Posts tagged ‘barack obama’

81st Academy Awards: Slumdog Takes It

slumdog-millionaire-12

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Slumdog Millionaire, 2008

Crazy as this may seem, tonight I was rooting for a movie I have yet to see. And when Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture I was jumping-out-of-my-seat happy. Identity politics at its worst? Maybe—but for me it was the joy of seeing Bollywood invade Hollywood, and Asians in the inner circle at last. (My heart was broken a couple years ago when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, not only because Brokeback was a much superior film but because I feared that homophobia as well as racism might’ve contributed to its defeat.)

The night started with a series of small wins for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and I fretted that it might be business as usual on Oscar night again, with the bland, big-budget, eurocentric Hollywood product taking the evening’s prizes. But at some point in the evening Slumdog started to pick up some awards and I started to feel a bit more hopeful. Then when composer A.R. Rahman won for Best Score and gave his acceptance speech in English and Tamil, followed shortly by Slumdog’s Danny Boyle taking Best Director (plus the film’s five other subsequent awards), I sensed the tide was turning. And, though it had nothing to do directly with Slumdog, when Sean Penn won an upset Best Actor victory against favorite Mickey Rourke, and gave a shout-out to our “elegant’ new President as well as calling shame on those who supported Prop. 8, I knew there was a paradigm shift in the making. Slumdog won the big prize immediately afterwards and the evening was complete.

Dev Patel & Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire, 2008

Dev Patel & Freida Pinto looking pretty, Slumdog Millionaire, 2008

So tonight was a great win for Asian cinema, even though Slumdog is directed by an Englishman and strictly speaking, isn’t a Bollywood product. But its subject matter, stars, themes, and aesthetic are decidedly South Asian and the fact that the Academy chose to honor it over Brad Pitt’s conventionally Hollywood star vehicle seems somehow significant to me. Dare I say that it reminds me of Barack Obama and the barriers he’s shattered with his election? Some might argue that equating the Best Picture Oscar with the election of the U.S. President is a bit of stretch, but I’m in the business of cultural criticism and I think Slumdog’s victory is pretty relevant. It was thrilling to see the huge Slumdog contingent, British, Indian, and everything in between, up on the stage at the Academy Awards, which is the primary symbol and celebration of Hollywood’s cultural hegemony. So, yeah, I need to watch Slumdog soon, but because of its big win tonight, I feel like I’ve already seen what I need to see. In some small way, tonight the margins have moved a bit closer to the center.

The Slumdog crew at the Oscars, 2009

The Slumdog crew at the Oscars, 2009

UPDATE: Breaking it down, via The Inspired Economist–a good, measured discussion of Slumdog, including a mention of the the film’s “poverty porn.”

February 23, 2009 at 6:12 am 11 comments

President Obama President Obama President Obama President Obama

I just like hearing, reading, thinking and saying that phrase.

44th US president

44th US president

I got up this morning to watch the inauguration today at 9am PST and I have to say that it was a pretty fun experience. Our new leader looked very presidential in his black suit and red tie, alternating between smiling and furrowed-brow seriousness. He also mixed in an occasional laugh, most notably during his sweaing-in when he and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts got tangled up in the wording of the oath, and even threw down an “Amen!” during Rev. Joseph Lowery‘s benediction.

As fantastic as this was to watch, tears for me came not during Obama’s swearing-in per se, but during two quick cutaways during the proceedings. The first was a shot of Rep. John Lewis from Georgia, the veteran civil rights activist whose skull was fractured by Alabama State Troopers on the bridge in Selma in 1965 and whose endorsement of Obama during the Democratic primary was a turning point in the campaign. The second was a brief reaction shot of a teary-eyed, anonymous elderly African American woman watching the ceremony from Memphis, TN. Both Rep. Lewis and the elderly woman personally knew the pain of living as second-class citizens in their own country, whose oppression was based solely on the color of their skin. And both had lived to see this historic day, when an African American was sworn in as President of the United States.

My two daughters watched the inauguration with me and when I explained to my 8-year-old that at one time African Americans (and by extension other people of color) were legally discriminated against based solely on their race, she could hardly believe me.  It was incredible to her that someone at some time in this country had to use different bathrooms and drinking fountains and were forbidden to eat in restaurants and ride in the front of the bus because they weren’t white, and that this had been sanctioned by law. My daughter’s innocent disbelief, together with the moment I saw Rep. Lewis and his unnamed compatriot in Memphis on television, made me realize what a a great abyss we as a country had crossed today. Not that we’ve reached the promised land by any means, but it somehow seems a bit closer than it did just a little while ago.

Konrad Ng & Maya Soetero Ng, The First In-Laws

Konrad Ng & Maya Soetero Ng, The First In-Laws

Note: It was nice to see some diversity in the television coverage of the inauguration today, in crowd shots on the street in D.C. and across the country. It was also fun to see Asian Americans represented in the First Family, with both Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s half-sister, and her husband Konrad Ng sitting directly behind the new President. Cute couple–

UPDATE: Check out Danny Plotnick’s great review of the pre-inauguration party at the Lincoln Memorial that featured Stevie Wonder, Bruuuce Springstein, Beyonce, and Pete Seeger, especially his dish of the bombastic Bono.

UPDATE  2: Jay Z’s got a special version of Young Jeezy’s “My President Is Black” that he freestyled at an inauguration afterparty in DC. Looking for the full lyrics online–here’s a sample:

“My president is black, in fact he’s half white/So even in a racist mind he’s half right/If you’ve got a racist mind it’s alright/My president is black, but his house is all white!”

January 21, 2009 at 12:52 am 5 comments


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