Beasts of the Southern Wild is the only film I've seen of this year's Best Picture Nominees. As someone who was once a little black girl who loved fantasy, I had to see it.
When Quvenzhané Wallis started filming her starring role as Hushpuppy, she was only five years old, just a year older than my daughter is now. About 15 minutes into the movie, I commented to my husband that Hushpuppy reminded me so much of our daughter. Like Hushpuppy, our girl has a fabulous head of curls and a penchant for running around without pants (we keep that indoors, don't worry). And like Hushpuppy and Quvenzhané herself, she's independent, determined, and brimming with energy and confidence.
So it broke my heart when I saw The Onion's "joke" calling Quvenzhané Wallis one of the most hateful words you can call a girl or a woman in the English language. On top of being sad and appalled for Wallis and her family, I also couldn't help but think of my daughter and the inevitable day that she will hear that word directed at her for the first time.
Last night's Oscars ceremony was a hostile shitshow. Which is too bad, because if the night wasn't marred by sexist jokes, all the headlines today should have been about the fabulous Jennifer Lawrence.
She contorted faces into the red carpet cameras, face-planted up the stairs in her tricky couture gown, and confessed that she literally wrecked herself with a shot of swill on an empty stomach before the post-show press question roundup. If you aren't enamored with Jennifer Lawrence already for her steadfast refusal to take herself seriously under any circumstances, or for her acting chops, you have to concede this: when she used the arm not wrapped around her Oscar statuette to extend a middle finger on her way to the press microphone, she made the Oscars' tedious and ugly into a platform for how she actually felt.
BOOM. I love her. She might as well have been playing cupid in the Hunger Games, loosing arrows into my heart.
Lawrence has repeatedly addressed the media's reduction of the healthy female body to skin and bones with the self-effacing and defiant assertions to the mainstream women's lifestyle magazines. Elle notoriously quoted her in their December cover story, "In Hollywood, I'm obese. I'm considered a fat actress. I'm Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach."
As for the rest of her body, she has quickly accumulated enough physical skill to become a superhuman—without obsessing solely about her body.. In her training for the Hunger Games, she had to learn archery, hand-to-hand combat, and trained without dieting, saying "You can't work when you're hungry, you know?" Director David O. Russell mentioned her endurance during her Silver Linings choreography training and and yet she "wants to punch people" who talk about how much they love working out.
Another big reason to love Lawrence: She takes on great roles. Her characters in Winter's Bone and the Hunger Games are complex and interesting. In playing the role she won for last night, Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook, it's clear she takes her job and her responsibility extremely seriously. Without as smart and compassionate an actress, Tiffany's role could easily have slipped into being a manic pixie dream girl.
In all honestly, Lawrence is one of those rare people who make it big in Hollywood and who we all still feel like could be the friend we could drive around with on a Friday night, cracking jokes about fitness clubs and wheatgrass addicts.
So, Jennifer Lawrence, brush off the haters. There are a lot of us who can't wait to see what you'll do next. We'll be your best friend/backup whenever you need it.
Scarlett O'Hara and her mammy in Gone with the Wind.
With their Oscar wins last night, Django Unchained and Lincoln have taken their places in the top-tier pantheon of Hollywood's slavery films. As Official Slavery and Jim Crow Epics, both films have the full support of the Hollywood machine, enjoying obscene budgets and lengths, and use the power of image and story to re-create the history of the eras. They also both, in my opinion, absolve the white majority of guilt for upholding systemic labor exploitation.
Slavery and Jim Crow Epics are a whole mini-genre in Hollywood. These films are often released in an important anniversary year and rake in the box office dollars, and often wind up hindering meaningful conversation about the legacy of slavery. Whether the films employ benevolent omission or base humor, these versions of America's racial history continue to write African Americans out of the scene.
Here is a brief history of America Slavery and Jim Crow Epics, from 1915 to the present.
Last night was the Academy Awards, which means my Facebook feed was awash in comments from high school acquaintances along the lines of, "WTF was up with Kristen Stewart!?!? She was totally frowning and had some kind of bruise on her arm!!! What a slut!!! #TeamEdward."
In my opinion, there were lots of moments last night more notable that Kristen Stewart's facial expression. Here's my list for best and worst moments from the interminable broadcast:
Loved It: Quvenzhané Wallis. The 9-year-old star of Beasts of the Southern Wild was the youngest Best Actress nominee to date. Not only did she rock a stuffed puppy dog handbag on the red carpet, she was unabashed in the fact that she was damn proud of herself. When they announced her name along with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva and Naomi Watts, Wallis spared viewing audiences the false modesty of batting eyelashes, shrugged shoulders and downcast eyes. Instead, she flexed her arms like a champion and grinned.
Hated It: So many of host Seth MacFarlane's jokes!
This Sunday, we'll find out if nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis will be the youngest actress ever to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. There are some solid criticisms of the film, but just for fun, I made this illustrated tribute to Wallis and her character Hushpuppy, who lives who live Louisiana wetlands called the Bathtub in Beasts of the Southern Wild.