American Fiction, Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon...and the Oscars
Films making history that no one is talking about!
I’m not a movie person. And I’m definitely not a movie theater person. The idea of committing the next two and half hours of my life to watching a film, even a great one, while not being able to multitask has me feeling all kinds of ways. But when your kid IS a movie person and invites you to go to a film he heard you say, “Looks pretty good,” you drop what you’re doing, have him reserve the seats, and head to Walgreens to stock up on candy. (Don’t act like you don’t do the same. I’ll buy popcorn all day long, but I draw the line at $7 for M&Ms.)
A couple of weeks ago, our son invited me to see American Fiction with him. As a writer and aspiring author of color, I was intrigued and easily said yes. The film tells the story of Monk, a struggling Black author fed up with the general market’s appetite for offensive and narrow-minded narratives. To prove his point, he writes an over-the-top, story featuring a host of stereotypes that the publishing world and in turn, readers can’t consume fast enough.
I loved the movie. It has a beautiful combination of heart and comedy while portraying a true picture of what it’s like to be a writer of color. I also loved that the film features a successful family of color who lives in a beautiful home, owns a beach house, has generational wealth and careers, and can afford above-average healthcare for their ailing mother. This alone flips the Black-family narrative the media has led us to believe on its head. No gangbangers, ghettos, drugs, or absentee fathers, except for the ones Monk includes in his satire.
Last week when the Oscar nominations were announced it didn’t surprise me that American Fiction was nominated. It received a total of five nods. Impressive for any film. However, I’d venture to guess many of you haven’t heard of it.
Perhaps that’s because the media has been consumed with reminding us that Ken was nominated and Barbie wasn’t. (insert massive eyeroll). Now, I’m not going to get into that debate. To be honest, I haven’t seen Barbie. What I have seen and do know is that America Ferrera, a first-generation Honduran American, gave the best performance of her career to date, earning her first Oscar nomination. In turn, she is the first Honduran female to be nominated for an Academy Award. Her iconic monologue resonated with women everywhere.
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don't think you're good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we're always doing it wrong.
You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can't ask for money because that's crass. You have to be a boss, but you can't be mean. You have to lead, but you can't squash other people's ideas. You're supposed to love being a mother, but don't talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people.
You have to answer for men's bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you're accused of complaining. You're supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you're supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.
But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.
You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It's too hard! It's too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.
I'm just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don't even know.” (T&C)
I know. Right!
Yet, the media barely made a peep about her nomination. I learned of it through Latino social media accounts I follow. However, there was considerable coverage of Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig’s snubs. Now I’m not one to jump into the controversy waters, but it seems pretty apparent that the media found it more newsworthy that two white women weren’t nominated than it was that a first-generation Latina (the literal American dream) was nominated. Make it make sense.
Lastly, Killers of the Flower Moon tells the true story of Mollie Burkhart, an Osage Native American woman who married Ernest Burkhart, a white man. Mollie’s family was very wealthy from the oil and mineral mines on the Oklahoma reservation where her tribe was exiled. Between 1920-1925, several members of Mollie’s family along with over 50 other Osage were mysteriously murdered for their trust royalties (headrights) to the mineral wealth. The majority of these murders remain unsolved.
I first learned about this missing piece of American history when I discovered the book. As someone who equally loves history and murder mysteries, it became a must-read. Instantly, I was baffled at how I, someone who loves to learn about American history, had never heard of the Reign of Terror. As I read, the mystery fascinated me while the fact that the true story had remained buried for almost a century both broke my heart and angered me.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film has received a total of ten nominations including Best Actress, Lily Gladstone. Gladstone has already made history this award season by being the first Native American woman to win a Golden Globe for her role. Now she has the potential to be the first to win acting highest honor.
…and again there’s been little if any mention.
It begs the question: Who are you following?
I didn’t find out these success stories because I heard them on the news.
I discovered them from the social media accounts I follow. A variety of native accounts have been celebrating Killer of the Flower Moon’s release for months because they understand just having their story told is a win. For it to be recognized by the Academy is as a Best Picture nominee is a dream come true. To listen to Lily accept her Golden Globe in her native Blackfeet language is historic.
I learned about Ferrera’s nomination from the Latino sites I follow. It still makes me shake my head to think her speech silenced theaters and empowered women, but her nomination received muffled golf claps at best.
And American Fiction, flipping the script on the Black narrative and shining a spotlight on the fact that the story you’re fed by publishing houses and the media is only the version that sells…but not necessarily the truth.
Make no mistake, whether you see it in your feed or hear it on the news, history is changing. Good things are happening. All the work, effort, and desire to move beyond stereotypes is having an impact. Lasting change is rarely quick. Like the tortoise, it is slow and incremental which is why it’s so important to keep your eyes open so you don’t miss it amidst the cynicism and noise.
What are your thoughts?
Have you seen any of these films?
What do you think about the balance between what’s changing and what the media reports?
Who are you following & learning from?
I’d love to hear your opinion. Leave a comment to share your thoughts.
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