What if there was an Academy Award for best intersectional lens?

If, in addition to best picture, best actress, best director, and so on, the Oscars awarded “best intersectional lens,” Frozen River would be my pick. With its nuanced examination of class, race, white privilege, gender, geopolitical location and the global realities that simultaneously force migration and enable profit from human trafficking, the film functions as a less heavy handed and more globally aware Crash.

Unlike that Oscar winner, Frozen River is only nominated in two categories, best actress and best writing. I think it should also be up for best picture and best supporting actress. Plus, it should hands down win my suggestion for best intersectional. Heck, this film should prompt the creation of that award!

If such an award existed, how would other Oscar contenders fair?

Of the films I saw, The Visitor would also deserve a nomination in such a category.  The astute representation of US immigration policy and its deleterious effects, the denunciation of incarceration/legal systems, the suggestion that the global economy is rabidly unjust, and the examination of race/class dynamics certainly make it the runner up. Yet, as is the case with almost all films I saw this year, it fails in the gender category. (I didn’t see The Wrestler but from previews it seems it could be another contender for an intersectional lens award).

Milk’s portrayal of gay rights and political activism gives it points for a social justice lens and LGBTQ factor. Yet, it was really only G with on one lone L and hardly a nod to B, T, or Q. There was one Asian gay male and one problematically exoticized gay Latino. As I watched, as much as I enjoyed Penn’s performance and the points the film made about activism, I kept asking “Where are the women? Where are the queers? Where are POC?” Was SF really that damn white and male?

As for Slumdog Millionairre, the focus on class was laudable, but the heteronormatvie romance theme accompanied by the rags to riches fairy tale framing was hardly groundbreaking. Good music, great cinematography, great acting, great characters, yes. But great intersectional film? No. (Especially given the film’s failure to locate the analysis of class and violence in a globalized frame that took Western hegemony/imperialism to task.)

Doubt critiqued patriarchy and sexism in relation to religion, education, race, and class. And I don’t know of a better film exploring the hierarchical gendered dynamics of the priest/nun dichotomy. Yet, all the key issues the film circulates around were dealt with a bit too subtly to give it intersectional woomph. When I saw it as a play, the narrow confines of the stage made for a sharper critique.

The Changeling lacked any intersectional edge. This was particularly disappointing given the narrative was rife for more focus on gender, class, and the institutution of motherhood in a historicized context. The film gestured toward the sexism governing the police force and the wider society, but the sex/class dynamics only hovered at the edges, never making their way into the body of the narrative. Plus, were the nods to heteronormative romance thrown in at the end really necessary? Like Collins will be ok now that her boss has asked her out to dinner or a cute detective gave her the look. Ugh.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button never moved beyond its “curious” nostalgia, romance, and wish-fulfillment. This was especially frustrating given the rich characters and the complex, shifting socio-historical moments the film circulates around (ala Forrest Gump). The movie danced  around race, class, and ageism, yet skirted any real engagement with these let alone with either the war/militarization or the Hurricane Katrina framing.

Wall*E focused on corporate consumer capitalism and environmental devastation but gets a zero for its representation of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Double zero for the fat hating components of the narrative. For more on Wall*E, see one of my most widely read posts: “What if Wall*E and Eve lived in a future populated by transgender queer robots” here.

I am still processing my reaction to The Reader. I think the gendered dynamics of Winslet’s character, the other female SS guards, and the nearly all male judicial system could have been teased out more. The representation of all the women turning against Hannah with Michael being her lone prince smacked of stereotypical sexist portrayal-as did the depiction of the “survival” Jewish daughter at the end.

Dark Knight
doesn’t deserve an intersectional nod either. I found its portrayal of race particularly problematic, as noted here.

If you haven’t seen it, please please please see Frozen River. Its out on DVD and its intersectional focus, strong acting, superb writing, and over-all societal critique is worth your time – way more so than crazy red carpet shenanigans. (I admit to watching the Awards, but the pre and post show stuff is too much for me. I even tape the show itself it so I can have the fast forward button at the ready).

Who knows, maybe we will have a “Feminist Film Awards” show someday on mainstream television (and yes, Ellen would be a great host  — or Margaret Cho – or Wanda Sykes – or all three!)- if so, hopefully we could focus less on the dress and more on the content/messages of the films.

8 thoughts on “What if there was an Academy Award for best intersectional lens?”

  1. PWI,
    THANK YOU for pointing out that Slum Dog Millionaire consists of heternormative bunk in addition to its arguably progressive look at class. Also, you might be interested to know that in the book Q&A on which SDM is based (have you read it?), the Latika character is abused as a child but grows up to be a tough lawyer who, in the end, actually saves Jamal from the game show producers who are beating him and accusing him of cheating. Of course none of this showed up in the movie, effectively disempowering Latika’s character. I griped about this on Onely, too. It infuriates me that the moviemakers are being rewarded for such a sexist downgrade of the character.
    –CC

  2. CC,
    Thanks so much for your comment as I have not read the book and this puts an entirely new spin on things. Youch! Now I am even more disappointed with the film. And it’s being hailed as SOOOO wonderful. Is the book worth the read? Not that I ever get time for pleasure reading — but I can add it to my ever-growing list.

  3. What bothers me most is the way they dressed up those kids and carted them to the Oscars like they were some sort of exhibit. None of those children made a large profit on this movie and they are returning to their homes in the slums. In a matter of days they will be forgotten by the western media that thought that they were all so great.

  4. Renee,
    That really bothered me about the show too. The whole cast up on stage so happy and especially the kids knowing the reality of who really profited from the movie… I also think that Hollywood does things like this to pat itself on the back for its “celebration of diversity” but when you watch all the faces of winners historically in the montages, their are VERY few faces of color… Plus, the movie itself had such a happy face american dream metaphor I think that was being rewarded too. A movie that took the US to task for its role in creating and perpetuating those slums would not be rec’d in the same way I suspect…

  5. Great roundup! The “G”-ness of Milk really bothered me. When talking about this with some of my white gay male friends, though, their view is that it was just a representation of Milk’s reality that he was a white gay guy surrounded by mostly other white gay guys. I don’t really buy that argument, but that’s the perspective that some gay guys have.

    Furthermore, sadly, I often wonder if white gay men even notice when people of color, lesbians, trans, and other queer folks are almost entirely missing from “mainstream” gay (white male) films like Milk. To them, LGBT often does just mean “G” and the Gay White Male is the default gay human being.

    1. Fannie,
      Nice to hear from you!
      I don’t buy the white gay male argument you mention either… And I agree entirely that too often all the letters besides “G” get left out…

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