by Saswat Pattanayak
Its not about Viola Davis not winning the Oscar. What’s murkier is the psychoanalytic dependency of Academy elites on their colonial legacies: The Queen, the King and now the utterly despicable Thatcher! The rejection of “The Help” actually offers a timely insight: choosing between the white guilt and the white pride has not been very difficult; beckoning to the colonial era has been easier than reevaluating racist legacies.
However, this is not the most crucial issue. The overwhelmingly positive obsession of the world with the Oscars is. Here is an award ceremony that is inherently Eurocentric and its recognitions have traditionally been conferred upon mainstream movies upholding the status quo. Academy selectors foster visibilities of selective agendas and validate their approvals. They establish norms of achievements and standards of successes. They throttle thematic diversities and control creative boundaries. They celebrate commercial triumphs and hand out golden statues. They convert a quintessentially free form of artistic climate into a corporatized “industry” of thriving multimillionaires.
All this while treating the Euro-American initiatives as comprising main categories while relegating the rest of the world to fight for a “foreign” tag. Like the elite clubs of the ‘good ol’ days’, not only are the nominations complicated and compromised from the start, even the purposes of these awards serve in sustaining the racist world order. Almost as though Oscars is the last thread of the bygone racist era, and yet one which refuses to wither away, affirmed and hailed as it is in the garb of arts and aesthetics.
Art is the holy cow bastion, artists the beautifully neutral people, the entertainers being those that apparently abhor politics. And every now and then, insanely wealthy filmmakers go over on the Academy awards stages to read out speeches decrying politics of all sorts, and to state their distaste towards everything political. In a politically neutral environment, the objectivity and truth-seeking triumphs mark careers of the old rich men who sit down to judge the standards that shall define filmmaking from there on.
Not that diversity is absent. In fact tokenism helps sustaining any status quo further by enhancing its acceptability. In recent memories, when “Slumdog Millionaire” was awarded in the main category, it was considered to be a recognition of Indian cinema. Except, it was not produced in the Mumbai film industry. It was a British film throughout that allowed for certain Indian artists to get the much deserved approvals they had been craving for.
That aside, diversity is, if anything, a sad thing. It is what Malcolm X derided at for the correct reasons. Getting mentioned alongside the owner does not alter the ownership. So when “Crash” won the best picture award, it was the victory of the postmodern, a call to ignore historically conflicting ideologies, and a blanket humanity crisis statement. The minorities were as much racists, a bottom line the movie surmised and impressed the Academy with. Much like the racism in the Third World: the Indians and the Pakistanis are the dogs who deserve their slums until they endorse the only Civilization that decides cultural merits. Worse, until they realize they were better off during the golden era of colonialism and race supremacism. Just look at the poor now – say the colonialism’s apologists – not with scoff, but with pity and concern.
Oscar’s humanitarian, charitable attempts at diversity are not aimed to deconstruct, but to reconstitute. Not to demolish the Academy’s old world order which kept Paul Jarrico or Dalton Trumbo from receiving credits and Paul Robeson blacklisted. But to repackage itself for the new manufactured audience, a global consumerist audience, an audience whose thoughts are systematically being reshaped through textbook lies and news channel agendas and projected lifestyle priorities.
Spiritual, humanitarian, and charitable as they are, they even are politically correct: they abhor institutionalized religions and oppose any forms of censorship. Free speech is what they preach and so they must show solidarity with the champion of their brand of free speech: Sacha Baron Cohen. Lets caricature the usual suspects, Prophet Mohammad, the Catholic Pope – but, and, while at it, let’s mock Gaddafi and Kim-Jong Il as well! There, we were not fostering Islamophobia or Anticommunism. This is just free speech in a free country. Those evil dictators deserve a lesson in free speech. And Academy is all about freedom!
The freedom that has been bestowed upon the earth by the British monarchy through its generous, hardworking messengers of trade, military and governance. The Nirad Chaudhuris and the Uncle Toms, the Manmohan Singhs who express gratitude to the Queen for teaching uncouth Indians a lesson in English. The freedom of the Queens and the Kings of Britain and most of Europe to define democratic values for the African and Asian savages. The freedom to loot and drain resources and to leave the colonies ravaged beyond repair, not just materially, but also at subconscious levels so much so that even a drug peddling white tourist in India gets a standing ovation from a brown skinned educated police officer if he/she dared to be obstructed. Or worse, the Bollywood or the television anchors competing for whiter skins among the natives. And thanks to the Oscar recognition of Indians within India-inflicted poverty and providing quick fixes – for enabling the wretched and perpetually hapless miserable slumdogs to become more intelligent dreamers – of one day ending up as fulfilling and happy millionaires, based solely on individual merits and destinies.
The freedom that Margaret Thatcher ensured during her time, the creation of a widespread perception of what a (white) woman is capable of doing: ruling over the most powerful abusive men, and ruling exactly like them. For having the wisdom of recognizing Nelson Mandela as a filthy terrorist and Apartheid as a noble endeavor to acknowledge the black South Africans as at least half humans. The freedom that she brought about to the humanity along with her buddy Ronald Reagan by enabling anticommunist ploys to materialize. Not to mention, the freedom to bomb Libya on charges of alleged misdemeanors of the Gaddafi types who dared raise voices against the master race.
“The Help” not winning the Oscar is not the issue. That movie is not a celebration of organized black resistance anyway. In fact, it would not have been surprising had it actually won such an award at the first place. But the continued acceptance of thematic underpinnings of Academy honors that are reflecting an sustained adherence to Euro-American global, colonial, and racial hegemony is the issue that needs addressing. Considering the unequivocal acceptance of Oscars as the highest talent declarations world over, the need to unthink eurocentrism is rather urgent.
Saswat Pattanayak is a Human being, Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black Power comrade, Peacenik, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite… visit Saswat’s blog at saswat.com.