Heading into the Academy Awards, Get Out was either the pick or the alternate prediction to win Best Picture, from The LA Times, to Vanity Fair, to The Ringer, to The Atlantic, and Twitter. If one had only read those publications and a few others, there would be no doubt that Get Out would win. Many writers and pundits ignored that Get Out only had a realistic shot at Best Original Screenplay, with no chance of winning its two other nominations: Best Actor and Best Director. Yet many talked themselves into Get Out winning.
Why? Why would so many seasoned Oscar pundits ignore what was right in front of their eyes? Much of it had to do with “another” post-racial lie.
“Another?”, you might say. Yes, “another.” Except the other didn’t happen in film. It happened in politics. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, waves of political pundits predicted that we were in a post-racial society. That rush and exultation soon gave way to a daunting truth: that one win meant very little in the face of historical oppression, that Obama’s victory was only the first body blow in a long fight.
Moonlight was met with very much the same praise. And who could blame anyone? A proud independent film made by outsiders depicting drugs and ambiguous sexual orientation among African Americans in Florida? It was a film that wasn’t supposed to win, that never had a chance to win in previous years. This narrative took on greater appeal because of Moonlight‘s “opponent,” La La Land, a musical that represented the films that had always been rewarded by the Academy: films about Hollywood, about the struggles of bourgeois whites, featuring large production values, larger personalities and star power, and even grander musicality. Sorely overused, it was literally, David vs. Goliath.
Yet, maybe “we” should have assumed that Moonlight was a one-off. A once in a lifetime event, formed by luck, talent, and hard work.
The post-racial lie was only a whisper then, said only by short-breath-think-pieces found in the lower search fields of Twitter and opinion columns.
But then Get Out happened! Then Mudbound happened. Then Black Panther occurred. Then A Wrinkle in Time was announced. The lineage was clear, the “Renaissance” turning. The lie was complete, Get Out was going to win Best Picture because Moonlight had won.
However, much like the 2016 election, a key component was forgotten: the old white voter demographic.
Yes, the AMPAS had pushed themselves to great lengths to overhaul their membership with more women and POC voters. And yes, that push most likely put Moonlight over the top. But a great majority of voters are still old and white.
“Weren’t they old and white when Moonlight was up for Best Picture, what changed?”
A few things.
For one, Moonlight was in a one-on-one battle against La La Land that made it easier for voters to coalesce around it. And in the new preferential voting system, passion is rewarded. On the other hand, Get Out was competing with four other viable winners: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, Lady Bird, and the ultimate winner The Shape of Water. The voters were left in too many camps to form one dedicated voting bloc.
Get Out also had only four nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay, as compared to Moonlight, which had eight: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Score, and Cinematography. In terms of industry support, Moonlight was much closer to The Shape of Water rather than Get Out. Still, many thought Get Out would win.
But most importantly, many ignored genre and race bias. Get Out is a horror film. Horror films don’t win Best Picture. Sure, indies are also rare, but there have at least been a couple in the past few decades that have won: The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire, and Moonlight. That’s already far more than any horror-type winners.
Also, Get Out was proudly racially overt and subversive, which required a lot of reading between the lines for a largely old white voting demographic. That is, what made Get Out unique wasn’t as readily apparent as say, in Moonlight, which at its heart was about unrequited love and misunderstanding.
But if you don’t believe me then read the Anonymous Oscar ballots: “Get Out is not Best Picture enough…[it’s] a smart movie but it doesn’t quite have the sophistication the Academy sometimes gravitates towards,” one Producer stated to Indiewire. “As far as I’m concerned, they played the race card,” said a voter from the Actor’s branch to The Hollywood Reporter . “I had multiple conversations [about Get Out] with longtime Academy members who were like, “That was not an Oscar film,” a voter told Vulture.
Yes, the Anonymous Oscar ballots were a small sample size, yet, many predicted Get Out to win.
Many foretold it wining because they were living a post-racial lie. Sure, you could say that some thought it would win because it was the “best film.” But would The Atlantic or The Ringer or Vanity Fair or anyone else picked Get Out had Moonlight not won the previous year? Probably not.
In fact, I would extend that no one would have given it more than minor odds of winning (which in reality it only had) had Moonlight not won the year prior.
And while The Shape of Water (the film I predicted to win Best Picture and thoroughly enjoyed) isn’t Oscar bait, far from it, it was never going to be as difficult for an older white voter to buy into as Get Out. Yet, as obvious as that fact seemed, not as many wanted to believe what was always apparent, that The Shape of Water was the clear front runner and winner.
And while the loss by Get Out wasn’t solely a racial decision, it still won Best Original Screenplay (a historical feat), the picking of it to win might have been. Because honestly, the Academy never gave any indication that Get Out had the widespread support necessary to win. It didn’t have many nominations and it was a front runner in only one category.
Instead, it appeared that voters and pundits picked Get Out because many were voting with their hearts rather than their heads. Many saw an open race for Best Picture and thought, “Well, Moonlight won last year, why not Get Out this year?” Many wanted the lie to be true. But the lie was never more than pained soft tones at the back of one’s ear.
Rather, belief was predicated on the same lie that made us believe that Obama was a new wave, that old white voters didn’t exist anymore or had evolved, and that the fight was over and won.
It was a post-racial lie, a whimsical dream that was extinguished with the hushed notes of “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” on March 4th, 2018.
Until next year, this will be my last think piece on the Oscars. Thank you to all who have been on this wild and crazy ride. There’ll be some exciting changes coming to 812filmreviews, and I hope you’ll come along for the journey.