I am southern, southwest-Georgia-southern. My Oscar night boycott arose in part because of the Academy’s shameful treatment of Selma. But I have also grown weary of the uphill battle for equality for women of all colors.
My husband and I saw Selma on the heels of the electrifying, Tony-award winning play, All The Way, which explored LBJ’s first year as president. Seattle playwright Robert Schenkkan won the 2014 Tony Award for best play for this Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned work. The Seattle Repertory Theatre sponsored a companion piece, The Great Society. Thus we were steeped in the mid-60s when we experienced Ava DuVernay’s vision of a pivotal moment in civil rights history.
“You’re an activist, I’m a politician. You’ve got one issue, I’ve got a hundred and one!” a frustrated President Lyndon B. Johnson exclaimed in a meeting with the Rev. Martin Luther King in the movie Selma. “That’s OK. That’s your job. That’s what you do … Meet me halfway on this, Martin.”
In this scene, DuVernay echos Schenkkan’s treatment of the give-and-take that was essential to move forward on civil rights reform, to move forward on any controversial measure. Both playwright and director highlight the delicate and squishy nature of negotiation, whether it was LBJ trying to nudge a mulish coterie of southern Democrats or King’s need to unite factions within the movement.
Positioning knotty social issues as though they are actually complex, instead of simplistic, is what made both the play and the movie rewarding. In a similar but fictional fashion, Kris Nelscott provides yet another insight into the turbulent ’60s with her Smokey Dalton novels, which begin with King’s assassination.
The only way to come out of SELMA seeing LBJ as the movie’s villain is if you expected him to be its hero.
— Sam Adams (@SamuelAAdams) January 18, 2015
It is a criticism that serves only one purpose: distraction.
It’s a distraction from an unequivocally horrific time in our history. One that we seem to willfully relegate to hear-see-speak no evil while simultaneously watching it play out today in places like Ferguson.
It’s a distraction that is doubly hypocritical because of the nomination, and win, for The Imitation Game screenplay.
As Monica Guzman wrote on Saturday:
The Imitation Game changed aspects of the real Alan Turing’s personality to conform more closely to our idea of the solitary nerd… [It] falls in line with the tired idea that only outcasts could love computers, rather than the reality that one of the pioneers of the field was a shy but nice enough guy who could work in a team.
Hells-bells: the screenplay completely fabricated the Turing-as-traitor scenes as well as the conceit surrounding his arrest, which is the central unifying theme of the movie! Oh, and the arrest occurred in 1952, not 1951, as the film erroneously informs the audience in its subtitles.
I enjoyed The Imitation Game as a fiction.
I appreciated its highlighting the despicable treatment of gay men in the 1950s. Its plunge into the moral dilemma of having to chose who to save and who to sacrifice to the German war machine in order to preserve the secret of breaking Enigma over-and-over. But I hated its unnecessary and substantive fabrications, about which there was barely a peep of criticism, at least on this side of the pond, last year.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” ~ Sir Isaac Newton
The screenplay for The Imitation Game situated Turing as the heroic loner. This is a trope which Hollywood loves (Dirty Harry, Die Hard, Batman, and Arnie “I’ll be back”, to name a few). Yet we know (from research) that this is parsecs away from how the world works, particularly when we are examining inventions.
The screenplay for Selma, on the other hand, underscores social change as a messy process, rife with many actors. I was surprised — and pleased — that DuVernay presented King as leader and consensus builder not an autocrat, not a savior, not a loner. In her vision, King is a man beset with doubt as he sought to steer a movement for equality that had no clear way forward. She showed us how the path was obscured by competing leaders and how sometimes (Malcolm X) those leaders might offer themselves as a sacrifice for the greater good.
Raise your hand if you knew, before seeing this movie, that there were multiple marches in Selma, marches that were started and aborted before the successful one of March 21, the one we know and celebrate?
Raise your hand if you were able to watch these scenes unmoved to tears, anger, or mortification that these acts of violence against peaceful protesters were done in your name?
This is the movie criticized for historical inaccuracy?
Was DuVernay shunned because she’s black, she’s a woman, or her protagonist was a martyred black man? We’ll never know, but I believe her gender played a role in the Academy’s cold shoulder.
Recommended documentary movie about modern women’s movement from 1966 to 1971: “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” pic.twitter.com/xW8h5269UQ
— MATERNAL DISASTER (@maternalDSSTR) February 10, 2015
Which brings me to the other reason I boycotted this year’s Academy Awards spectacle, prompted after seeing She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. That’s when I began to internalize just how far we have not come, baby.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) February 23, 2015
“It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” ~ Patricia Arquette
A truth met, once again, with nit-picking distractions.
I could trot out the facts. The 6,028 voting members of the Academy: 94 percent white, 77 percent male. Of the 43 people on the board of governors, only six are women. Not unlike its cousin up the road in Silicon Valley, the demographics of “success” are white and male.
In its 83-year history, only one woman has been named Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow.
The Sony emails released last last year revealed a wide disparity in the pay bestowed on the men and women of Tinseltown.
