I have a friend who is vehemently opposed to the Oscars. She thinks it’s a waste of resources spending so much on a competition. In doing so she ignores the very real fact that the Oscars and Hollywood generate enormous revenue for America and for the global economy – far, far more than is spent.
She’s lived in Los Angeles all her life and as will happen too often in an industry town, she has grown up hearing actors complain about their fear of losing. She forgets that the entire profession demands they learn how to handle rejection. Failure to do so means…guaranteed failure.
What is truly unfortunate about her outlook is that she seems able to only see the dark side – the emotional carnage, if you will. The magic and shared global wonder – the hours we, the human race, feel at one – she let’s slip through her fingers. The Oscars, when done right, as they magnificently were last night, forge a global bond, and a world where we experience love and dreams manifest. The Oscars export America at its shiny and glowing best. But just as wonderfully, the Oscars bring the world to us, too. We literally glimpse the rest of the world through the Other’s eyes.
Moreover, the Oscars is in fact a celebration of creativity and misfits. The long majority of the evening is spent doling out awards to all the creative and technical brilliance of the people who toil behind the scenes – the wonks of Hollywood, if you will.
It’s a celebration of beauty and light. Particularly last night – the set design filled with Swarovski crystal was breathtaking. From the nearly unimaginable charisma, soul and precision of Justin Timberlake at the top of the show bringing the entire theater to their feet to dance together – to the haunting and comforting poignancy of Sara Bareilles singing Joni Mitchell during the memorial tribute – to the profound last moments of Sting’s performance – the Oscars made us feel our shared humanity and vulnerability.
And the movies themselves – so glorious. Honor was paid to the human experience – from wrenching loss to joyful and complex reunion to the enduring power of dreams to the agony and power of self discovery and acceptance to awful feelings of being targeted by misogyny, racism, homophobia, and so much more. The films covered the diverse human experience in peace – and war – and the many ways one can be a patriot of humanity.
And the speeches – how they inspire and lift us up, dare us to dream bigger. They help us to breathe in and exhale. For me, the poetry and awkwardness and spectacle bring God’s mysticism into the world for all to see. We are revealed. And we are far greater and more perfectly delicate than we knew possible.
I produced awards shows and wrote speeches for a nice chunk of my career. The Oscars inspired me from childhood on – they validated my dreams that life could be so much more than the relentless snow and cold of a Buffalo childhood.
When I hear the dark world view of Bannon and Miller espoused by Trump, I resist. The vision the Oscars conjures is far more real, simply cloaked in imagination. The ugliness of the world is a fact – but much more important is our ability to overcome the worst evils. The Oscars are full of raucous and aching humor – and the belief that a spiritual humanity can triumph.
As Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis concluded last night, “I became an artist and thank God I did… because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
In a country and world where anti-Semitism has been on the rise, where the most powerful men in the world rose to power promoting fear, jealousy and rage – I choose a different path. I choose to love Hollywood and the media and the self-sacrifice of journalists. I choose to live my life honoring James Foley’s words displayed on screen, “If I don’t have the moral courage to challenge authority. . . we don’t have journalism.” I choose to hope.
It’s as if the mistake at the pinnacle of last night was the collective unconscious wishing for a do-over. I watch the Oscars with my daughter every year. I teach her to dream – and to believe that the artistry and love inside her heart, the wisdom in her soul, will prevail. May God bless the Oscars – and all of us.