Monday, February 27, 2017

Voices Lost Amidst the Chaos

I read a post from someone this morning that said The Greatest Oscar Flub In History was actually a favor to the Moonlight creators, because they will always be remembered. I call bullshit on this reasoning, and here is why. By the time any artist of any kind makes it to the Oscars, there are years, and most of the time there are decades, of work that went into getting your creativity and talents and blood, sweat, and tears onto this world stage of achievement. If you are The Winner in your category, you have been deemed the best of the very best --- that’s why the award categories are Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Sound Design. And speaking of Best Sound Design…was there anyone watching who wasn’t moved by Kevin O’Connell’s paying homage to his late mother, Skippy O’Connell, who gave him his first job in sound 39 years ago, and told him the only repayment she desired was for him to someday win an Oscar and then thank him from the stage in front of the world?

"Mom, I know you're looking down on me tonight," O'Connell said. "So thank you."

What if this 20 times nominated man hadn’t gotten the moment he earned to finally thank Mom? It would have been a travesty. It would have robbed him of making good on what was a truly heartfelt promise. It would have robbed us all by not allowing us to witness a genuine moment that is at the heart of every artist who toils and leaves their guts on the page, on the screen, in the details, because they can’t not do so. It would have robbed all of the souls behind the artists who toil, because they need to hear how much it means to have people in your life who believe in you, support you, pick you up and tell you what you are creating matters.

All of this happened last night when Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner, along with all of the artists who gave everything they had to make Moonlight what it is, were robbed of their soul-nourishing moments of jubilant celebration upon hearing their names and the name of their film called for what is the biggest award of the night, saved to the final moments, so highly anticipated and debated is the win. Yes, they were gracious. Yes, they ultimately went home with the golden statue. But they were robbed of Their Moment. They were robbed of the completion of the circle that is the arrival to Mount Achievement. And we were all robbed of what they had to say, and the viewpoint that was uniquely their own, with stories of how they arrived to last night. And in some home, there was a child watching who was robbed of their moment of connecting with those stories in a way that would remain with them forever. Remember that bit where Charlize Theron shared the inspiration she took as a young girl in seeing the performance of Shirley MacLaine in the film The Apartment? I believe that PricewaterhouseCoopers owes all involved a series of paid advertisements where Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner each gets to give the Oscar acceptance speech of their dreams, to be disseminated globally. It won’t be the same as getting back their moment. But it will give their voices a chance to be properly and respectfully heard by those who need to hear it.

And, as for Hollywood…maybe take a moment to consider the underbelly of what happened, the why and how. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty saw and read the card that said Emma Stone for LaLaLand. But instead of using the wisdom of their collective 110 years in show business and well over a hundred films, including multiple trips to the awards podium, they did what Hollywood, and our country, often does…stayed quiet in the face of something not quite right going on, until they were forced to speak up, and then cover the initial silence with “no harm, no foul, it all works out in the end, honest mistake” business. The fact that we can still openly support and reward those in our midst who do harm to others, and tolerate disgusting displays of humanity, as long as the perpetrator is a talented artist, athlete, business man, politician, etc, is something that deeply affects our collective moral compass and human reflex to speak up in the moment we see something isn’t right (Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Casey Affleck, Roman Polanski, Phil Spector, etc). Dunaway and Beatty didn’t head out onstage last night to do anyone any harm. I'm certainly not saying that. But their initial silence in the face of something clearly not being at all right, is a way bigger issue than anyone seems to be noting or connecting. We all need our reflexes and moral compasses to fire and direct us in the moment, because those moments truly matter as one brick encompassing our behaviors and beliefs lays the foundation for the next, and the next after that. In the end, the Oscars showed us that we need to speak up, and we need to be heard. The benefits of both make us a better community all the way around.