Research from San Diego State University’s Martha Lauzen peels back the curtain on how Hollywood makes movies. In 2012, 78% (195) of the top 250 films had no female writers . Last year, 79% had no female writers . There’s more: 99% had no female composers; 96% had no female cinematographers; 96% had no female sound editors; 78% had no female editors. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
Looking at the top 100 movies of 2012: women had fewer speaking roles than in any year since 2007. Less than a third of the speaking roles were female characters .
And that’s just Hollywood. A pattern of exclusion and unequal compensation is the norm, not the exception.
An analysis of the NY Times home page showed that men are quoted 3.4 times more often than women. U.S. newsrooms are about 1/3 female. And overwhelmingly, managers are men. So are newspaper opinion columnists.
Only a third of the nation’s doctors and lawyers are women, and they make less money than the men. At the earnings peak — ages 45 to 50 — women earn 62 cents for every dollar that male doctors make (based on median earnings). The pay gap extends to nurses and other health care professionals.
Indisputable facts that reflect entrenched norms, yet allude to them at your own peril.
Man, those million dollar, Oscar winning Best Supporting Actresses have it so tough.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) February 23, 2015
From the LGBT community. From the right:
Women are being enslaved and raped by an expanding death cult. Glad Hollywood tackled opposition to wage equality — GregGutfeld (@greggutfeld) February 23, 2015
Seriously, you don’t want someone who has a megaphone to remind people of stubborn, intractable facts?
Wage equality will help ALL women of all races in America. It will also help their children and society. — Patricia Arquette (@PattyArquette) February 23, 2015
We can argue about the outsized compensation of celebrity culture (let’s not forget sports and fashion) separately from the stark fact that, even there, women are treated differently from men. All women, black or white, straight or gay.
And this time it’s not external divide-and-conquer, like we saw with the attacks on Selma from LBJ’s alumni. It is internal sniping that can only result in maintenance of the status quo.
That’s another way in which DuVernay’s movie was powerful. She showed us how King moved forward despite similar — although far less public — sniping.
Arquette spoke the truth. DuVernay spoke a truth. Yet the Academy and the institutions it represents — including those outside moviedom — sit stubborn and inviolate.
This is why I boycotted the Oscars.
I object to distractions from painful truths.
Distraction as a method of preserving the status quo is at least as old as the Roman Empire. (Probably older.)
In the face of distraction, facts alone do little to spur action. For that, we need focused anger.
“First, you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, goddammit, my life has value.'” ~ Howard Beale, Network (1976)
It didn’t hurt Sunday night’s ratings to have only one angry white woman of a certain age refuse to turn that dial (so to speak).
We won’t get Hollywood’s attention — or any other institution of power — until all of us are angry.
We. Must. Get. Mad!
Then we act: with feet, with fingers, and with pocketbooks.
Support movies (and other media) that feature realistic women characters (not objects) and those made by women producers and directors. If a tight budget means you’d need to pass on the latest derivative blockbuster, thoughtfully consider saying no to pablum.
Tell your friends what you are doing and why. On social media, in blog comments, during phone calls, at coffee chats. Ditto, those elected to represent you. And a timely letter-to-the-editor couldn’t hurt; neither will a touch of humor!
Speak up, knowing you are not alone and so that others might feel less alone.
Of course, Hollywood is only one brick in the wall. For some of you, it won’t be the first you tackle. That’s okay.
It took nearly a century for women to wrestle the right to vote from those who withheld franchise. Why should we be surprised that equal pay and true equality haven’t arrived simply because President Kennedy put pen to paper in 1963?
We can turn that law into reality if we put our collective minds and hearts to it and ignore attempts to pull us off course with distractions.
But first, we have to get mad.
- ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union
- AAUW – American Association for University Women
- Equal Rights Advocates
- National Committee on Pay Equity
The next Equal Pay Day is Tuesday, April 14, 2015, a date that symbolizes how far into 2014 women must work beyond December 2013 to earn the equivalent of what men earned in calendar 2013.
- National Organization for Women
- National Women’s Law Center
- Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. November 27, 1963.
- The rhetoric and reality of “opting out”, American Sociological Association contexts. 2007.
- The Equal Pay Act: Equal Pay for Women, NOLA
- The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
- Women and Class: What Has Happened in Forty Years?, Monthly Review. 2006.
- Women’s Rights Movement, overview for teachers from Scholastic.com.
- Women’s Rights Timeline , The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics.
Photo 1: Jack Rabin collection on Alabama civil rights and southern activists, 1941-2004 (bulk 1956-1974), Historical Collections and Labor Archives, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University. 1965. Source: Flickr, CC License.
Photo 2: President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Martin Luther King, White House Cabinet Room. 1966. Source: Wikipedia
Photo 3: Aerial view of marchers crossing the Edmund-Pettus Bridge during the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. 1965. Source: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.
Photo 4: Alan Turing statue at Bletchley Park. Source: WikiMedia.
Photo 5: Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Library of Congress photo. March 7, 1965. Source: U.S. House of Representatives.
Chart: Oscars infographic from International Business Times, by Hanna Sender. February 22, 2015.
Photo 6: Civil Rights Memorial Mural, painted on the side of a building on the west side of the bridge in Selma. May 29, 2007.
Source: Flickr, CC License