Variety: To be nominated for Best Picture, you need a woke social message

The Oscar nominees for Best Picture were announced today and you’ll be shocked to learn that all of the films in contention, save one or two, have a woke social message to offer. The pattern is so blatant that Variety’s chief film critic pointed out that this seems to be what matters most to Oscar voters:

The gradual decline of “A Star Is Born” during awards season has been, for those of us who love the film, a somewhat depressing spectacle to watch. But now that the decline is more or less complete, I think its meaning has at last become clear. “A Star Is Born” was, and is, a rapturous knockout of a romantic melodrama (it’s not as if I’m alone in seeing it that way), but it’s a movie that’s completely and utterly bereft of a social message. In 2018, that makes it seem (dare I say it?) more trivial than the other contenders. It’s just a love story. And though it’s a very grand love story, and was an extraordinarily huge hit, these days that isn’t enough.

Just look at this year’s eight best picture contenders: “Black Panther” (a one-film revolution, and long overdue: the first epically scaled African-American superhero movie), “BlacKkKlansman” (a racial police drama of searing relevance), “The Favourite” (a costume drama of intense post-#MeToo consciousness about issues of female oppression and power), “Roma” (a drama of class consciousness and luminous empathy for a Mexican housekeeper, in an era when immigrants are being demonized), and “Vice” (a pointed political-satirical attack on the sins of a clandestine conservative demagogue).

Plus, a pair of movies that wear their social agenda in such a retrograde way that a lot of woke media types consider them to be beneath contempt, yet the agendas are still very much there: “Green Book” (a classic Hollywood liberal message movie about racial understanding) and “Bohemian Rhapsody” (which presents its Live Aid concert climax as the drama of Freddie Mercury finally coming to full terms with his sexual identity).

So it’s not just having a woke social agenda it’s having one that doesn’t feel quite as hackneyed as it actually is.

The author doesn’t say that this is something new when it comes to the Oscars but the fact that he’s raising it as if it’s a new insight sort of suggests to me he hasn’t been paying attention. Last year’s Best Picture was The Shape of Water. Ed Morrissey reviewed that film last March and called it “Subtle As A Jackhammer And Almost As Intelligent.” I saw it too and that’s my assessment as well. It’s a story that exists for one reason: To attack everyone who isn’t disabled, a minority, gay, or a man-fish as the real monsters. It’s a well-made film but, again, subtle as a hammer.

The year before that the winner was Moonlight. I haven’t seen it but IMDB summarizes it as “A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young, African-American, gay man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.” The 2016 winner was Spotlight, a film about the journalists who uncovered the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal.

The 2015 winner was an exception in the sense that Birdman doesn’t seem to have any clear social commentary. It’s about an aging actor who may be crazy or may, in fact, be a genius. I’d put this one down to Hollywood loving movies about Hollywood. This was also the year that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag got started and there was some anger that Selma hadn’t been nominated for more awards (and didn’t win). Finally, 2014’s winner was 12 Years a Slave so we’re back to a story which is also a social message movie.

I’m going through all of this because the Oscars really has become a place where social pressures to be woke mean only social message movies can win. But it seems we’re also approaching a new line where only social message movies can even be nominated.

Maybe this a reaction to Trump. That seems possible. Hollywood has always been rife with left-wingers but now they are agitated and eager to be part of the resistance. Sooner or later, Trump will be gone. Will Hollywood go back to celebrating stories over woke messages or are we going to be stuck with this sort of blatant messaging forever? If I had to guess, I’d say the latter. How long before someone is making a film about AOC which portrays her as a common-sense moderate? It seems inevitable, doesn’t it?