FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Oscar White

Take nothing away from the talent at Sunday night’s Oscars, white folks can act. And Sean Penn shows no small courage when he travels to Baghdad to re-center our experience of war. So please read carefully.

Because you’d think from watching it all on Sunday night that a century of Hollywood has produced a remarkable global alliance of white audiences, from Billy Crystal’s Long Island, to Peter Jackson’s New Zealand, not to mention Charlize Theron’s South Africa, Nicole Kidman’s Australia, or Sir Ian Mckellan’s England.

In fact the geography of this audience sounds remarkably like Bush’s coalition of the willing, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. The players who were honored Sunday night are my entertainment heroes and all of them have been reliable witnesses against the late imperial wars. But didn’t anybody else notice how white it all looked?

Once upon a time, as we saw Sunday evening, the late, great Gregory Peck starred in the terrific movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And not long after that, as we also saw, the late and legendary Katherine Hepburn played a courageous part in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

But forty and fifty years later, after these noteworthy achievements in the art of civil rights, guess who’s not coming to the Oscars? Does Oscar have a last name? Oscar White?

There is no reason at this point to fawn over important exceptions. I would rather point out that on Oscar night, some “losers” must be braver than others.

When I saw the first movie in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy a few years ago, I watched it back-to-back with “Ali.” And since that long afternoon turned into evening, all the excellencies of the trilogy have been speaking to me also of the fact that Tolkien’s mythology is mightily white. After all he was born in South Africa, and he taught at Oxford.

But I don’t begrudge Tolkien for writing a white mythology, especially when the theme begs its characters to give up their obsession with total power. Tolkien itches the problem of white mythology from within.

Nevertheless, I do worry about the images of conflict that are perpetuated in this colossal epic, where ethereal whiteness meets an enemy made of dark mud.

And I worry about collective structures of taste that are reinforced when these white-centered narratives have no visible, say visual, counter-challenges in the nearby image mix. What happens when there is nothing but other white-centered narratives to jostle up against on a night that celebrates excellence to audiences around the world?

On this reading, the movie “Monster” could be viewed as a cautionary exploration of white womanhood, artistically daring for a blonde, South African star.

Penn and his co-star Tim Robbins have been courageous in their outspoken warnings against the ring of power in the real world, and I was not unmindful that Clint Eastwood made a choice to put the two together this year, and then sat squarely behind them, as they took top honors from the academy.

But we do have a problem here, and we need to talk about it without succumbing to cheap accusations.

For example, today, when conservatives appeal to “merit and excellence” as “race neutral”; we cannot forget that there was nothing race-neutral about “merit or excellence” on Sunday night. Nor is there any simple way to evade the welded relationship between “merit” and “whiteness” that helps support our mainstream sensibilities of what counts for truth and beauty.

It is a complex problem, fitted exactly to the kind of cultural leadership exemplified by Penn and Robbins. Against this problem, they are more active than most.

The difficulty of solving the problem demands a reform of Oscar beyond the notable uplifting of our most disgruntled, white genius.

A process of affirmative action, if you will, should be considered by the academy. Not because “lesser excellences” of Black, Latino, Asian, or American Indian talents need “assistance”. No, that is not the argument. The genius is there already, quite solid, and quite strong.

Reform is needed, because presumptions of white-centered excellence need systematic counter-considerations and persistent challenges. On Oscar night, when image is everything, let there be no more Oscar White!

GREG MOSES writes for the Texas Civil Rights Review. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net

 

More articles by:

Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail