The 2018 Oscars were the letdown we’ve come to expect

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I hate awards shows. This distaste has only grown in the years that I have been covering them here. These ceremonies centrally exist for the purposes of reinforcing elitism within different industries. And the 2018 Oscars weren’t any different. The nominations and winners acted as a gateway for acceptance into the Hollywood elite. They also exposed the industry’s empty politics.

When the 2018 Oscar nominations were announced, “diversity” made a strong showing. There were nods for films with predominantly Black casts like Mudbound and Get Out. Tenured and new standouts like Denzel Washington, Octavia Spencer, and Mary J. Blige were among the number. On the surface, it looked like Hollywood had been taking the message of #OscarsSoWhite to heart, and made real change a priority. As Viola Davis said in her 2015 Emmy’s acceptance speech:

The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.

You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

And now, it seemed, the roles had finally arrived.

But underneath it all, there was a dichotomy in Hollywood’s ideals, professed to be progressive, that many seem to be ignoring. One of the front-runners this season was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Superficially, this film is about the clash of progressive ideals and a rural town where folks commonly fling racial and ableist slurs. But at its heart, it’s built around a mother fighting for justice for her raped and murdered daughter, seemingly ignored by law enforcement. It’s a truly noble cause that’s undermined by the film’s secondary efforts to redeem an irredeemable white cop.

Frances McDormand delivers a powerful yet nuanced performance. We cheer when she **spoiler alert** stabs a predatory dentist, repeatedly reads white cops for filth, and sets the police station on fire. She is fiercely protective of her family. She even has a real Black friend, not the kind white folks keep around for receipts. Her character seems unflappingly strongwilled but carries deep concern and care for others. McDormand is everything valid and worthwhile about the film. Sam Rockwell, her costar, is everything worth hating. He plays a cop notorious for torturing a Black man while in custody. He faces no consequences for these actions. Then he brutally beats a gay man in his office and then throws him out of a second story window. The only consequence he faces from this is the loss of his job. No jail time. No trial. There’s not even an arrest or charges. Yet, the film still pushes hard to make us sympathize with him.

The fact that Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell won Best Lead Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, for their portrayals of these roles reflects where Hollywood is as an industry. Pushing for progress, representation, and diversity while simultaneously firmly behind that which stands in the way. And that’s before we even bring white supremacy into the conversation. The lives of Black women, girls, and femmes are much more forgettable, especially in the eyes of law enforcement. But this understanding isn’t something that appears to be in the forefront of the minds of the Hollywood elite.

When it came to statues handed out, we didn’t have many moments like Halle Berry or Viola Davis weeping for joy. Our celebrations boiled down to Jordan Peele winning Best Original Screenplay for Get Out and Kobe Bryant winning Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball. And that’s not to shortchange either win. Peele was the first Black winner in his category. Bryant was the first NBA player to ever win an Oscar. But once again, celebrating “firsts” this late in the game, the 90th Oscars ceremony to be exact, feels trite. (And, let’s not forget that Kobe Bryant is a sexual abuser).

Deserving winners like Guillermo del Toro and Jordan Peele had to damn near create the impossible, a love story between a mute woman and a fish man and a horror film where predatory whiteness is the killer, respectively, to get recognition. Peele and del Toro had to be so good that it was undeniable. Meanwhile, the rest of the night was hours spent watching white Hollywood once again congratulate and pat itself on the back for recycling the white creative expressions they’ve been using since the dawn of film. But that is the expectation that we work under. That expectation is the backbone of the industry. And ultimately, it is why awards shows like the Oscars will always, inevitably, be a letdown.

At the end of the ceremony, I felt exhausted. Not just because of the outrageous investment it takes to get through the entire show. Moreso, I was exhausted from participating in this same song and dance for so many years, offering my criticisms and hoping that Hollywood will make real lasting change, only to see so little in results.

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.