The Academy and the Year of Overt Tokenisation

I like the Oscars. It’s been a tradition for the past six years to wake up at half past six on a chilly March morning ( it is usually in the middle of finals or mid-terms), and sit wrapped in a blanket in front of the TV. When I was younger, I liked the Oscars because of the beautiful, glitzy couture, the perfectly coiffed hair, the stunning Jimmy Choos and Louboutins that the ladies wore. As I grew older, I started understanding the hitherto un-understood jokes and subtle digs. Now…well, the Oscars are still the event I look forward to the most, but there are several things that, being a woman of colour, are pissing me off. Things that we, as a supposedly intelligent specie, need to discuss. STAT. Right off the bat, we have the most obvious problem this year. Not a single nominee, from either the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, or Best Supporting Actress is a POC. I know, I know, talent doesn’t depend on the amount of melanin there is in your skin. But hey, it looks like the Academy didn’t even bother with its usual gimmick of tokenising this year. Ya know- the one where they add one black man in one category out of 24, to make an entire community feel happy. . o3 The Academy’s aforementioned tokenisation is usually subtle- last year, for example, 12 Years a Slave won the Best Movie, with Lupita Nyong’o picking up the statuette for Best Supporting actress for the same movie. Steve McQueen also got nominated- for, you guessed it, 12 Years a Slave. o4 Actually nvm about the ‘subtle’ thing- as Andrew Paxton in the Proposal quips, this is ‘as subtle as a gun’. Wow, Academy, you really love your slave movies, don’t you? It would be swell if you found some other way to recognise the African-American community than just through movies about slavery and subjugation, but then again, I’m Indian, which means my people get even less recognition. I could count the number of movies involving Indians that got nominated for an Oscar in the recent times on literally one hand. Then of course, is the question of recognition of the LGBTQ+ community and their contribution to films, but I guess that’s something that can’t be addressed as easily as the issue of racial representation- seeing how sexual orientations and gender expression are personal to everyone, and the choice of whether to come out or not varies. Till a few years ago, for example, no-one knew that veteran actress Jodie Foster was, in fact, gay, until she came out during a Golden Globes speech. Then there are the abysmal statistics about women and the Academy. 94% of the Oscar voter are white and 77% male. For the Best Actor winner, there’s an expected $3.9m increase in salary, whilst for the Best Actress, the amount is just $500k, or an eighth of what the man gets. .o1 This year, the most obvious snub was towards Selma- a movie on Martin Luther King’s struggles. Its director, Ava DuVernay was touted to make the Best Directors’ List- in doing so, she would’ve been the first African American woman to get the honour. Instead, the Academy shocked everyone on Thursday when DuVernay didn’t make the list. Sure, Selma’s still nominated for the Best Movie, but it’s just not the same. It’s almost like a consolation prize- ‘Hey, sorry we’re still so obvious in our preference of putting white men in every category ever, but here, have a best picture nom. It’s unlikely you’ll win,though, because seriously, how many movies on slavery and civil rights can you make?! So it’ll most likely go to this movie about some dude going to some planet and inevitably screwing everything up, even though white people have dealt with this theme innumerable times. Sorry, maybe next time!’ And last, but not the least, WHERE WAS THE LEGO MOVIE’S NOMINATION FOR BEST ANIMATED MOVIE? Seriously, you refuse to recognise one of the most adorable movies ever made? Were you dropped on your head as a baby, Academy? Did How to Train Your Dragon 2 have Lego Batman and Lego Dumbledore chilling together? Yeah, didn’t think so. Fix your stuff, Academy, before it’s too late. Let’s see some diversity up there.

note- statistics from Stephenfollows. He has some very interesting reports on gender and racial representations in various areas, so you can go check it out as well.

PS- I loved Interstellar, pls don’t hate me.

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Disney as an effective harbinger of feminism

Warnings: Full of spoilers from Tangled and Frozen. Some spoilers from Maleficent.

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There’s been a subtle paradigm shift in Disney movies recently. Or maybe not as subtle as I think it is.

Where all the previous Disney movies- the Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast-involved a strong male character saving the female protagonist, it’s now the other way round.

Exhibit A- Tangled. Albeit a modern re-adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm tale Rapunzel, the titular characters are as different as can be. Tangled shows Rapunzel as a smart, funny, saucepan-wielding girl, who is capable of baking, sewing, and candle-making, amongst other things. She’s well-read and intelligent, as is evident from the scene where she charts the stars and comes to the conclusion that the lanterns released on her birthday are not celestial bodies. She learns to adopt to the rather limited walls of her tower, and having never seen a human beside her evil ‘mother’ before, she deals rather skilfully with the thief, Flynn Rider, when he seeks refuge in her tower.

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In the end, however, it’s not Flynn who saves Rapunzel’s life, although he does chop her hair off. It’s Rapunzel whose magical tears saves Flynn’s life.

The more recent examples are Maleficent and Frozen, two of Disney’s biggest blockbusters in 2014.

Let’s talk about Frozen first. There are so many things to love about this movie- from its Oscar-winning songs to its cast of loveable characters. Those were the things that made me re-watch the movie so many times. But I observed something new every time I re-watched. The most obvious thing was the fact that when Anna was told that it was only a true love’s kiss that could save her, and everyone assumed it would be Kristoff (I know it was Hans they thought of first, but let’s just pretend that the bloke never existed). It wasn’t Kristoff, however. It was her sister Elsa’s love for Anna that saved her life and melted the ice in her heart. This was the biggest validation that a true love need not be a man. It could be family too. There are so many other examples which extol the same point.

For example, in the song ‘Love is an open door’, there’s a line that goes ‘Our mental synchronisation can have but one explanation…’. Cut to the scene of the ball, where Elsa and Anna are standing awkwardly, waiting to receive the guests. When Elsa asks Anna what that amazing smell is, they say ‘chocolate’ in perfect synchronization.

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That’s the thing I loved the most about Frozen. In their own subtle way, Disney keeps reiterating the point that a true love could be platonic too. A woman doesn’t need a man to save her life. All she needs is a loving family.

Maleficent is another such movie. Another retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty, this movie is completely female-centric too. We have Angelina Jolie, resplendent in black leather and red lipstick, kicking massive arse from the very moment we see her.

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In spite of being betrayed by her childhood love/friend, she remains unshaken. When she develops a liking for Aurora and tries and fails to revoke the curse, Aurora falls into her sleep, and can only be awoken by a, you guessed it, true love’s kiss. Everyone expects Prince Phillip to be the one, but his kiss fails to wake her up. It is, however, Maleficent’s tender kiss on the forehead that ultimately succeeds.

What I love the most is the fact that these movies are completely accessible to everyone. All of Disney’s movies have a U rating, which means no-one is restricted from enjoying them. Also, since the target audience is generally the youngsters and kids, parents invariably accompany them for these movies, which means they get to learn these lessons too.

This is, according to me, nothing short of a revolution in cinema. And Disney’s doing a wonderful job by bringing about a shift in thinking among people. I hope to see many more such movies from not only Disney, but also other animation companies. And maybe, just maybe, non-animated movies will soon start following suit.