John Waters on his quirky Oscar noms as “an old white man”

January 17, 2015

Greg Gorman

Credit: Greg Gorman

Yesterday, the news was full of analysis of the Oscar snubs and simplistic assumptions about the members who make up the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The go-to numbers cited were 94 percent white, 77 or 76 percent male, and an average age of 63 years old. There was this essay in the Daily Beast the day before. Friday morning, CBS offered this reportNumbers make for nice television, but they can be deceiving. Sometimes they invite too much speculation and those interpreting them in knee-jerk fashion can project a lot of speculation. Some have gone as far as accusing AMPAS members as racist because of the Selma snubs in the major categories. We said good things about that film in this blog (50 years after the Civil Rights Act, Selma remains a timely film — a film review). Individual rights no matter race, sex or religion is important to us, and it’s a fine film, indeed. However, even we agree the movie creaked with some faults in craft and storytelling. This writer’s issue was with its overwrought film techniques, especially involving abuse of slow-motion for emphasis that condescends to the audience. I wouldn’t be surprise if some voters were turned off for the same reason, and it has nothing to do with race. However, the best explanation comes from the longtime great Oscar analyst and film historian Mark Harris in Grantland.

But looking beyond the numbers, one of probably an array of other arguments against all these protestations comes from a gentleman I interviewed yesterday morning: legendary cult film director John Waters. He’s about to visit South Florida to perform “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier” at the Shock Pop Comicon in Fort Lauderdale. After we spoke about his one-man show (the full story is coming in a few weeks to Pure Honey Magazine, another publication I write for). I had to ask him about his role as one of those men in the numbers noted above. “Yeah, I’m an old white man,” he said speaking over the phone.

Though he warned me that the Academy is strict about members talking about their nominees and I said I would never ask him to break the rules, he laughed it off, telling me incredulously, “Why not? I would!” Then he offered some films he put his singular power behind without skipping a beat. No surprise: all of his picks feature directors known for controversy and pushing boundaries.

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

“I nominated movies like Mommy [Xavier Dolan] and Abuse of Weakness [Catherine Breillat],” he admitted. “I don’t think I’m picking the easiest ones to like. I’m tellin’ ya, of all the movies that were nominated, my favorite is this thing called Wild Tales [Damián Szifrón], which I was thrilled got nominated for best foreign film from Argentina, so I would urge everybody to see that movie. It’s a great movie.”

This is but one version of the vote by one of the majority members. Waters, of course is a unique case. William Burroughs, a man who understands genuine shock value and its place as representing reality, hailed him as “the pope of filth,” after all. But it provides an important lesson against generalizations, not to mention the futility of it. The take away: it’s pointless to assign generalized assumptions to a set of numbers, especially if you don’t know who’s behind them.

We’re not gonna defend the Oscars, ever. We’ll ride their coat tails to hype movies we like and dismiss them when its merited, but we’ll always argue against generalizing. There is an individual behind every thought and decisions like Oscar contenders. That’s why we have always aimed to celebrate the independent ethos. Pick your own favorites.

Hans Morgenstern

John Waters will perform “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier” at Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as part of the Shock Pop Comicon on February 14 (go here for tickets). Also, the Miami International Film Festival recently announced that Wild Tales will open this year’s festival on March 6. Ticket information can be found here. And here’s the trailer:

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

5 Responses to “John Waters on his quirky Oscar noms as “an old white man””

  1. Adam Tawfik Says:

    Hi Hans,

    I too think that a lot of the critics’ take on the Oscars is simplistic. I wasn’t wild about many of the nominations and there was a disappointingly lack of blacks and women nominated (esp. in directing and screenwriting).

    However, I think the bigger problem is that the indies and Hollywood movies this year failed black people. The only exception being Beyond the Lights (which is definitely the most overrated movie of this awards season). I haven’t seen Selma yet so I can’t comment on whether it was snubbed or not. Top Five was disappointing, Belle was boring. Sadly, there weren’t many opportunities for black actors (or directors, or writers, etc.) last year.

    There are only a couple of viable screenplays that were written by women: Gone Girl and Obvious Child. Honestly, I didn’t think either were awards worthy.

    Ultimately, I can’t condemn the Academy for a lack of diversity. My dream ballot is full of white people, just different white folks from the Academy.

    • Hans Says:

      I understand what you mean, completely. There have been better movies for black people in previous years. 12 Years A Slave, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Fruitvale Station, which I loved. There will be more again.


  2. I think that this lack of Academy’s diversity only reflects the lack of diversity in the whole film industry – this is where the real problem lies. There’s not much opportunities for people from racial minorities (and women) to direct, act, write scripts… and when by some lucky chance such opportunities occur, their efforts get completely overlooked because there’s some other patriotic movie that feels more ideologically acceptable forAcademy members (American Sniper). I get that there are exceptions like Waters, but numbers don’t lie – and they’re pretty repulsive. They’re even worse than I ever suspected.

    And even if there were some problems in directing and storytelling (I didn’t have a problem with either of it, but I understand how someone could), there was still David Oyelowo’s brilliant performance. How could Bradley Cooper be nominated instead of him is beyond me. Also, Young did a fantastic job as a cinematographer.

    • Hans Says:

      I thought both Oyelowo and Cooper were great in their respective movies. I didn’t think Steve Carell is as worthy, though. It was all too mannered. But, as Harris notes in the article, there was hardly the opportunity to promote Selma in time for the nominations, and these a key factor. They even got to see American Sniper earlier.


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