THE WHITE PAGES GUIDE TO THE OSCARS
What's Whiter than the Oscars? This newsletter!
THE WHITE PAGES SPRING PLEDGE DRIVE WEEK (*AIR HORN*) is still going strong! You’ll likely remember that this is me using my birthday week (I turn 42 today! Not bad!) as an excuse to offer a discount on paid subscriptions.
In that spirit, this is a bonus issue (I don’t normally do two essays a week), available in full to paid subscribers, but with a lot of fun stuff outside of the paywall for everybody.
[Also, every time I offer paywalled content I also make it clear: If you would like full access but aren’t in a position to contribute financially, toss me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll comp you. No need to justify why; I totally get it].
The pledge drive conceit aside, I know that I often use this space to pitch paid subscriptions. If you’ve ever wondered why I do so, where the money goes and how I think about the financial side of my justice work, I put together a FAQ/transparency document. It was fun to write (and I hope fun to read!). As always, thanks for considering and if the pledge drive branding makes you nervous, rest assured, I promise not to read your name on air. We will return to non-pledge-drive programming on March 15th.
I am not an obsessive movie watcher. I enjoy a good film, because I am a human being with a heart and an active sense of wonder, but I do not have the necessary free time, well-developed critical lens, or basic ability to stay awake to ever become a serious cinephile. I have very few trenchant opinions about the Oscars. Like all legacy institutions, I assume that they likely exist to prop up existing power structures and hierarchies under the guise of meritocracy. You know, basic legacy institution stuff. I’ve watched a few Oscars ceremonies (because I love spectacle and semi-extemporaneous speaking) but have also skipped quite a few (because they are telecast at night and I have children who love to wake up early).
Suffice to say, I have never made it a point to watch all of the best picture nominees. But this year, when the nominations were released, I noticed that I had somehow already seen quite a few of them and thought, “Well, might as well go all the way.”
So I did. I challenged myself to knock out all ten of the (putative) best films of the year. And not only that, but I succeeded… sort of. You see, my definition of “watched” is pretty liberal, and includes the following caveats (all of which would make an actual cinephile recoil in horror):
Most of these movies were not viewed in a single sitting. “Movie watching” for me means fifteen-minute chunks here and there— maybe a little during a lunch break, then a bit more before I involuntarily fall asleep on the couch.
And yes, this also means that….
I watched a lot of these on my phone (which I assume is how the directors intended their multi-million dollar passion projects to be experienced).
I didn't FINISH all of these movies. Listen, friends. I’m thoroughly into my at-peace-with-myself-but-also-aware-that-time-is-fleeting era and sometimes carpe-ing the heck out of that diem means that you don’t finish a movie about two Irish men being mean to each other if you’re not vibing with it.
If, upon reading my commentary about any of these films, your reaction is “Garrett, you are too dumb and/or uncultured to have understood that film,” you’re probably right!
Fortunately, this was a pass/fail assignment, so I’m giving myself a pass. And to celebrate, I’m offering the Official White Pages Guide to each movie. This isn’t a plot summary (so no need to fear spoilers), just me riffing on whether or not the movie made me think about any of the topics we discuss around these parts: Whiteness, social change, our frayed connections to one another, the promise and challenge of building a better world, particularly excellent sandwiches, etc. Some of those thoughts are jokey and dumb, and some aren’t! Also, I didn’t notice any particularly excellent sandwiches this year, so that’s a bummer. I suppose that’s what movie magic is all about, though— the sacred and the profane, the inconsequential and the bone-deep serious, the sandwiches and the absence of sandwiches. Huh. Look at me, sounding like a real cinephile.
Enough of that. Here are a couple of thoughts on each Oscar nominee:
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
This is a movie about World War I and how it was a bad war. That’s a thesis I agree with, by the way, but not one that kept me engaged through an entire movie. Was it the subtitles? Was it my internalized racism against my fellow Germans? Probably not.
Regardless, while I was not inspired to finish yet another movie about how war is awful, All Quiet did inspire me to think a lot about World War I. You don’t need me to tell you that it was a dumb and tragic conflict, but still: Forty million people died because of the interpersonal jealousies and imperial aspirations of a small number of truly weird European monarchs who were also related to each other! I don’t think we talk about that enough! It really calls into question a whole host of pervasive myths all at once, doesn’t it? Nationalism, White supremacy (as an aside, it’s fascinating that World War I happened concurrently to the continued process, in America, of all those feuding European ethnic groups being assimilated into this new category of “Whiteness”), war, the wisdom of hierarchical leaders, etc. Or, it should have called all of those myths into questions, because they’re dumb myths and they made for a dumb war. Did we learn our lesson? Well, I mean that war was literally called World War I so I hate to break it to you, but…
DO I RECOMMEND YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE? No, not especially. But I do recommend that you protest imperialism in all its forms!
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
As you may have heard, this movie has received some harsh critiques from voices across Indian Country, mostly about how— despite the fact that the central tribe of fictional aliens are clearly stand-ins for Indigenous people— the movie didn’t cast or partner with Indigenous people. Oh, and also, James Cameron basically director-splained to the Lakota about how they could have avoided genocide if they had been more like his made-up aliens. Good critiques, if you ask me.
All I’ll add (and I’ve written about this a bit is already) is oh my God, is this movie a rich text about how we are currently stuck thinking about Whiteness! The main (White, human) characters feel deeply guilty about their role in colonization and domination, but the only way they can be cleansed of that guilt is to literally turn themselves into the Indigenous Other (in this case, tall blue aliens!). And then, when they do so, they immediately become way better at being tall aliens than the actual tall aliens. One of the former-White-people gets to be the leader of all the tall blue aliens, their literal savior! It is not a subtle message.
DO I RECOMMEND YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE? I recommend watching some Youtube videos of the cool dragons, the speedy dolphins and the sad whales because listen, I get it… they all look rad as hell. Also, if you’re tempted to start a sentence with “You know how the Lakota people could have avoided being conquered by a foreign power?….” I recommend not finishing that sentence.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHIRIN:
My summary: Men would rather have their friendship devolve into a dark allegory for the Irish Civil War than go to therapy.
No disrespect to the actors (great performances!), nor to my sainted Irish mother, nor to the Irish diaspora writ large. I earnestly admire our uniquely Irish ability— even a hundred years post-assimilation— to ensure that anybody within earshot regularly hears us shout, “We May Be White Now But That Doesn’t Mean That Our Souls Aren’t Still Troubled And That We Don’t Still Dream Of Living In An Extremely Damp House With A Thatched Roof!”
DO I RECOMMEND YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE? I hear that everybody who is Smart About Movies agrees that it was great. I think the fact that I got bored is probably a me thing.
DO I HAVE ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY TO MY SAINTED IRISH MOTHER, WHO IS NO DOUBT READING THIS WITH DISAPPOINTMENT?
Thank you, mum, for the gift of Irishness. I will never disrespect your homeland’s filmography again, even when that filmography is mostly about two men who should really just apologize to one another.
LET’S GOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE, FRIENDS???
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