Mar 28 • 9M

THB #108: Oscars in Pieces: Piece 1

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David Poland
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My plan was to write about Oscar last night just after the ceremony. It was all supposed to be over at 8p… after all, they dumped 8 awards to pre-tape to assure that it would be only 3 hours. 43 minutes after the 8p promise, they wrapped.

By the time it was all over, there were so many problems, before, during, and after Will Smith, that I could provide an endless stream of commentary on Twitter, moment by moment, but the idea of summing things up was beyond. I left my home. I spent 3 hours with friends, but while the cascade of opinion was enjoyable, it wasn’t clarifying. I started writing again at 1am, but by that point, I was just making a list of things that needed Marie Kondo-ing.

Truth is, I am still trying to get a handle on it. I do not want to simplify it all down to a series of absolutes.

First thing…

Dawn Hudson needs to be fired immediately. She runs the show and she did not even get up during the commercial break and tell Will Smith to leave the auditorium. This is, amongst so many other destructive failures for which she never accepts blame, inexcusable.

People talk about security and such. This was the 9-11 of events for The Academy and the idea of being prepared to defend against it is not realistic. No one could have anticipated that a professional performer would take the stage and slap a presenter violently and then scream epithets from his seat.

What matters, at that point, is what action you take from that point on. And the adult answer was, you ask him to leave. And if he wins, you tell the audience he is not there to accept the award.

Let him do his mea culpa bullshit on the talk show circuit.

And frankly, his “apology” was a load of entitled, masturbatory bullshit any which way you cut it. If he wasn’t buried by his actions, he was buried by his excuse making. The Room allowed it, not just as sheep, but as show biz professionals who keep dancing through real tears. Some were confused. Some were thinking he was doing something honorable. But mostly, the option of silence or booing just isn’t in the DNA of the group.

Had one person had the fortitude to yell, “Abusive Asshole!” at him, they would have been booed and shushed and been a hero for their rest of their lives in retrospect. No one did.

The Academy leadership released a statement today that reflected their primary skill… they covered their ass.

“The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”

Oh… fuck them.

Seriously. A formal review? California law? Does Hudson’s Academy have any standards left?

Even with the idiotic Twitter favorite moment thing… they stiffed Twitter when it was presented, not mentioning the company that they partnered with… after having told media that the presentation would not be in the main body of the show, but in the pre-show, which turned out to be a lie. Having it both ways. Never showing real courage. That is Dawn Hudson’s legacy at The Academy. That is what culminated last night.

A mess of a show.

Opening their live event with a onanistic taped tribute by Beyoncé to Beyoncé for 6 precious minutes - about double any other nominated song - and not a single image referencing the movie in any way, except that they apparently Christo-ed some South Central tennis courts to a degree where they no longer were functional as tennis courts.

Finally getting to the live show and immediately interrupting it with DJ Khalid mumbling something rappy at the hosts, who seem to have had no idea whatsoever how to react.

A DJ doing the music for an hour, then supplanted with a 4-piece “all-star band” that you needed a road map to recognize.

A set with so many lines going in to so many directions that the background image on almost everything was a massive distraction.

A heavily promoted 60-year Bond tribute that lasted about 90 seconds and had no coherence as a piece of editing, introduced by 3 extreme sports figures for no apparent reason.

A heavily promoted 50-year Godfather reunion - clip package also less than 2 minutes - before a walk-out by 2 members of the cast and the director, just days after others who were missing from this (Caan, Duvall, Shire) were online promoting the release of the 4K of the film, providing actual content of value.

But they found a way to f-up the Godfather bit even more by having it intro’ed by former music superstar Sean Combs (whatever he is calling himself this week… the new Madonna of aging once hugely relevant men) and then insulting the original and indelible score by rapping over it… because apparently The Godfather isn’t enough. (I guess in a Citizen Kane tribute, this producer would turn Rosebud into an NFT… because it’s so now!)

A giant dance number in front of the In Memorium opening with a long tribute to the great Sidney Poitier, prioritizing him above all the others lost, then eventually adding 2 more individual tributes, also putting them above (not as above as Sidney) all the people we lost. And tagging the whole thing with a card suggesting going to a web site to see more people they didn’t bother including in the show.

And speaking of ham-fisted title-card games, this is how the show “handled” Ukraine… with a wordy, badly written series of title-cards, again, referring people to some website. That’s an epic fail coming from a show about a visual medium. If they couldn’t come up with a better idea (and I am not a fan of the idea of a live feed of Zelenskyy), a one-minute edited piece in that same slot, using footage from what is happening in Ukraine, would have been sad, emotional, and a million times better.

And these are the broad strokes. I haven’t even touched on the awards or the hosts or even the detail of the Will Smith debacle that marks the end of The Academy Awards being taken seriously unless it digs out somehow.

I think part of my ongoing shock is that I anticipated a bad award show. I anticipated offenses. And I cleared my head going into the show, as I do before every movie I see that I am wary of, hoping to have to explain how wrong I was and how the film triumphed.

And this Oscar show delivered every bad choice I anticipated and then managed to go above and beyond in its failings. For me, they all attach back to things I have been writing about for years and years. There are times when you don’t want to believe your instinctual beliefs… you want to be proven wrong… you want to be the loudmouth who just didn’t see the master plan. But this is, sadly, not one of those times.

Everything starts with how you see yourself… how you see your organization. The Academy had many flaws, from a press perspective, in the years before Dawn Hudson’s arrival. But since she landed, the organization has become more and more like the manager she is. She manages up, always keeping those who have power over her in a comfort zone. And she reacts… always reacts. Clean up the mess. Don’t let them see you sweat. Smile and charm, no matter what. Keep moving forward. Never explain. Never complain.

Problem is - and ironically, I have always liked Dawn as a person in the social world - there is no ground there. No integrity. No standard.

Hudson has absolutely been an aggressive force in changing the composition of AMPAS membership. But the initial wave of this was her onboarding friendlies from the Film Independent gig. And ultimately, she built a wall of protection around her with claims of being a feminist and inclusionist.

But she has been a disaster. The 2020 Initiative, spurred by public outcry, not a proactive choice, was promoted in a misleading way, turning into an international embrace, but doing almost nothing for people of color who actually work in and around Hollywood, which is the heart of the organization. To be fair, it was somewhat effective in getting more women into The Academy.

The Museum is a wildly over budget, under-delivering mess, starting with the Dawn-led decision to abandoned the land The Academy bought in what is now a thriving neighborhood of growth and to take on the old department store which is one reason why the Academy Museum is seriously flawed, housed in a low-ceiling warehouse style building that cost a fortune to make safe for public use again and allowed little creativity by architects or display designers. (The giant cement ball houses no exhibits, only 2 theaters.)

She has presided over the decade of serious erosion of the Oscar show ratings, including the last 2 shows, the worst and 2nd worst rated shows ever.

But she is still scheduled to take home another $700,000+ for another year before a new CEO is in place.

Only in Hollywood, my friends… only in Hollywood.

Until a few hours from now, after I take a deep breath and write Part 2…