What Was Jewish About This Year's Oscars?
This year’s Oscars featured some great Jewish moments. “Call Me by Your Name,” a coming-of-age romance between two young Jews (who both wear some great Star of David necklaces), won best adapted screenplay. Dan Cogan (a Reform Jew!) won the best documentary award for his film, "Icarus." Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish, both of whom have Jewish roots, presented awards for Best Documentary Short and Live Action Short with the best and most hilarious bit of the night. Gal Gadot surprised A Wrinkle in Time movie-goers across the street with hot dogs and candy. But the most Jewish thing that happened during the Oscars was front and center all night: an emphasis on the importance of representation.
In a fantastic video that played during the ceremony, Kumail Nanjiani (who co-wrote “The Big Sick”) summed up the necessity of representation this way: “Some of my favorite movies are movies by straight white dudes about straight white dudes. Now, straight white dudes can watch movies starring me, and you relate to that. It’s not that hard, I’ve done it my whole life.”
Racial justice, LGBTQ justice, and gender justice are Jewish issues. When members of our community see themselves represented on screen in characters who aren’t bound by stereotypes, our entire Jewish community wins.
There were some incredible, very representative, barrier-breaking movies nominated this year. “Get Out,” “Call Me by Your Name,” and “Lady Bird” all were nominated for best picture, and they all broke barriers with their themes, cast, and crew. “Coco” won Best Animated Feature and its song “Remember Me,” which has Spanish lyrics, won Best Song. “Stand Up for Something” from the movie “Marshall” also was nominated for Best Song, and its singers Andra Day and Common were joined onstage by prominent social justice activists including Janet Mock, Dolores Huerta, and Bryan Stevenson.
Of course, not everything that happened at the Oscars was a picture-perfect representation of diversity. “The Shape of Water,” which has been criticized for its representation of disability, won Best Picture. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won two awards for acting, and although the performances of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell were excellent (and Frances’ acceptance speech was a highlight of the night), the movie plays racism off as humor and gives an unearned redemption to a racist police officer. In addition, Gary Oldman and Kobe Bryant both of whom have been accused of sexual assault, also won Oscars on Sunday night.
If you ask me, “Get Out” should have won best picture, Timothee Chalamet (who’s got some Jewish roots!) should have won best actor, and Keala Settle should have performed This is Me a few more times during the broadcast (bonus: its co-writer, Benj Pasek, is Jewish). Despite my grievances, this year’s Oscars showed that we’re making progress. A few years ago, “Lady Bird” and “Get Out” likely would not even have been nominated, let alone been selected as winners. Representation was apparent in the nominees, in many of the wins, and in the ceremony itself. That’s all good news for the Jewish community.