving there is still some good in the world.)

There is another long-standing critique of the Oscars, which has flared up again in this most unusual of years. For years critics have accused the Academy of only nominating arty, frequently dark films that no “real people” saw, while giving short shrift to megahit films that audiences around the world loved. (In a rare good decision, they decided in 2010 to expand the number of Best Picture nominees beyond the usual five films, which let some more interesting fare like District 9 sneak in.)

For these critics — including the loathsome Bill Maher — the 2021 nominees offer an embarrassment of confirmed preconceptions. These are dark movies: Nomadland, Minari, Promising Young Woman, to name a few. Poverty, homelessness, racism, sexual assault, political repression — stop me when you’ve had too much fun.

Does this crop of Best Picture nominees just reflect the dark mood that so many people were in this year? Are they a result of Hollywood (and the broader culture) belatedly metabolizing the profound social ills that both Trump and COVID laid bare? Or is Hollywood just willfully indifferent to the tastes of the people, who needed an uplift now more than ever?

To this viewer, it seems like the unprecedented conditions of COVID knocked over the table of the film industry. With theaters closed across much of the U.S. (and even the world), the usual churn of filmgoing didn’t elevate any likely nominees in the minds of viewers or critics. And the economics of Amazon Prime and Netflix made it possible for really niche films to be seen by many a viewer detained at home, desperate for almost anything to watch. How could this topsy-turvy and tragic turn of events not change how we evaluate cultural works, such as films?

In any case, there is good news. Our contributors are everywhere, doing everything — we’ll soon post a round-up of all the coverage of Cari Fragoza’s new book Eat the Mouth that Feeds You, which has been widespread and glowing (to put mildly). East of East hit a number of best-of lists, including the Los Angeles TimesBest California Books of 2020. And below you’ll find ASC talking copyright with the Money 4 Nothing podcast. Here are our reading and listening recs for this week: