Three Billboards and Gary Oldman walk into the Dolby

The films of 2017 were as brilliant as the politics were chaotic. Beginning with the Women’s March and ending on the heels of #MeToo, the year burned with art and discussion, even the most passive bystanders being swept away in dizzying pop culture. With the explosion of MoviePass and mainstream popularity of Get Out and Lady Bird, movies seemed to satisfy the craving for media as diverse as its audiences. The public cried out for entertainment that was as militant in its content as the country was in its conversation. And, for the most part, Hollywood answered.

Whether or not you’ve seen this year’s nominees, there is no denying the fracture 2017 put in entertainment culture. Cinema has become both a result of and tipping point for exposés of the industry to spread like wildfire. The movies were part of it all, becoming catalysts for how the industry would react to a growing urgency for change.

Film Title: Get Out
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

Is this the year the Academy gets it right?

Months into relentless, staggering public sexual misconduct accusations, the Golden Globes blackout was a diluted display of activism. Saluted by some for its expansivity and ridiculed by others for its exclusivity, it certainly made the 2018 awards stand out. Stars donned “TIMES UP” pins and paraded into The Beverly Hilton, not knowing the night would end with a now-historic address from Oprah. It was an unavoidable reminder that people still had their finger on the trigger, women still had stories to be told. Then James Franco won an award, and everyone cheered.

Embarrassing, hypocritical. Weeks of Franco’s awkward public appearances and explanations in the lead-up to Oscar nominations. Then a reckoning: he’s snubbed. Meanwhile, Gary Oldman is the unquestioned frontrunner.

In 2001, Oldman was accused of physical abuse by his then wife, Donya Fiorentino. He denied all claims, never being charged.

As I picked up the phone to call the police, Gary put his hand on my neck and squeezed. I backed away, with the phone receiver in my hand. I tried to dial 911. Gary grabbed the phone receiver from my hand, and hit me in the face with the telephone receiver three or four times. Both of the children were crying.

Donya Fiorentino, New York Daily News

I just think political correctness is crap… I think it’s like, take a f*cking joke. Get over it…

… [Mel Gibson] got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. We’re all f*cking hypocrites… The policeman who arrested him has never used the word ‘n*gger’ or that ‘f*cking Jew’?

Well, if I called Nancy Pelosi a c*nt — and I’ll go one better, a f*cking useless c*nt — I can’t really say that. But Bill Maher and Jon Stewart can, and nobody’s going to stop them from working because of it. Bill Maher could call someone a f*g and get away with it.

[The Golden Globes] is a meaningless event… They’re f*cking ridiculous.

-Gary Oldman for Playboy, 2014

The timing of social consciousness, we assume, is what saves Oldman from the same fall as Franco. 2001 was a long time ago, and Oldman has since paid his dues as an actor and celebrity. But for the same people profiting from the blackout to let him become an Academy darling is to nullify the industry’s contribution to TIME’S UP entirely.

To add insult to injury, Oldman’s category contains some of the strongest Oscar competition of the decade. Daniel Day Lewis is considered one of history’s best actors, and is nominated for his final role. Timothée Chalamet is a clear fan favorite and has swept critics’ awards worldwide.

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name

Unfortunately, Gary Oldman’s nomination is just one instance of Hollywood taking your temperature before throwing out the thermometer. Perhaps the easiest to identify, yet not even the most brazen. In 2018, that comes as a tone-deaf embrace of Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

A play to the desire for woke narratives thinly veiled as a mother’s crusade against her daughter’s killer, Three Billboards is a bizarre attempt to win impassioned audiences. Set in rural America, an enraged mother (Frances McDormand) must join forces with a reformed racist cop (Sam Rockwell) for… justice?

In the midst of being questioned by Dixon [Rockwell], Hayes [McDormand] shoots out “How’s the nigger torturing business, Dixon?” Dixon, flustered, offers a response along the lines of “You can’t say nigger torturing no more, you gotta say peoples of color torturing.” … Woody Harrelson’s Sheriff Bill Willoughby enters the room. When Willoughby asks what’s going on, an exasperated Dixon exclaims: “Sheriff, she asked me how the nigger torturing business was going, and I said you can’t say nigger torturing business anymore, you gotta say peoples of color torturing.”

…Willoughby explains to Hayes that Dixon has a “good heart” and if all police officers with “slightly racist leanings” were removed, there wouldn’t be any police officers left.

– Hanif Abdurraqib, Pacific Standard

McDonagh’s callous depiction of racial abuse is strategic in relieving white responsibility for racial inequality. Post-racism, i.e. the idea that racism is over, is rampant with the simplification of racism in Three Billboards. The black characters exist to absolve the white characters of fault– Dixon has a good heart! It is a white story with white characters that profits from racism.

The film could have survived with the absence of a racial storyline altogether. But, much like post-racism is used to uplift white people, the racial undercurrents of Three Billboards are there to spice it up against the backdrop of today’s cluttered politics. Unfortunately, it seems to have worked. The Academy gave it 7 nominations.

It matters who the Academy will reward for contributing to the conversation of 2017.

The Oscars represent a culture in Hollywood and media at large that is as undemocratic as it is ugly. When we expect sincerity in movies, we should expect their creators to be equally sincere. If Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri wins Best Picture, or Gary Oldman wins Best Actor, everyone will move on. Everyone will watch the Oscars next year. Will all that conversation ever be heard?

The public called, the artists answered. But where are their rewards?

Gary Oldman accepting a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

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