This time last year, a little film called THE HELP hit theaters, and almost immediately the chatter started. Traditionally speaking, it seemed just a little early for Oscar buzz to begin — even in better times, August is a nadir-point in box office revenue, when studios are known to shed the clunker titles they still haven’t released before the “more serious” fall and holiday seasons kick in. Still, THE HELP, a delightful film based on a popular page-turner, got an extremely healthy helping of Oscar buzz right from the start, and it carried Octavia Spencer all the way down the red carpet and into the golden boy’s arms.
The Los Angeles Times just posted a massive investigation into the demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the 5,765 largely anonymous voters who every year decide who will receive the highly coveted and ultra-influential Oscars. Their findings, which will come as a shock to no one who has watched the Oscars at any point in the last 25 years, revealed a membership that is very old and very uncool. 94% of Academy voters are white; 77% are male. 54% are over the age of 60; just 2% are under the age of 40.
The illustrious Oscar nominations will be announced on January 24, which gives the choosers ample time to read my urgent plea for them to not leave out some of my favorite people!
After all, I care about the Oscars more than life itself, so ignoring my longings would be as sadistically ill-advised as some of the performances that are already locks.
So now that I have the nominators’ attention, I’ll step up and scream the following:
Yesterday, a brand new crop of Filmmaking MFA students appeared before me at Ohio University, as suddenly as Fall weather. It’s that time – August is gone, baby, and us teachers are back in the classroom. One exercise conducted yesterday involved each person articulating what he or she values in the cinema – not a specific type of character or scene, but a methodology, strategy or approach that can be identified from film to film. I noted a pattern: many valued the experience of feeling surprised – when the storyteller crafted moments that veered from a familiar course with either plot or character (INCENDIES, above, does just this). Our collective expectations have been molded through years of watching films, so an innovation of form, complexity of plot or sophistication of character truly do deserve value. I thought back to my own summer movie-going experiences and measured how a few stacked up. Watch out, hold up – the teacher is giving out grades:
I resisted Katherine Stockett’s book THE HELP for years – which in premise alone inspired a personal cringe-fest of sorts. But after the online chatter on America’s new box office darling rose to a peak, I gave in and headed to the multiplex. And really? Not half bad. Here are some thoughts about THE HELP, given the online chatter from multiple critics of the film. (A quick google search will help you find the most prominent voices – but this statement from the Association of Black Women Historians [ABWH] – saw a lot of traffic.)