This is a free edition of Brooklyn, Everywhere, a newsletter where I ponder the many meanings of gentrification, and what we lose in our relentless pursuit of “the American dream.” Sign up here to get it in your inbox. For access to all editions of the newsletter, including subscriber-only exclusives, subscribe to The Atlantic.
Past editions I’ve enjoyed include: And Just Like That... Is A Mirror Image of the New NYC, On Gentrification of Self: An Ode to Jeremy Strong, and America's Inside Voice.
It’s the close of Women’s History Month—yay! Three more days left to be relevant in the cultural conversation! I can’t imagine that anyone wants to read another “hot take” on the slap heard ’round the world at last night’s Oscars, nor do I want to write one. But there were some excellent moments for women that I don’t want to have overshadowed by this icky moment between two men. These are five standouts for me:
- Three women were hosts! Including two Black women! From a visibility standpoint, last night put women at the forefront of the show with Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall taking up hosting duties with aplomb. Of course, women were then awarded only 10 of the 43 awards given out on air, our worst presence in four years. But we hosted!
- Ariana DeBose broke two, too-long-held barriers. Whatever your feelings about West Side Story—and mine, about whether this musical, regardless of how it is cast, is necessary or appropriate in 2022, are complicated —there is no denying Ariana DeBose, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. In doing so, she broke open a door that had been previously closed to Afro Latinas and queer women of color. As she said in her acceptance speech, “To anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.” I hate the phrasing “becomes the first,” because it quietly says that no one had previously “been enough,” instead of putting the onus on the rarity of meaty roles for such artists, the bias that exists in casting and the historical bias of the institution—in this case, the Academy—that acts as a gatekeeper. So, I don’t believe we should applaud institutions for “firsts” anymore.
We should center these moments on the talent and commitment to craft that artists like DeBose need to secure these roles and win these honors. I hope that this leads to us seeing this Boricua dynamo and other Afro Latines and queer women of color cast in more roles that are not just written for them and their backgrounds. Better yet, I hope we see more films and shows with narratives that showcase their tremendous talents and are inclusive of their personal stories.
- After a bad “feminist” moment, Jane Campion wins Best Director, becoming only the third woman to ever do so. Earlier this month, I wrote a piece on womanism versus feminism. Some of you asked whether what I was suggesting was merely a rebranding. It is not. One of the crucial differences, I argued, is that feminism is centered on a patriarchal hierarchy, whereas womanism is centered on creating a world that enhances a woman’s lived experience. A day or so later, Jane Campion illustrated exactly the difference when, after winning for best director at the Critics’ Choice Awards, she called out to the Williams sisters (who were also on the circuit for the film about their father, King Richard). After marveling at their careers, she moments later added, “Venus and Serena, you’re such marvels. However, you don’t play against the guys, like I have to.” This need to diminish other woman’s struggles—particularly the struggles of women of color—in order to highlight the extent of one’s own struggles and accomplishment was a Peak White Feminism Moment™.
But Campion later apologized, and I was delighted to see her win again last night for her remarkable film The Power of the Dog. It is appalling but true that only three women have won Best Director, and only seven women have been nominated (Campion twice). I sadly (or maybe cynically) don’t suspect last night’s award will lead to a massive change, but one can hope.
- Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli reminded us of the importance of intergenerational ties. We live in an ageist society with declining levels of intergenerational relationships, and this was only exacerbated by COVID-19. Too often our culture ignores older people. And yet, so many of us in America—particularly women—are or soon will be dealing with elder care, and have important adults in our lives living in decline. So, with this in mind, I found Lady Gaga, 36, and Liza Minnelli, 76, announcing the Best Picture nominees to be an exemplary moment of how to welcome our aging loved ones’ participation in our culture, while honoring and celebrating them, with dignity and style.
- The Best Picture winner was directed by a woman. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, 18 Best Picture nominees were directed by women. Last night, when CODA—which is about the hearing child of deaf parents wanting to become a singer—won the honor, Sian Heder became only one of three female directors to hit this milestone. Cheers to Sian and all the women who shined last night, way beyond the red carpet.
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