My thoughts on the new film Sorry to Bother You will feel like they are an addendum to my review of The Spy Who Dumped Me. Just as I was disappointed in that film but was pleased at the fact that more films written, directed and starring women are being made, I feel the same way about films by black artists. The prevailing notion for films made by women and/or by minorities is that they have to be really good because there are so few of them. White men have been making movies for decades and when a film directed by a white man fails or gets terrible reviews, they don’t suddenly say “well, see, this is why white men just shouldn’t make movies.” However, there is the fear that could happen for black or women filmmakers. We need to get to the same place where minority filmmakers can fail just as often as their white male counterparts and still have the chance to try again. With white male filmmakers, the opportunity to make a first film is called “let’s see your potential.” With minority filmmakers, it’s called “your one chance to impress us.”
We will never know for sure what sparked a noticeable increase in movies about the American black experience in recent years, but it might have had something to do with the fact that, in 2008, this country elected its first black president. Since then, some of the most powerful movies about race relations and black history have come out, most notably:
The Help (2011)
Django Unchained (2012)
12 Years A Slave (2013)
Fruitvale Station (2013)
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Hidden Figures (2016)
Dear White People (2017)
Black filmmakers have felt more empowered and more encouraged to tell their stories, and Hollywood and audiences have been welcoming. But, as with anything in the cultural and political sphere, for every time the pendulum swings one way, it always swings back, causing tonal shifts in our landscape. The massive swing towards inclusion and listening to the stories that were once lost is starting to swing back towards intolerance and bigotry, most likely similarly inspired by the current administration in the White House, which openly touts a return to the days before integration, equality and diversity. There is a fear that those new voices that were encouraged to be heard might be silenced again.
However, filmmaker Spike Lee has never been one to be silent. And he was never one to wait for any cultural acceptance or atmosphere of approval to make his voice heard. Lee was at the forefront of black cinema before it was ever in the mainstream.
Name a big budget Hollywood comedy that is written or co-written by a woman, directed by a woman, and stars 2 women. The Spy Who Dumped Me is the first one I can think of that matches this description. It is directed by Susanna Fogel, co-written by Fogel (with David Iserson) and stars Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. It cost $40 million to make, was produced by mega-producer Brian Grazer, and was released in 3,111 theatres on August 3. It is considered a major motion picture, so, by that fact alone, I celebrate it with gusto. There has been a spotlight recently on the fact that there are way too few movies directed by women, let alone written and directed by women, and even rarer to star women. So, yes, I am happy The Spy Who Dumped Me even got made.
I should have seen this coming. I knew that last year’s Oscar telecast had the worst ratings in a long time—44 years, to be exact—so I knew the Academy would be falling all over itself to try to right the ship, but I had no idea they’d do THIS.
Today, on Twitter, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced:
“Change is coming to the #Oscars. Here’s what you need to know:
– A new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.
– We’ve set an earlier airdate for 2020: mark your calendars for February 9.
– We’re planning a more globally accessible, three-hour telecast.”
With that one tweet, the Academy caused a thousand film bloggers’ heads to explode, including this one. The tweet announces the first major changes to the Oscar telecast since the addition of the Best Animated Feature Film category in 2001 and the expansion of the number of Best Picture nominees in 2010. While those additions were welcome and widely applauded, the changes announced today are filling me with a massive sense of dread and disappointment. If the Academy decides to go through with these changes, the Oscars as we have known (and loved) them for 90 years will change forever. Worse than that, however, is the message the changes are sending, especially now.
Let’s go through them one by one.