Watching Oscar: Sacheen Littlefeather, we need you

Once again I watched the Oscars waiting for a Sacheen Littlefeather moment. You’ll remember her (unless you think Christopher Plummer is the name of someone to call to fix that problem in the bathroom).

Littlefeather is the Native American activist enlisted by Marlon Brando to accept his Oscar the year of his boycott. The Oscar was for Brando’s “Godfather” performance, and for Littlefeather, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. In full native dress, she took the stage and proceeded to lambaste the industry for its portrayal of Native Americans.

That was 1973.

We haven’t really progressed that much since then, have we?

The opportunity to make a difference at the Oscars is so tempting, given the global audience. Why just promote a movie, a dress, yourself, when you can promote something really important?

Sacha (Borat) Cohen came close with a threat to disrupt the red carpet scene as a fake dictator. But in the end, he was just a fake dictator, a show business tool.

The closest we got to exposing a little reality was in the documentary and foreign film categories, when the Pakistani and Iranian filmmakers won their awards.

But they were dutiful guests and didn’t have as much impact as Littlefeather in her day.

I did catch one moment, on the post-Oscars red carpet show.

A retired Richard Dreyfuss spoke to a young entertainment reporter about his exploits. Dreyfuss said he doesn’t go to movies anymore. In fact, he was on a mission to get Americans to rededicate themselves to the Constitution. This led to Dreyfuss challenging the right-wing Koch brothers to re-sign the preamble to the Constitution. You know, the preamble, the part that introduces the Constitution that reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

That preamble.

And then Dreyfuss said if they wouldn’t, the Kochs should explain why not.

And they should, considering how many shares they are buying of Democracy, Inc.

It was the only real pointed political moment I saw last night. And it was on the after-show.

It made me think of Littlefeather, and how well-behaved Oscar was this year. Nothing escaped that didn’t want escaping out of the Not-the-Kodak Center on Hollywood and Highland.

So really, all we were left with were the movies and the stars and their dresses.

It’s not so bad. There was Rooney Mara of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” showing up in a backless designer gown and no tattoos. A dead giveaway this would be a safe, fangless night.

I was rooting for “The Descendants.” It did feature a few Asian American actors, and the first few minutes does put Hawaii in some perspective. When you see the homeless on the beach, you realize “paradise” is a relative term.

But it was so traditional compared to the black and white and silent “The Artist.”

I actually liked both films. But why are the marketers afraid to release these films so that real people can see them? “The Descendants” got to the mall cinemas late. And “The Artist” could be seen only in the art houses.

Meanwhile, I think “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas” ran longer at my local suburban 63-plex than either of them. I’d give an Oscar to Kal Penn for Best Bong Hit.

If “The Artist” is the big winner, I’d market the film as a story of our times. A depression-era tale that speaks to our modern post-recessionary lives. How many people can relate to a jobless person in an industry overrun by technology, who takes to drink, loses his house, his love, and his personal belongings?

A lot of people.

And I’d get Uggie the dog out there more.

I don’t want to minimize “The Help.” It did win one Oscar for Octavia Spencer.

But it wasn’t a “Help” night.

It reminded me of the one year I covered the Oscars in 1985. “The Color Purple,” directed by Steven Spielberg, had 11 nominations. But it didn’t win one Oscar. Whoopi and Oprah, both shut out.

Could it be the color of the Academy?

The LA Times did something last week on the lack of diversity in the Academy, 6,000 or so members, mostly white, male, and over 60.

Sort of like Billy Crystal.

But it just means that an Oscar win isn’t really a “crap shoot” as Meryl Streep likes to say. It’s determined by the academy members. Their tastes. Their stories.

The Academy? It’s not racist. It’s just limited.

Sacheen Littlefeather, we need you.

By the way, if you want Asian American stories on film, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival is coming March 8-18.

No shortage of Asian Americans there. By contrast, it will make you realize the limitations of Oscar.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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