The Academy Awards: Drawing 2013 to a golden close

The Academy Awards:  Drawing 2013 to a golden close

What will the next 12 years look like for some of the winners?

By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Photo: Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
The latest Oscar telecast unfolded with somewhat muted fanfare – although the performance of Pharrell’s Best Original Song nominee “Happy” included spirited and carefree singing and dancing both onstage and in the aisles ­– Lupita and Meryl got more than a little groovy – and ultimately, few, if any real surprises. In terms of the major categories, the four performance spots along with Best Director and Best Picture, the sense of inevitability generated the requisite snark from pundits on social media. Yet, I would like to believe it had less to do with actual cynicism and boredom and was more of a reaction intended to nudge the purported “one billion” viewers around the globe, most of whom hadn’t watched any of the nominated films in a movie theater.

The times, they are a-changing. More and more, Academy voters and audiences alike are drifting away from the movies, although likely for quite different reasons. Much of the insider coverage of the final days leading up to the show focused on off-the-record comments from Academy members who admitted difficulty in sitting through the harsh realities depicted in “12 Years a Slave,” Steve McQueen’s epic take on American slavery, which walked away with the night’s top prize, Best Picture (a producing award, which means Brad Pitt finds himself with a little gold man for his mantle). All agreed it was a noble and historic subject, but too in-your-face for a voting body that, while “liberal leaning,” skews older – 55 and up based on the statistics from a variety of polls and studies released during the run-up.

Of course, this contrasts with mainstream audiences who vote with their dollars week after week at the box office. Higher ticket prices mask declining numbers of actual patrons – specifically butts in seats. Would-be ticket buyers fall toward the lower age brackets, and the reality is that demographic has less allegiance to the outdated construct of the movie house as a communal space. Today, the communal space is virtual and mobile.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where and how we are entertained, but about the form itself. What kinds of stories will be delivered and who will be delivering them? Having spent this Oscars season offering commentary across several media platforms (in print, radio and social media), I still find myself going back to the original questions that fuel my own interests and passions when it comes to cinema. To borrow the timeframe from this year’s Best Picture winner, I am fascinated by what will happen over the course of the next 12 years in film.

For director Steve McQueen, the fine arts practitioner turned filmmaker with just three features under his belt (the critically-lauded “Hunger” and the taboo-teasing “Shame” set the stage for him), the future would appear completely open, in all the ways that matter. He has his hands in the development of a feature on Fela Kuti, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as the presumed lead, and there is talk of a BBC series. As the demarcations between film, television and streaming outlets continue to blur, such options will become the norm for top-tier talent like McQueen, and while a directing Oscar would seem inevitable for him, we may reach the stage where the award will no longer have that career-defining allure of old.

A lot can occur in 12 years. A man can experience life and perspective-altering situations that bend, yet do not break, his spirit. But what about a young woman, like Lupita Nyong’o, a newly-minted Best Supporting Actress winner for her searing portrayal of a fierce plantation slave with no recourse? I look at Nyong’o as a challenge to the studio system; one I hope that system and its key players – the producers, directors and writers – will embrace with revolutionary fervor. This is because we know there is no ready-made franchise awaiting her – no “Hunger Games” adaptation, no slot in “The Avengers” roster. The system will have to get creative, and make no mistake, Lupita Nyong’o is waiting.

 

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at
Film@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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