Sunday night marks the annual Academy Awards, where the top films and performances of the year will be honored and celebrated.
As an avid fan of cinema, I watch every year. But the awards have become mostly boring and predictable as various guilds and societies, along with the best public relations campaign, tend to anoint the winners early on.
Even more predictable will be the numerous politically charged speeches that accompany the awards. I’m a believer in free speech so they don’t ever particularly bother me in either direction, but political speeches at awards ceremonies tend to put a lot of people on edge.
Still, it’s interesting to get an annual snapshot of the best the industry has to offer and what kind of messages it is putting out.
And there is deeper meaning to be found in each of the Best Picture nominees, all of which will seem relatable to people.
The frontrunner, “La La Land,” about an aspiring jazz musician and actress, paints a rosy picture of Hollywood, but anyone who has ever had big dreams of anything and had to make huge sacrifices along the way can relate to it.
“Moonlight” is a three-part story about a young black and gay boy growing up in a rough area of Miami, struggling to find acceptance and, later in life, trying to come to terms with who he is. But one doesn’t have to necessarily be gay or black to relate to that idea of trying to be something they’re not and then finding themselves in the world.
“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the story of Army medic Desmond Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist and conscientious objector whose heroism saved 75 soldiers at the Battle of Okinawa. Anyone should be able to appreciate the importance of sticking to one’s values and beliefs while making a difference in the world.
“Hell or High Water,” a neo-Western combined with a crime drama, gives a look into the economic insecurity and sense of abandonment felt by countless Americans.
“Manchester by the Sea,” my personal favorite, is about grief but also uplifting in the end. The main character, after losing his brother, is faced with being the guardian of his nephew and he never shies away from that responsibility of looking out for his nephew, even as he faces his own personal demons from his past. It’s a story of coming to terms with grief through the deep love of family above all.
“Arrival” goes way beyond a typical science fiction movie in teaching us that communication is vitally important to the health of our society. The world’s conflicts are petty by comparison to the health and survival of our planet, and we are all better through strength in numbers.
There are three other nominees I haven’t mentioned, but the one that evoked the strongest reaction out of me over the past year was “Hidden Figures.”
It’s the story of three female African-American mathematicians and their efforts in advancing the American space program while working at NASA. Katherine G. Johnson, in particular, calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury, which put Alan Shepard into space and John Glenn in orbit around Earth.
After watching it, I was inspired by the brilliance of these three women, but also frustrated on a number of levels.
Frustrated that it took more than half a century for these women to finally get exposure and wide-range recognition for their efforts. But also what it says about our country as a whole.
We don’t really dream big anymore. We don’t collectively aspire to many things. The 1960s was a revolutionary and socially divisive time in this country, but there was at least some sense of unity in wanting to be the best.
This was never more apparent than in our remarkable advancements in space science that reached a pinnacle when we went to the moon in 1969.
The astronauts of that era were household names and heroes to my parents and grandparents.
Half a century later, NASA continues to see its funding slashed and its potentially groundbreaking missions delayed. And I couldn’t tell you the name of any astronaut in recent years.
Unless it’s following some kind of major tragedy or catastrophe, Americans hardly seem united anymore.
The chief slogan of President Trump’s campaign was “Make America Great Again.” People will take their own meanings from that, but for me, making America great again means aspiring to greatness as a nation and uniting together to achieve things that serve the betterment of the human race.
Scott Thompson is editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.