A friend and I left a Malco Paradiso showing of Mad Max: Fury Road utterly confused and expressing that we might even want our $12 back.
Having not seen the original Mel Gibson film, we couldn’t understand why the lead character had a total of about four lines, including some strange signature grunt, “Mrgh!” and why Max and his band of sex slaves spent seventy- five percent of the movie escaping down “Fury Road” from evil warlord “Immortan Joe,” to make the executive decision that they should just up and turn aroundattempting to return to the desert fortress from the beginning of the movie with the full knowledge that Joe and his murderous monster truck drivers were in pursuit. More good guys died as a result.
Two 20-somethings from Memphis obviously don’t affect the decisions at the 88th Academy Awards as Mad Max: Fury Road took home six Oscars including film editing, costume design, makeup, sound editing (beating out Star Wars), sound mixing, and production design.
Aside from Max being Oscarconfirmed as a visually pleasing movie, what made me want to give it another try was how production designer Colin Gibson used his and Lisa Thompson’s win to address the #OscarsSoWhite diversity discussion.
Approaching the mic Gibson immediately mentioned “The multitudes of Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, Americans, South Africans, Namibians,” who made the film possible, and chalked his win up as “the first Oscar for diversity.” It was a classy move given the surrounding controversy of the night.
Host Chris Rock attacked the elephant in the room from the get-go as only Chris Rock could, and although the comedian spoke truths on both sides of the issue, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was truly appropriate for a room of white actors to laugh at some of his remarks.
Mentioning that no black actors were nominated in 1962 or 1963, and that no protests were made, Rock exclaimed, “When your Grandmother’s swingin’ from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.” Christian Bale solemnly stroked his beard and red-faced Dicaprio seemed to avoid cameras looking for confirmation that Rock was for real.
But of course he was for real. America has an ugly, ugly history of hate. The rest of the night followed this juxtaposition of the Academy seemingly saying, “We know we messed up,” but also carrying on with the awards as planned with all-white nominees. The Oscars poked fun at itself with skits featuring Tracy Morgan as The Danish Girl and Rock as The Martian that couldn’t be saved with “white dollars,” but an awkward vibe encircled the television screen as the in-house audience laughed, but the athome audience wondered if the Oscar audience had the right to be laughing.
The orchestra composer happened to be black, Rock described black presenters as “should-be” nominees, and during the ending credits the orchestra was abruptly faded out for Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” a song featured in Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing. Coming from the “power” that nominated an almost all-white awards show the message was confusing, and as Public Enemy frontman Chuck D responded on Twitter, “The point of the song is a call to making change eventually not just applauding the thought.”
Ultimately, I think the Oscars tried to do the right thing - which is important. It was confusing, much like the plot of Mad Max: Fury Road, to see the academy turn around and trek through a desert of controversy with the full knowledge that critics and protesters were in hot pursuit, but at least they handed the keys to Mad Chris Rock and gave it a shot.
Whether the Oscars succeeded in that respect is not truly for me to say, but in my opinion, some real winners of the 88th Academy Awards were those who brought attention to a host of important issues.
During her powerful performance Lady Gaga surrounded herself with college-aged victims of sexual abuse. Spotlight, the drama based on the Boston Globe reporters who exposed abusive Catholic priests, deservedly won original screenplay and best picture. Screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy dedicated their win to “all the journalists who have and continue to hold the powerful accountable, and for the survivors whose courage and will to overcome is really an inspiration to us all.”
Leonardo DiCaprio, who finally won best actor, amended the speech he’s most likely had in his back pocket for years to address global warming and climate change. Dave Grohl performed a moving rendition of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” for the “In Memoriam” segment.
Even Louis C.K. stood up for the little guy, the winners of the documentary short film categorywho aren’t nearly as wealthy as the other Oscar winners.
“This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic,” he said. “It’s going to give them anxiety to keep this Oscar in their crappy apartment.” As C.K. opened the envelope he turned to the audience and joked that Mad Max: Fury Road had won yet another category. Healthy and deserved laughter ensued.