Oscar Awards: talking about racism in imagined times

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Among the nominees for Best Film, there are three that talk about racism. But why don't anyone happen here and now?

Oscar Awards: talking about racism in imagined times

Among the eight films nominated for Best Film at the Academy Awards, there are three, a considerable number, dealing with the issue of racism: Black Panther, Green Book, and BlacKKKlansman. All three are set in different scenarios, are different genres and explore different problems. They have in common, yes, they explore the issue of race.

Leer en español: Premios Oscar: la raza en los tiempos imaginados

The nominees

Green Book tells the story of an Italian-American bouncer, played by Viggo Mortensen, who must work as a driver and bodyguard of an African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali, during his tour of the so-called Deep South of the United States in the 1960s.

This film is an obvious dialogue with Driving Miss Daisy (1989), in which Morgan Freeman walks a cantankerous old woman and end up being friends. Both explore the issue of racism in their respective times in the southern United States through the story of an unlikely friendship between a white and a black person.

In the 60s in the United States, the Jim Crow laws promoted racial segregation especially in the south of that country. The division between whites and blacks in public space is a subject that the pianist and his employee have to face. In this sense, Green Book is also in dialogue with The Help (2012), the movie is about a white girl who writes the story of her black maids during the 60s. So, once again, both films explore the problem of racism from the history of a friendship that breaks with the segregation that Jim Crow laws imposed.

BlacKKKlansman is the latest film by Spike Lee, a director who has always shown interest and whose film Do the Right Thing was ignored by the Academy in the same year that they awarded Driving Miss Daisy. It tells the story of the first black agent of the Colorado Springs Police Department, who plans a covert mission to expose the local Ku Klux Klan group.

By 1970, the southern United States was mired in KKK racism at the same time that civil rights movements were born and strengthened. In this social context occur the events of this comedy, which, like Green Book, is based on a true story.

Finally, Black Panther. This is the first film with a black superhero as the protagonist.

This film takes place in the imagined African nation of Wakanda, in which two heirs to the throne struggle to have contrary conceptions about their foreign policy. T'Challa wants to keep the nation closed to protect it from the first world and from the colonizers who want to steal their raw material.

His cousin, Killmonger, wants, on the other hand, to protect his own, that is, not only the Wakandians but also the children of immigrants and the black youths around the world unleashing a war with their oppressors. In the end, the superhero decides to open up to take his raw material and technology to all parts of the world without the need for a war.

Read also: These are the Oscar nominees 2019

The imagined times

So, Green Book takes place in the 60s, BlacKKKlansman in the 70s and Black Panther currently, but in an imagined country. None of the three is set in our world nowadays. Perhaps it is easier to talk about racism in the past time or in an imagined one: the Jim Crow laws and the KKK are an obvious example of racism in society, so it is easier to unravel the dynamics of power if we think about them in that context. 

In the world of the spectator, however, the dynamics of racism are camouflaged, less obvious and therefore more difficult to put on the big screen. The idea, of course, of these three great films is that we can identify these same situations that we see on the screen and that seem outrageous to us in our own reality. The idea is that the complaint can be translated into our current and real world.

However, the danger that exists with these cultural productions is that the public conceives the dynamics that they denounce, like racism, as situations of the past. Upon receiving the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Glory" for Selma, Common and John Legend gave a speech about how the film's events around the marches led by Martin Luther King in favor of civil rights are still valid.

The phenomena, for both, do not end but they are transformed. Thus, the events of these three films cannot be conceived as part of a past time or of an invented world, but learn to identify what we see on the screen in our daily lives and fight it.

Maybe you're interested in reading: The Golden Globes: Long live diversity!

There is a reluctance to think about racism in our world in the cinema. This may have to do with the political correctness that has been taken to the Academy in recent years. 12 years slave is a film that does not question the racist dynamics of today and shows this as a phenomenon of the past and was awarded by the Academy the year of its launch.

There are, of course, exceptions in the cinema and on television. Moonlight (2016), also awarded by the Academy, explores the life of a gay black man in Miami, Get Out (2017) speaks of racism in a tone of terror and the series Atlanta follows the lives of three young black men in this city in this years. These three productions, of different genres, put the problem of racism in our days and make us see around us. Doing it is an act of courage since it consists of being self-critical and in throwing at white institutions like the Academy.

The three films nominated this year can be read in the same way. The three promise to be very good and could give a current reading to these three stories from other times. It will depend on the viewer.


LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez Pabón

Translated from "Premios Oscar: la raza en los tiempos imaginados"