Sunday, May 26, 2024

Oscars Reactions: Inspiring Women, Underdogs, and International Blood

So the award season went and came by, like waves on a shore. And I found myself thinking;

What a ride it has been!

Why was this particular award season so special that the 2024 Academy Awards ceremony became the most-watched Oscars since 2020?

And why was I cheering on winners and mourning losers like it was some local soccer game? (Yes, we love soccer where I’m from, but we call it football)

Was it Ryan Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” –one of the Academy Award Best Original Song nominees- where he retrieved a childhood dream of being a pop star, probably one that he slowly gave up over the years, shedding his early days of the Mickey Mouse Club behind where he smoothed his way as a kid mimicking adults in an iconic dance wearing silver hammer pants?

Or was it Da’Vine Joy Randolph winning Best Supporting Actress for her spectacular performance in The Holdovers? Da’Vine –two years older than me- bawled her eyes out, stating things relevant to women like me all over the world. How she felt seen for winning this award, and what moments throughout her career made her feel that way. It resonated with me, as an international female film critic struggling to be recognized; not othered, leaving a mark on the world, and realizing how much I needed more Da’Vines winning and appearing on screens to send me uplifting messages. If there was hope for them, so was it for me, too. Not to mention how heightened the moment’s beauty felt on screen with a supportive coworker like Paul Giamatti, tearing up during her speech, even though he didn’t win, but how a sense of family could be born in the workplace, and people could cheer each other on for wins, rather than resort to envy and jealousy.

When Martin Scorsese rubbed Lily Gladstone’s back after her loss of the Best Actress award, it felt like a comfort during hard times, how sometimes even when I lose, I would need that comforting hand, that “we believe in you” sense of solidarity, and watching those grand celebrities in such delicate, intimate moment that made them feel relevant and more approachable to us, wasn’t as corny as I thought it would be.

It felt terrific to see the animators and staff from The Boy and The Heron –which won this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature- tear up at their win. I retweeted my Asian friends gushing over the moment, and my fellow Hayao Miyazaki fans enthralled and celebrated over his newest win. It all made me realize how connected the current award season made us feel rather than separated and isolated in desolate islands, how world leaders and governments probably intended us to be, then came the power of the arts and wiped that all away. The Boy and the Heron brought such a legendary win to the table –after his last win in 2005 for Spirited Away– Miyazaki has been creating magic in Studio Ghibli for years but has always been overshadowed by Disney and Pixar and the more Westernized animation studios. With his second win yesterday with a potent rival contender such as Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Academy showed a hint of the change that dominated it, yes there still were many years before the scary Whiteness of the Academy would drift away with the current, but there were many familiar faces and familiar wins.

Speaking of representation, it was a delight to spot Ramy Youssef, an Egyptian American comedian get so far into Hollywood, bonding with Mark Ruffalo and speaking his heart on the Academy red carpet without getting booed or gaslit, made me proud of him. As an Egyptian, I felt like cheering on a buddy who co-starred next to the legendary Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Ruffalo in Poor Things, one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of 2023. Ramy’s talent being recognized and appreciated gave me a boost of positivity, and I hoped for bigger comedic leading roles for him. I also wished I would always see a familiar face on the red carpet; the more diverse, the better, and the more connected an individual like me feels to a grander, far-off world like the Academy Awards. 

As someone whose life was dominated by art and literature when she was a child, watching Ludwig Göransson who won the Academy Award for best score for his spectacular work in Oppenheimer thank his parents for giving him musical instruments instead of video games hit home closely. And when I read social media discourse of people hating on him because what he said undermined the beauty of video games or belittled those who enjoyed playing them, I fell in love with him a little more. I needed that sense of familiarity. I’ve always felt like an alien in my kid’s skin. Listening to Göransson, whose childhood was probably as art-engulfed and introverted as mine, allowed me to look back at my parents doing this for me with pride rather than regret all the moments of belonging I missed with other kids.

As a chronic online presence –valid for a writer/introvert who traded a tumultuous life for a milder, calmer one with a peaceful presence- it was a surprise to see year after year, people flooding to discuss the award season, cheering or booing like it’s a football game. Sometimes it gets out of hand, and admittedly people nitpick on every breath a winner or a loser takes, but it’s fun to watch; a way to reinterpret reality, movie by movie, performance by performance.

Does this mean filmmaking will turn into a spectacle? Hasn’t it been for a long time? It’s just that now the chronically online population is growing day in and out, and the Gen Zers fight with the growing older population for a place on the platforms, each adding their two cents to every current topic, or even making up one out of the ashes. We live in a connected world in which award seasons have become much like sports seasons with all the ins and outs of films, filmmakers, and in-betweens. Show business is no exception. It is a well-oiled machine that adapts to changing times and grows from there, whether we like it or not, and that is what ensures its long-term viability. So for award seasons to become these heated debates of who deserves it and who doesn’t; each season with a villain, a laughing stock of the crowd, a hero, a princess, a diva, and a bad girl, is the new normal.

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