If you’re reading my blog, then you probably also watched the 87th Academy Awards, or at least have some vague concept of the film industry’s annual pamper party, thrown to further celebrate all of the year’s best marketed & wildly campaigned films; an elite cream of the over-saturated crop. “It’s an honor to even be nominated”, most would say, let alone take home one of the highly coveted little golden men. As you’ve probably heard by now… Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman was the big winner. And if you’ve been on social media since Sunday night… you’ve likely read about how Sean Penn clearly ruined the whole damn thing. Not just for this triumphant immigrant filmmaker, not just for our industry, but he pretty much tanked the whole American parade of freedom and opportunity in one fell swoop.
As the two-time Oscar winner was given the final envelope of the night, to announce the big enchilada… live on television, before 40 million watching at home with bated breath, in over 100 nations across the world, he said…
Wait a second, there… and actually watch the clip, if you hadn’t. Did you catch all the blatant insensitivity? The intolerance! …no? Perhaps he forgot to hashtag “OscarsSoWhite” afterward, to reinforce his racial supremacy. Or maybe there’s a just bit more to this line and story than a simple headline can read…
There was no resentful bitterness in his tone. It wasn’t a graveled John Wayne or Clint Eastwood tag. He even held for a beat after reading the verdict to himself, then making a quirky face, blatantly preceding a light-hearted punchline. There was crowd laughter even before he spoke. And literally everyone in town knew it was going to be Birdman, so if there were ever a moment to jest, surely this was it. But of course, one person’s fun is another’s fluster, and this one certainly seemed to stir up quite a whirlwind of wrath on the Twittersphere.
Yes, I do see the offended perspective, and even questioned it myself at first… for a moment. Instead of racial insensitivity, though, I think it speaks to a kind of hard-love, which an already large and further growing portion of Americans share, who are slowly embracing the influx of Mexicans and their culture. There has NEVER been an immigrant race or nationality to be immediately embraced by the whole of America in our nation’s history… if nothing else, we’re just too big for a general consensus. The slow acceptance is a right of passage; America’s not just an autobahn to freedom. Hopefully Penn’s comment is not one to take offense from, but rather a reflection of the attitude that “they’re coming in, like it or not… but hey, it looks like the country isn’t completely ruined, after all… and Congrats, you sneaky friend, you!”
At least through the eyes of a white male, born and raised in this country, it was the vibe I think he intended; a common sentiment that even some of the more conservative Americans have started to feel in recent years. And Iñárritu thought it was hilarious.
The film did so well throughout the night, receiving four awards (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography), by the end it certainly deserved some type of comment, aside from Penn just plainly reading off their names, especially as Penn and Iñárritu are well-known close friends. Some are calling his comment a blotch on the night, a sour note to go out on, a sad commentary on the state of the industry… sure, maybe there’s a bit of truth to it all, but I’d prefer to see it as a sign of changing times and the slow (but sure) embrace, one that all immigrant groups have faced in our nation’s history. Five or ten years ago, if the awards still went to the same people, Penn might never have said that, out of fear from extreme political incorrectness on a live broadcast. Rather, what he did on Sunday night was a little thing called “satire”, something that Birdman was all about.
I chuckled at the moment. Some people will always find a way to be offended, just like some people will always find a way to offend others, and there will always be people ready to criticize another’s actions or words. Granted, it may indeed have been a little risque, maybe not the perfect moment for that kind of quip, but this is the entrainment industry… by those standards, it could have been a lot worse.
And for whatever else my opinion might be worth, I do think Whiplash was better, if you can look past the fascinating technical achievement and metacognition. For whose who haven’t seen Birdman, it’s a dark comedy starring Michael Keaton about a former caped crusader of Hollywood stardom, now washed up and trying to put on a Broadway play. Even better is that the film is almost entirely “one long shot”, a fascinating blend of choreography and illusion. Funny coincidence that fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s film Gravity won comparable awards last year on a film also commended for its impressively extended shots. Iñárritu certainly matched his bet… and then quite literally went all-in. What a payoff!