It’s that time of year where we get to watch a bunch of films, which only made it to New Zealand about a week ago, fight it out to be recognised by a committee that’s more diverse than ever, but still mostly old white men. It’s the Oscars! In case if you didn’t know, it’s named after the Muppet who lives in the trash can Meryl Streep throws most of hers in, because there’s no more room on the shelf. Actually, that’s not even close to being true.
This year, the big prize (Best Picture) is basically down to two incredibly different films: La La Land and Moonlight. One’s a musical about the hardships faced by two beautiful white creatives in LA, and the other is about people dealing with stuff that’s actually hard.
La La Land is the favourite right now. With 14 nominations, it matches a previous record set by All About Eve in 1950 (Bette Davis is rolling so hard in her grave right now she’s going to dig herself back out). The narrative that has been spun every time they’ve La-la-landed another award gong so far has been about just how hard it was to het a major studio to make this movie. Sure, it was difficult when Damien Chazelle (the writer and director of La La Land) hadn’t made it yet. But after his first film, Whiplash, won several Oscars, it’s hard to imagine getting a musical (popular) set in LA (popular) starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (so fucking popular) could have been that much of a challenge.
What gets me about La La Land is that it takes this traditional, old-Hollywood style of film-making, and then gives us a traditional romance at the centre. There’s nothing new in the story. Imagine how much more exciting those old Hollywood tropes could have been if they framed something more exciting: a gay love story! An interracial love story! Anything but this!
I will admit my feelings for La La Land may be biased because I saw it on a first date and, here’s a little tip, maybe a giant musical whose plot spans the highs and lows of an entire relationship is not great first-date material.
Moonlight has been fast rising as the outsider favourite. Based on a semi-autobiographical play, it is a three-part story of a black gay man’s coming of age that will put your heart through a hot-yoga level emotional work out. It’s an incredible flick.
I’ve heard people call Moonlight ‘Oscar bait’ because it’s about someone who’s black and gay. If queer movies are ‘Oscar bait’, then it’s clearly not very flagrant bait as only about ten queer movies have been nominated ever. Google it. I know, I could Google it and list them… but I’m writing this at midnight and I don’t want to. Also, I list them on a recent episode of my podcast so you should just listen to that! I looked it up then but I closed the tab. In the time I’ve described my history of searching this I definitely could have found it. But I didn’t. You’ll just have to do it yourself.
I imagine the same people calling out films like Moonlight as ‘Oscar bait’ are also the ones writing “PC [political correctness] gone mad” in the Stuff comments. And don’t worry, little Stuff commenter, just because a black, queer story is being watched and recognised as a great film, that doesn’t mean you can’t get out your old VHS of Rocky or whatever you need to feel happy.
To call gay films ‘Oscar bait’ is especially frustrating in a world where a gay actor has never won an Oscar for playing a gay character (I actually Googled this, you’re welcome). Meanwhile, straight, cis actors playing gay or trans roles do get awards attention – because straighties are so impressed one of their own could kiss a boy or wear a dress or kiss a girl or wear a vest.
I just don’t buy that it’s that impressive to watch a straight guy pretend to be gay, given that every second film has a woman who has to pretend she’s in love with some guy twice her age.
When I hear that Moonlight is ‘Oscar bait’, despite the fact that La La Land seems to be made in a lab designed to create Oscar buzz, I just feel disappointed that more people won’t seek out this film that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. So go see it. Or see Emma Stone get angry because her boyfriend didn’t come and see her totally shit-looking one woman show, if that’s what floats your boat.
Editor’s note: this month’s piece was written by Eli, one half of The Male Gayz as Chris is in rehearsals of his show, Camping. Usually, their column would be co-wrote between the two of them.