Taika Waititi and Bong Joon Ho’s wins remind us to do the fucking work we want to do where art is concerned, no matter who is watching.
This essay contains spoilers for Jojo Rabbit, Parasite, and Joker
By Clarkisha Kent and Sherronda J. Brown
For 92 years, the Oscars have done that thing that they do where they are as white as snow. And every year, they pretend to be self-aware of this by hiring a bunch of actors and performers of color for diversity flakes as presenters and musical acts and sometimes hosts. And every other year, to bring some balance to the diversity force, they award some lackluster, shitty movie on “social issues” with Best Picture—and it’s usually a movie that pats white people on the back for the STRENGTH to even exist in the same room as n*ggers.
Too much? We’d say not so—and yes this is a Green Book and Crash callout.
Still. In between these turbulent years, the “self-awareness” of the Oscars actually does end up celebrating some legitimately wonderful artists and pieces of work… like that of Taika Waititi and Bong Joon Ho. However, to appreciate the victory lap these two are currently taking, consider this:
During nomination season, Todd Phillips’ Joker received 11 nods and fans of the film seemed confident that it would sweep the categories it was nominated for. And we would even go as far as to say that perhaps Phillips also expected to sweep these categories as well. In the end, it only took home two awards: Joaquin Phoenix won for Best Actor and Hildur Guðnadóttir won for Best Original Music Score.
From both his interviews and the subject matter of the film, it’s evident what Phillips thinks he’s accomplished with Joker. In a Vanity Fair cover on Phoenix from last year, Phillips expressed his frustration with no longer being able to make his Dudebro brand of comedy in our current “woke culture” and this somehow led him to instead make Joker. “The result [of his frustration] is a drama that doubles as a critique of Hollywood: an alienated white guy whose failure to be funny drives him into a vengeful rage,” Joe Hagan writes.
Joker functions as little more than one man’s reactionary tantrum against a society finally beginning to recognize that “comedy” at the expense of the marginalized is merely propaganda for those in power. He and many other offensive comedians see themselves as being oppressed and alienated now because of growing refusal to laugh at them punching down.
In their review of Joker, Sherronda writes:
“It’s an imagined oppression, of course, especially for Funny Men like Todd Phillips who feel like they just aren’t allowed to laugh anymore, a frustration visually represented throughout Joker by Arthur literally choking on his own laughter. His condition, Pseudobulbar Affect, causes him to laugh when the rest of society thinks it’s inappropriate for him to do so, and this is used as a reason to ostracize, isolate, and abuse him. He only stops choking back this laughter once he fully embraces nihilistic violence.“
Our favorite weirdo, Taika Waititi, reacted on Twitter to Phillips’ sentiment about comedy in “woke culture” with a simple, “Lol he funny,” and we feel he actually said a lot with this. Waititi’s WWII-era comedy Jojo Rabbit would hit theaters not long after the Vanity Fair interview, with the tagline, “An anti-hate satire.” It’s an irreverent piece of work about a 10-year-old Nazi fanatic and his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi himself. Jojo Rabbit manages to be a genuinely funny comedic work in the era of “wokeness” precisely because it does what this kind of comedy should do: it mocks the oppressors and humanizes the oppressed. That Waititi, a Jewish and Indigenous Māori filmmaker, went on to win Best Adapted Screenplay for a Nazi comedy wherein he literally cosplays Hitler is both hilarious and just.
Fans of the Joker, and we’d argue Phillips himself, have positioned it as some stinging commentary on class disparities—and on class warfare especially—and, essentially, a biting rebuke of capitalism… from the perspective of a white man. Honestly, it’s basically Taxi Driver—mixed with a lot of King of Comedy and a little One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest—with the addition of a very empty “We live in a society…” and not much else.
Which is what makes Parasite‘s FOUR Oscar Wins—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Original Screenplay—that much more delicious. Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite addresses the exact things that Joker presumes it does, but we get the backdrop of class relations in Korea AS WELL as some quick (and nuanced) commentary through The Kim Family on what happens when we are handed a modicum of power and money from the ruling class and decide to forsake class solidarity with other poor and working-class people.
On top of this—even if, on the off chance, Bong Joon Ho’s stunning film hadn’t won a single Oscar—he is clearly not impressed with how masturbatory the entire event is and demonstrated this previously by calling the Oscars “a local film festival”.
The point? Waititi and Bong Joon Ho clearly and refreshingly did not give any fucks this entire award season (and we’d argue their entire careers—particularly since the latter squared-off against scumbag Harvey Weinstein) and were still rewarded for such. Of course, the Oscars (and the powers that be behind them) will always try to take credit for this and spin it as part of their self-awareness, but… we’d argue that this is yet another strong case of these award ceremonies not mattering in the end and that we should all take this as a sign to do the fucking work we want to do where art is concerned, no matter who is watching.
Because in the end? They need us more than we need them.