Oscar night is upon us. I am usually asleep by the time the best actor, actress and picture of the year are announced, but it is, nevertheless, one of my favorite evenings of the year. In fact, every year, I do my best to see every movie nominated for an Oscar before the program airs. At least, that’s what I did before I had children and had to resort to pay-per-view. That’s a discussion for another day.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
Yes, the program is just too long.
Yes, sometimes, the hosts leave a lot to be desired. I am, however, predicting that tonight, Seth McFarlane will be so entertaining as host of the 85th Academy Awards that I might actually be able to stay awake for the entire program.
Yes, there is always one person who delivers a speech that leaves us wondering whether they are intoxicated or in a drug-induced state of insanity.
Nevertheless, the evening of the Academy Awards is always exciting because the award recipients and their work teach us so much about who we are as Americans and as citizens of the world.
Nicole Kidman’s 2003 Oscar win for her performance in “The Hours” made the nation look at female actresses with the seriousness they deserve.
Charlize Theron’s 2004 Oscar win for her performance in “Monster” again forced us to look at an unfamiliar aspect of crime and justice — women as serial killers.
Reese Witherspoon’s 2006 Oscar win for her performance in “Walk the Line” and Julia Roberts’s 2001 Oscar win for her performance in “Erin Brokovich” showed the world that women as the subject of a bio-pic can win big at the box office.
When Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and other African Americans won Oscars, they not only gave performances of a lifetime, they made history and gave all Americans, black and white, hope about all that our nation can be because of how far we have come.
Truly exceptional movies and the actors and actresses who seemingly become mediums, literally possessing the spirits of the characters they play, transform our lives in ways we don’t always fully comprehend.
“Schindler’s List” taught us much about the human experience
Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson in “The Bucket List” and Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in “Terms of Endearment” made us laugh, cry and appreciate love.
Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia” made us want to become foot soldiers for social justice and human rights.
An exceptional movie has the power to make us think about the best and the worst aspects of human behavior and the world we live in, so that we never forget we are one.
This is why I love the Oscars.
I don’t have a crystal ball and will not even attempt to predict who will win. I will, however, share who I think should win based upon how a particular movie, actor or actresses performance had the greatest impact on how we look at the human experience.
Here are my picks:
Director: Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Actress in a Supporting Role: Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Actress in a Leading Role: Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Now, like The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, I do have a bone to pick with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Hornaday asks whether Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” will be “Swift-boated out of an Oscar.”
I second that.
Just as egregious as the campaign against “Zero Dark Thirty” (as well as the Academy’s failure to nominate Ben Affleck as best director for “Argo”) is the absurdity of completely ignoring Kerry Washington and her portrayal of Broomhilda von Shaft, the articulate, literate, German- and English- speaking slave in “Django Unchained.”
I would argue that Washington’s portrayal of “Hildy,” Django’s wife in Tarantino’s evocative depiction of slavery on a Tennessee plantation, deserves as much praise as the abundant plaudits of Anne Hathaway’s performance in “Les Misérables.”
Like Hathaway, who has been nominated as best actress in a supporting role for her portrayal of Fantine in the film adaption of the wildly popular Broadway musical, Washington should have been nominated for her portrayal of Hildy.
Washington took on this very emotionally difficult role and channeled the spirit of every slave who was whipped, placed in a hot box as punishment for wanting freedom and torn away from their families simply because they were black and because they were women.
Broomhilda von Shaft was black.
She was a slave.
She could read and speak German and English.
Yet, she was reviled by whites, many of whom were so inarticulate that they appeared to be speaking a foreign language.
Yes, “Django Unchained” is difficult to watch, but it teaches us much about the horror of slavery and racial discrimination and the strength of the human spirit.
As we ponder this era of American history, the final thing I will say about tonight’s Oscars is why I think “Lincoln” should win best picture and Daniel Day-Lewis should win best actor in a leading role.
The movie and Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln were breathtaking.
“Lincoln” is a movie that brought one of our nation’s greatest presidents to life. It made us feel the pain of slavery and war, the yearning for freedom, the battle between good and evil, and the struggle to right our nation’s original sin.
“Lincoln” is everything that the Oscars should stand for.
Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy. Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.