If not billions of viewers, then hundreds of millions tune in to watch the Oscars every year. Although perhaps not as exciting as the world cup, still lots of oohs and ahs; stress-free watching with limited superstitious rituals needed. In fact you don’t even need to be a fan or have watched any of the movies beforehand to become a spectator of this annual competition - fairweather fans are welcome. In that vain, there are those who start a rigorous regimen of movie watching after the winners are announced. You may count me among those.
This year, like last, I stayed up late (yes, my evenings are short) to watch. Perhaps it is the idea of simultaneously engaging in something almost ubiquitous with millions of my fellow human race, or the idea of bearing witness to a moment of life unfolding before our eyes that is so seductive. The prospect of something off script happening is ever so intriguing. And, every once in a while sometimes shocking does happen; can you spell “wardrobe malfunction”? For me it is more the lust for a revealing politically incorrect comment which that 5 second delay cannot prevent. Oh how refreshing. No matter why any of us watch the Oscars, we do.
Among the untold number of viewers, there are those who share with me such excitement for that political undertone that permeates so subtly throughout an evening of artistic expression; unchecked yet so revealing and powerful to those who choose to notice. This year’s Oscars were hosted by Neil Patrick Harris who was comically unimpressive throughout the four-hour pageant. Some of his punch lines were more successful than others. His play on words in his connecting segue after the CitizenFour Oscar acceptance speech was one. Neil said in reference to the subject of the documentary, Edward Snowden, that he couldn't make it to the Oscars for some “Treason” instead of “reason.” Although his comment secured some chuckles, one can’t help but wonder if it came from “laugh-trolls” (not to be mistaken with seat-fillers) who are asked to cue the audience at the end of choreographed punch line.
The premise of the documentary CitizenFour is an admirable one. It reveals one persons’ quest to expose the National Security Agency’s (NSA) intelligence gathering abuses. If one does not perceived Snowden to be a hero, then he would probably be considered a traitor. Judging Snowden's actions is not the real issue here. The issue is whether the government has encroached upon the privacy and rights of its own people, the citizens of America. The discussions that ensued as a result of his actions are important for the nation to discuss to balance privacy vs. perceived security on the one hand. On the other hand the question: is it ok to infringe on the privacy of a group of Americans because they are not “us”; profiling remains to be an issue in these United States. For one, I conduct my daily life with the assumption that my phone calls and emails are monitored. Lets not forget the saying that “being paranoid doesn’t mean that no one is watching you.” I’m not usually concerned with visual racial profiling specially that I look Latino, but I wonder if some officer will call me Jose and send me “back” to where I came from - Mexico perhaps?
Between the Public Service announcements of J. K. Simmons imploring us to talk to your parents, suicide prevention and PTSD epidemic made it to acceptance speeches as well. More politically charged issues worthy of a substantive discussion or rather rectification raised by Patricia Arquette reminding us that working women are paid less than their male counterparts exposed America’s hypocrisy when it comes to gender equality.
Another inequality, this one is along the black-white line by John Legend reminding us that a disproportionate percentage of those who are incarcerated in the US prison system are “people of color.” This is poignant when the Oscars itself suffers from a racial dilemma. 63% of Americans are non-Hispanic white, but the Oscars are overwhelmingly void of color. This is not to speak of the fact that the tension in the U.S. is not only black-white (12% black), but also brown-white; i.e. around 25% of the U.S. population is Hispanic or white Hispanic (no, its not important to distinguish between the two so long as we are aware of our biases).
Allow me to add an additional dimension to this already complex issue. Within the official white America population of 63% there are several “minority” groups including Arabs. Despite the fact that most Arabs look brown, not white, to the naked eye, we are legally classified as white or Caucasian. If Arabs were legally a minority, white America would be that much smaller and a little more insecure about their privileged status. To level the playing field, I believe that Arabs should be offered the same opportunities extended to other minority groups by reclassifying us as a minority. Depriving us of the benefits of the status of a minority group is one thing, discriminating against us is a whole other ballgame; white in name only, brown in profiling by the authorities.
When many of us are viewed with suspicion and our patriotism is questioned, we find ourselves up the creek without a paddle. This is partly due to the historic precedent we ourselves embraced in our willingness to forego our quest for a minority group classification as long as we were not discriminated against. Now that our Arabic heritage triggers negative images in the minds of many by virtue of the numerous conflicts in the region, our classification of our identity as juxtaposed with the broader American one is being tested and reshaped. This is especially so for those “black” Arabs, who are technically classified as “white,” who often find themselves fighting alongside the African American community for racial justice. This, while being given a “white” flag to wave instead of the race card. America keeps forgetting to take off its skewed color blinders even after the light of justice and equality is shone in its face.
Back to the second largest group in the U.S., the Hispanic community. I wonder if that 25% accounts for the 11 million or so illegal immigrants -- probably not. Regardless, you will be hard pressed to find representatives of the Hispanic community among Oscar’s nominees or attendees. The Oscar's director made an effort to zoom in onto the pepper sprinkling of black within the sea of white - wasn't there anyone else other than Oprah to cutaway to? The nominations were lacking proportional representation of African Americans or Latino Americas. Neil Patrick alluded to that fact in his opening monologue with a slight comment confirming the Oscars overwhelming white population; I will celebrate his comment as thoughtful self-criticism.
Watching the Oscar is revealing. One can see a microcosm of America's social imbalances and a glaring betrayal of its own values. The hot button issues are undeniable even when mainstream media can't be bothered thanks to the courage of these political activists posing as Oscar winners.