The Oscars and Octavia Spencer: a hodgepodge of thoughts

This post is a couple of days late but I’ll take advantage of the timing to talk about the Oscars last night. I didn’t get a chance to watch them because I was hustlin’ and bustlin’ to prepare papers for midterm week, but I did follow some live streams and Tweets about them.

And I sure did watch Octavia Spencer accept her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Help.” I have mixed feelings about this book. I read it before it was made into a movie and I enjoyed it. I think the book has softer edges and also has more room for detail and explanation than a movie does. The movie was also enjoyable strictly in terms of performances– every single woman in it did an amazing job. But it does beg the question of: should there be movies that construe the civil rights movement as being championed by white people? There has been a lot of commentary on this, and some internet memes have added a subtitle of “White People Solving Racism” to the movie. While laughable, it is also true, at least in the sense if this particular movie.

People find it difficult to tread the line between being an ally and being in charge sometimes. We do not all share the same experiences, and my experiences are just as valid and shaping as those of someone else. But they will be vastly different from each other. Viola Davis has said in interviews that she had mixed roles about accepting a role as a maid since the ‘mammy’ role is the standard for many black actresses. But then she said she saw how rich it was, and signed on.

CNN has an article this morning deliberating on the topic of whether or not the Oscars are too old, too outdated. And it is clear that in many ways, they are. But not in terms of style and entertainment, instead in terms of social progress. Why were only 25% of Oscar nominees women? Why is it easier for a woman to win for a supporting comedic role (Octavia Spencer) than for a leading serious role (Viola Davis)?

It is one thing for people to acknowledge that there is something wrong with the status quo of the Oscars and Hollywood. It is another thing to actually do something about it. With stars that exist like Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, and the ladies of SNL, I think Hollywood stands a chance. If only we can find a way to crack open that glass ceiling and stop women from being silenced first…

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