“ There’s a lot of love in this room, and let’s use it to create and champion bold and diverse work, work that inspires us towards joy, towards hope and towards empathy.”
– Jordan Horowitz, producer, La La Land
“Tonight is proof that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith…The power of art is that is transcends all these things. That is the magic of the movies and that is what we celebrate tonight.”
-Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs
The Oscars are such a unique marker of time. When I was 14, the Oscars were a holiday for me. The movies were a Shangri-La where my dreams and inner being were kept eternally young and whole. I looked forward to the Oscars, like New Year’s, like Hanukah. It was a mecca for me. Not that I knew what a mecca was, but it was a pilgrimage to honor that which shined bright in my firmament. Not just the current gathering of stars, but what the art that they represented: the chance to simultaneously overcome and uphold the human condition.
This particular year, my mother and I were watching the awards alone when the phone rang in the kitchen. My mom went to answer it and instinctively, I followed her. I knew by her body language that something irreversible had happened. I watched grief come through the receiver as laughter and applause rang out behind us, worlds away. I watched before I understood what had happened; my mother bore herself up to be the bearer of what she instinctively knew would be unbearable for my father. My grandmother had passed away. This burden was momentarily buoyed up in her by the recognition that my grandma had escaped a drawn-out illness. She had bowed out before having to play the role of a patient, which she would not have enjoyed.
My grandmother Ida was the penultimate caretaker. She had cared for my grandfather for years before he died, she took great care of everyone around her. All of her grandchildren were convinced that they were her favorite. It was obviously me. My grandmother didn’t need an Oscar, her conviction was so complete, each of us can lay full claim to being her favorite. There was no measuring the love she showered us with every time we saw her. For me, the proof was there in the soft golden gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons, the hours she spent in front of her TV set wrestling with reception so I could enjoy my beloved Creature Features, her slipping me money for a party I was ‘secretly’ planning to throw for my friends. My grandmother was a movie star in my eyes. She always wore sunglasses. She was the grand poker player. That is, even in great pain, her grandchildren only saw her smile. We never knew of her troubled childhood, of her mother and siblings having to move into a new apartment every time the rent was due. She held herself up regally. Ida was a matriarch, a magician, a master baker and chef, a conspirator, the delta of our heritage. For me, my grandma Ida was gentle, radiant, the personification of unconditional love.
My father came home. I stood in the hallway, peeking around the corner as my mother told him. He put his hand on the waist-high stereo console for support but it did not console him. He crumbled. “She was my strength,” he said. I had never known anything but strength from my father. It was harrowing to see him in a seemingly helpless state. I couldn’t bring myself to go to him. I longed to. I didn’t believe I had the strength within myself to cross that distance or that I would be able to offer him what I wanted to give him if I could.
Here was the drama.
How many film makers try to issue the relief that I longed to pour into my father, to fill him; to make him stand again?
My father doubted his ability to move on successfully without my grandmother. His vulnerability is something that has allowed me to take up my role with strength. My grandmother lives fully within my father, as does his father. He remains one of the strongest, most tuned in and genuinely caring people I have had the good fortune to meet.
My grandmother was a star. She was strong and had a full life. She didn’t need a movie to tell her story but she was worthy of one.
During her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis said:
“You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.
So, here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people. And to … the cheerleaders for (making) a movie that is about people. And words. And life and forgiveness and grace….
…And the people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold an award, how to lose. My parents…Thank you.”
As life’s actors, we get to take up our various perspectives: child, parent, sibling, friend, enemy, lover, loveless, confident, fragile, sung, unsung, free, indentured, addicted, connected, intuitive, automated…
“A sky full of souls, you play all the roles. You are the Great Constellation, not just one soul in isolation.”
– The Levins/ Great Constellation
This year, the Oscars reminded me to have hope in humanity, even as reports of Jewish cemeteries being desecrated, bomb threats in nursery schools and good citizens being deported rise up to separate us.
“Film-makers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others.” – Asghar Farhadi, director, Best Foreign Film- The Salesman
“Keep dreaming, because the dreams we dream today will provide the love, the compassion, and the humanity that will narrate the stories of our livesMar tomorrow.”
– Marc Platt, producer, La La Land
May the gold we seek to be awarded be the golden rule upheld in our hearts.