Last night, when Graham Moore accepted his award for Adapted Screenplay, he spoke movingly about his own teen-age suicide attempt:
“Alan Turing never got to stand up on a stage like this and look out on all these disconcertingly attractive faces…. when I was 16, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different, and I felt like I don’t belong… so I would like this moment to be for that kid out there that thinks she’s weird or different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere – you do. Stay weird, stay different, and when it’s your turn [to shine], please pass this same message on.” (http://oscar.go.com/video/2015-awards-ceremony-highlights/_m_VDKA0_4756q5vd)
Earlier in the evening, director Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland’s first Oscar winner, powered through the cut-off music, while talking about the suicide of (?) his son.
“Sunday’s Oscar ceremony featured two historic moments. One was Poland’s first Oscar: Ida, the black-and-white movie about a nun traveling through ’60s Europe, won for Best Foreign-Language Film. The second came when Pawel Pawlikowski, the movie’s dapper director, took the stage to accept the award.
Pawlikowski launched into a seemingly never-ending stream of thank-yous, prompting the inevitable swell of play-off music. The director sped up his speech but kept on going, and then … the music stopped. That’s right: Pawel Pawlikowski, hero of our times, went up against the music that dispensed hundreds of directors, actors, and producers before him, and won. The audience erupted in cheers, and several later awardees, inspired by his example, fought the music as well.”
Oscar has a long history of controversies up on the stage, the first most famous, of course, being the Sasheen Littlefeather controversy when Marlon Brando, refusing his own Oscar, gave his acceptance speech spot to an American Indian activist to make her point about the mistreatment of native Americans; the Alcatraz protest was just going on at the time, I believe.
The Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather attended the ceremony in Brando’s place, stating that the actor “very regretfully” could not accept the award, as he was protesting Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in film. Littlefeather read a portion of a lengthy statement Brando had written, the entirety of which was later published in the press, including The New York Times. “The motion picture community has been as responsible as any,” Brando wrote, “for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil.” (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marlon-brando-declines-best-actor-oscar)
This was, in part, why the Academy instituted the limits on acceptance speeches – that, and the rambling, incoherent incessant speeches that are sometimes indulged in – now that it’s a television show, the object of the exercise is to keep things moving. But when someone uses their 45 seconds of podium time to make a personally-important statement dear to his or her heart – and often pertinent to the making of the film being rewarded – when is it appropriate to cut a speaker off without being rude and inconsiderate? Or, on a live, international broadcast, does that even matter?
And suicide is the perfect subject to discuss this over – what is more important than life and death, when one chooses death over continuing pain and suffering of life, for pain and suffering is a huge part of life. And depictions of pain and suffering is big bucks in the movie business very often – and how often over the years since 1945 have Holoocaust stories won the Best Documentary Oscar? And I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know, but I have the impression IDA is, itself another story of survival after the Holocaust.
Suicide and Survival
These are the two options faced by every potential suicide; I know, I’ve been there. I’ve read that nearly every survivor of jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge look back and are glad for survival and regret having made the attempt in the first place. The Oscars are supposed to be a celebration, a self-congratulatory exercise in self- and mutual-congratulation. What space do serious subjects have, in a celebratory evening of recognition and acknowledgment of artistic achievement?
Personally, I think everything; no one and nothing exists in a vacuum (“No man is an island”), and what affects one of us, or a segment of a population, ultimately affects us all. It is right and proper, fitting a just, in a glamorous public moment, to take that moment in reflection, not only of achievement but of conditions and circumstances around us that propel us to communicate, to create, to make art that touches peoples hearts, minds and souls. When the object initially is to touch peoples’ hearts, why is it expected, given even just 45 seconds on the international podium, to pay respects to the people and topics that propel us forward in the first place?
Or maybe it’s just a me-thing, and the “real”world HAS no place in the narcissistic world of entertainment self-congratulation?
Nah. Take the stage, take the time, make your moment count for something. THAT matter; a speech at Oscar time can have as much influence and effect when see by millions, live as it happens, as the film (expecially a non-feature, nonfiction piece that few will actually sit down and watch) itself.