Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hollywood Hunger Games

Later this morning, the annual orgy of Oscar speculation will begin and I have several issues to air before the names are officially announced.

Let's start with one of those lists of great-movies-everyone-must-see that popped up on a search engine last week. Ordinarily, I would not have taken note of such obvious click bait, but curiosity compelled me and so down the rabbit hole I went. At first I took note of the fact that I hadn't seen nor heard of half of these films. Then I noted that only one was different than the others (reminiscent of #Oscarssowhite) and I had never heard of that one either.

The other 36 films fit the traditional mode of Hollywood classics: sentimental film buff favorites like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Casablanca; films directed by icons like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles; and films that featured big name stars like Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. Of course I expect these lists are going to include these usual suspects, and I have nothing against acknowledging their work. But it just seems as if there is an intentional effort by some of these writers to forget that there was significant and ground-breaking work done by people of color that is equal to many of the so-called classics. Perhaps that is just my opinion, so I have posted a list of my choices at the end of this piece.
Then maybe the same day, Mo'Nique started trending on my timeline and wow, what in the world happened to her? Are we really watching her urge for a boycott of Netflix on social media? Did no one on her staff try to dissuade her from touching that third rail AGAIN?

Several of my friends, other fellow comedians, and probably random folks off the street would argue that Mo'Nique has been full of herself for some time and perhaps this offer is appropriate for someone who needs to rebuild her brand as a comic. By the time Luvvie weighed in, I had already come to the conclusion that this was ironic on multiple levels, beginning with the main reason why Mo'Nique is so pissed. She's got an Oscar, which is something those other folks who are being offered millions don't have. In the real world, that gold statuette is supposed to mean something.

And as we find ourselves in the midst of awards season with folks actively campaigning for nominations and votes, it would follow that winning one does mean something. It should mean that someone like Mo'Nique should not be complaining on social media or black radio about a pay discrepancy that is disrespectful to her stature in the Academy. Because if she had accepted that offer, Netflix definitely would have touted her trophy in its marketing and promotions.

Of course the truth is that Mo'Nique has no real status in the Academy. Apparently, she never had enough juice to overcome the self-inflicted damage she caused to her own career by bad-mouthing the likes of Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, and the Oprah. And unfortunately, we know from the Harvey Weinstein saga that the Hollywood blacklist is real--failing to pleasure him derailed the career of Mira Sorvino, who won in the same category in 1995.

(For the record, may I point out the irony of how Mo'Nique had the nerve to blow up, become a diva, win an Oscar, but can't make salary demands because she pissed off the three most powerful black folks in Hollywood? Marinate on that for a second.)

"It's an honor just to be nominated," we're told when someone is asked how it feels. And I guess that is true, but the honor does not appear to have much impact on the pay scale, which brings me to the next level of irony I noted this past weekend. The Screen Actors' Guild, which aired its award show on Sunday night is a union. And one of the selling points of union membership is collective bargaining for wages. And while a contract awarded to an individual A/B-list actor will certainly exceed the scale that would be offered to an extra nobody like me, the salary offered to stars often becomes public knowledge. Which leads me to question how effective SAG has been in dealing with the inequities of pay involving actresses...

Just last week that we learned that Michelle Williams, a multiple award nominee, got paid a mere pittance in comparison to her co-star, Mark Wahlberg who has not been similarly acknowledged. So while Hollywood is all abuzz with various forms of activism these days, are y'all truly marching to change the system? Because Oscar ain't nothing but a naked gold-plated dude.

Enough of that (for now)...here are the five films I would add to any of those essential movies lists:

Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Carmen Jones (1954)
West Side Story (1961)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
Sounder (1972)

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