Finding platforms that embellish our own ideals and impound our previously subscribed to beliefs is simple in today’s media-saturated climate. We can read, watch and listen in silos of our own creation without being forced to contextualize what is being said.
But film as a medium isn’t so lenient in its approach. It is, at best, a lens into something greater than ourselves. It is the distillation of a truth through the creative accumulation of characters, plot and setting. In just a few hours a film must create a world, make us care about someone new and teach us how the struggle of this produced world fits into our own lives. When done well, a film should make us uncomfortable with a part of the human condition and yet must leave us intrigued enough to grasp lessons from its work. A film creates empathy in the most instinctive way, as Asghar Farhadi spoke about last night.
Film is more important than ever, now that most of our conversations are digested digitally in 140 characters and read within a curated profile. And from short documentaries to best picture nominees, this year’s Oscars showed us that film is the ultimate mirror for which to look upon society.
We’ve seen #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale highlight the blatant demographic problems that mute voices in Hollywood – and beyond. Recent best picture winners fascinate, horrify and encapsulate the identity of our generations. With Spotlight we traced an institutional cover-up. With Birdman we traversed what creates a meaningful life and in 12 Years A Slave we followed a poignant individual narrative of a man in search of justice. In Argo we witnessed how art can shape world events. This year Moonlight spoke truth to the the everyday struggle of an often overlooked community of Americans. It was visceral in its depiction of decisions and circumstance – it was a nuanced piece of social commentary that was beautiful in its streamlined narrative structure and gripping character development.
It was exactly the film we needed to see this year because it is a story about American life, in all its complexities and ingrained problems. And that should be our rallying point. We may not agree on the role of government, specific policy points or economic reform. But we should be excited and interested to understand the lives and journeys of everyday Americans.
We cannot seem to agree on how media should shape modern day American life and culture (as showcased in our partisan news outlets and alternative facts). But we can celebrate the lives captured through film. Viola Davis said it best in her acceptance speech last night: art is the “only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” As a nation, we are struggling to define – or redefine – who we are. We are protesting while searching for what is true and what is false. Maybe we can look to the Academy Awards for some guidance. Before we can create change, we must understand the stories of others.