not in our stars, but in ourselves
As any good movie fan would be, I’ve been following awards season mayhem with some slight interest. For the most part, I pay attention to the fashion, and that’s mostly it. Usually, the winners of these major awards (Golden Globes and Oscars being the most major) are really just the films, actors, and filmmakers with the best publicity machines. It’s marketing. That’s about it. Not usually worth getting excited about.
This year, however, I do feel that I have a dog in the fight. 12 Years a Slave was a great film, first of all. It was a total work of art, in the truest sense. Second of all, it was (is) a tremendously important film. We are not used to experiencing the actual, daily, lived anguish and horror of slavery. We have cast that out of our minds, because it’s too despicable to contemplate. I realize I quote Nabokov an awful lot around here, and he’s talking about something else (and something much more personal), but he expresses it better than anyone, as usual:
What chatty Madam Shpolyanski mentioned had conjured up Mira’s image with unusual force. This was disturbing. Only in the detachment of an incurable complaint, in the sanity of near death, could one cope with this for a moment. In order to exist rationally, Pnin had taught himself, during the last ten years, never to remember Mira Belochkin – not because, in itself the evocation of a youthful love affair, banal and brief, threatened his peace of mind (alas, recollections of his marriage to Liza were imperious enough to crowd out any former romance), but because, if one were quite sincere with oneself, no conscience, and hence no consciousness, could be expected to subsist in a world where such things as Mira’s death were possible. One had to forget – because one could not live with the thought that this graceful, fragile, tender young woman with those eyes, that smile, those gardens and snows in the background, had been brought in a cattle car to an extermination camp and killed by an injection of phenol into the heart, into the gentle heart one had heard beating under one’s lips in the dusk of the past.
No conscience, and no consciousness. How could either exist in a world with slavery – especially the horrifyingly commonplace slavery in Solomon Northup’s memoir? It is important never to forget, and never to allow such cruelty to return (though of course, it has returned time and again). Steve McQueen’s film is, at the very least, a brilliant way to ensure that no one who’s seen it is able to forget.
I am pleased that, where it’s been nominated for Best Picture, it has won for the most part. As I say, I tend to see awards season as a sign of marketing prowess, or even merely as a popularity contest; it is rewarding to see that – even if only because they’re too scared not to give it all the awards – Hollywood has responded by placing crowns of laurels on the film itself. Good for you, Hollywood.
I was extremely displeased with Jennifer Lawrence’s win for Best Supporting Actress (for American Hustle) over Lupita Nyong’o at the Golden Globes. I will be honest: I haven’t seen American Hustle yet. It might be a lot of fun, and I do eagerly anticipate Fat Bale. But there is just no way that America’s favorite case of body dysmorphia out-acted Queen Lupita. Fortunately, the SAG Awards corrected this oversight, and Queen Lupita was justly rewarded for her performance.
Indeed, Nyong’o has become quite the media darling these past few months. She is so poised, so stylish, so beautiful and so gracious – an Audrey Hepburn for our time, in many ways, but with about 300% more acting talent. (Sorry, Audrey.) I think that’s wonderful. To see an African woman with dark skin, natural hair, and a beautifully strong body so celebrated – for herself, her great work, her intelligence, her talent, not for her Othered sexuality or her objectified body – is refreshing, to say the least.
But something has been forgotten in the shuffle. No – someone. While Nyong’o, McQueen, and the film itself have been the recipients of many honors this awards season, Chiwetel Ejiofor and his masterful performance as Northup have been quietly ignored, it seems. He has won awards this season, to be sure, but mostly critics’ awards, film societies’ awards, that kind of thing. Without Ejiofor’s extraordinary, restrained, despairing (and still hopeful) performance as Northup, there is no 12 Years a Slave. All the artful directing in the world couldn’t save the film from a weak central performance. With McQueen’s direction and Ejiofor’s acting combined, the film ascends beyond mere biopic into something much more. There is no movie without Chiwetel Ejiofor. None.
The Oscars concern me this year. The trend has been to reward Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. No, I haven’t seen that one either. Maybe it’s great. I don’t know. McConaughey has tempted the Academy with the catnip that is physical transformation: he actually lost tons of weight for the role! Whoa! Such commitment!
Then again, Leonardo Di Caprio has been gunning for an Oscar for most of his adult life – and who knows, The Wolf of Wall Street might finally be the drink that wears the Academy’s resistance down. I don’t mean to denigrate Leo. He is a talented actor, and he probably should have gotten an Oscar by now.
But please, not this year. Please, Academy voters, listen to me. Give everything to McQueen, to Nyong’o, and to Ejiofor. I beseech you: pretend that you care about people who aren’t white men. Just this once. Try it.