Oscar night in America is many things to many people. To see and be seen, to be seen "in" (Versace, Prada, John Galliano, Vera Wang etc.), even, sometimes, just to be (Robert Altman with his borrowed heart comes to mind). Among the things we expect from the Oscars is humor -- amply provided by comedian Jon Stewart, a progressive-bias -- ditto, and, of course, the glitterati.
Perhaps the oddest moment came when the charming George Clooney (he took on the direction of Good Night & Good Luck, the story of the legendary TV journalist Edward Murrow and his battle with Joe McCarthy over his exploitation of America's post-war paranoia, a responsibility that is clearly ongoing), claimed some fame for Hollywood by saying that the African American Hattie McDaniel (Gone With The Wind), was nominated for an Oscar when "Blacks were still sitting at the back of the bus" way back in 1939. Interesting tidbit, given that her male counterpart in the form of Louis Gossett Jr., had to wait till 1982 to win in the same category, that it took Hollywood nearly half a century to recognize Quincy Jones for The Color Purple, and sixty two years before it awarded the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar to Halle Berry in 2001 for her performance in Monster's Ball. If Hollywood was leading the troops, Mr. Clooney, it's in need of some regime change.
Yet, clearly the Academy and all its many supporters felt that this was a year of acknowledging a few home truths. The nominees as well as the movies that walked away with the best of the best all dealt with moral subjects: prejudice, global tyranny, integrity in broadcast journalism and other such toothsome fare. Rachel Weisz (pronounced Vice), won for best supporting actress for her portrayal of an activist in Kenya persecuted by a pharmaceutical company in The Constant Gardener, Clooney carried away his Supporting-Role Oscar for playing a jaded-CIA patriot unhappy with American policy in the Middle East in Syriana, and the Best Picture award went to Crash, the fast-paced sleeper that took America's "melting pot" theory and lit a fire underneath its posterior.
So I thought the Academy was suffering from brain flatulence when it picked the song written and performed by members of Three 6 Mafia, "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp," from the movie Hustle & Flow, as not merely an Oscar contender, but a winner. If this was web-talk, I'd say, WTF? But since it's not, I have to say, what the heck? Now Hustle & Flow is the story of a pimp aspiring to be a rap star, a legitimate tale in its own right about poverty and the dream that keeps each one of us waking up, even the pimp. Yeah, clearly a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, it often involves screwing some woman over, and, we are asked to believe, there ain't nothin' out there for DJay (Terence Howard in an Oscar-nomination worthy performance swift in the tracks of an equally stunning turn in Crash) but pimping.
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For telling it like it is, we have to hand it to the producers of Hustle & Flow. But did the Academy seriously want to give a leg up to a song that trashes women (sorry, "hoes" and "bitches"), turns the pimp into the victim because, poor guy, he wants "some thangs" that go beyond the rent? Women turning to prostitution is not new. Men exploiting women in that field is not new. But it sure as hell is new when a whole country is empathizing with the DJays of the world and jiving to:
"You know it's hard out here for a pimp
When he tryin to get this money for the rent
For the Cadillacs and gas money spent
Because a whole lot of bitches talkin shit
Will have a whole lot of bitches talkin shit"
But maybe it isn't that odd that Three 6 Mafia "love the Academy, you know what I'm saying?" You see, we're all interested in a million-dollar-designer-gown kinda way in that crazy stuff DJay and his friends see on the streets: people killed, people dealt, poverty with no meals, ducking bullets, "the blood sweat and tears when it comes down to this shit." The Academy just gave you a whole Oscar to hang your dirty linen out in public in poor grammar, worse spelling and really foul language. To quote Three 6 Mafia, "Thank you Jesus."
And, after all, America is at home with pimping. America starts the wars that need the weapons, sells the weapons that fight the wars, it bottles the water that used to run free in the river behind your house, then sells it back to you for a profit, it withholds medication from the people who need it, while concocting illnesses that don't exist, then sells you the fix...America can even package and sell you back your own problems on national TV (think Wife Swap and The Nanny). Yeah, America is cozy with the pimping-scene. America is killing you softly with her song, turning the dials in the big recording studio called The Planet, and it is not low-grade rappers but entire nations that are out there in the sound-proof cubicles, gasping for breath.
I think of the lost history of Iraq, of Bagram, a detention site in Afghanistan that is worse than Guantanamo, of shredded international agreements on environmental protections, nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and the scourge of small arms all of which are blowing in the wind, of the abandonment in Rwanda then and the neglect of Darfur now, the embracing of Israel and the funding to Fatah and the denouncement of Hamas and even the small and large efforts by American diplomatic missions all over the world to tell lies, lies, and nothing but lies, while the country itself unravels in slow motion between obesity and schools that are veritable orphanages, and I see why Three 6 Mafia stole the show. After all, Americans have forgotten how to sing "America The Beautiful." We've got ourselves a whole new anthem:
"Wait I got a snow bunny, and a black girl too
You pay the right price and they'll both do you
That's the way the game goes, gotta keep it strictly pimpin
Gotta have my hustle tight, makin change off these women, yeah."