What about this year’s Academy Awards?

February 10, 2020 — by Cici Xu

The 2020 Academy Awards, broadcast last Sunday, marked many historical moments, from the first female conductor of the background orchestra to the Korean film “Parasite” winning four awards, including Best Picture, despite being in a foreign language. It was the first time a foreign language film had won the top category.

The diversity of the Oscars lineup was a notable aspect of this awards season. Movies like “1917,” a one-shot WWI movie, and “Parasite” highlighted the wide range of topics embraced in the nominations. However, one movie on the list of Oscars nominations stood out as the most controversial and unexpected, which made this year’s nominations even more exciting: “Jojo Rabbit,” directed by Taika Waititi, the first indigenous director to win an Adapted Screenplay Award.  

Along with many other popular movies, such as “Ford vs. Ferrari,” “Little Women” and “The Irish Man,” “Jojo Rabbit” was nominated for Best Picture. The story, set at the end of WWII, is the journey of a German boy, Jojo, and a Jewish girl secretly hidden in his attic. Jojo is devoted to Hitler’s beliefs in the beginning of the film, but as war truly starts to harm his life, he realizes the truths of war and peace. 

 The realness of the characters’ personalities, the depiction of war’s darkness and the profound message of love and peace in “Jojo Rabbit” made the film a hit with audiences. On the other hand, director Waititi’s humorous, satirical portrayal of the historically sensitive figure Adolf Hitler attracted severe criticism. 

Viewers found Hitler’s depiction as a kind of lovable clown inappropriate. The Jojo dramatic “heiling Hitler” scene in the beginning of the movie, and the movie’s portrayal of a Hitler Youth Camp as a fun summer camp drew the most ire. 

“The industry has lost its mind,” commented New Yorker writer Richard Brody. 

Some viewers may not know that the Hitler character in “JoJo Rabbit” is purely from 10-year-old Jojo’s imagination and is thus more whimsical than real-life Hitler. 

“I had no interest at all in portraying [Hitler] authentically,” Waititi explained in a USA Today interview. “I didn’t want him to have the satisfaction of knowing that someone studied him, studied every nuance of his physicality ... (including) how he speaks. I don’t think he deserves someone making that much effort."

Actress Scarlett Johansson, who played JoJo’s mother, also  defended the film. 

“It’s the perspective of the boy and the innocence with which he looks at the world,” Johansson said. “That’s why it can be handled with a sort of whimsy in a way. And maybe that’s disturbing to some people – that’s also OK, to have that reaction. But it’s a very pure story, and it’s very hopeful. It ends with a lot of hope, and I think that is very impactful too.”

The majority of the film’s audiences found the establishment of the characters rather successful, as each, despite some ignorant beliefs, show a humane side.

Throughout the movie, not all Nazis are portrayed evilly. There are moments of deep respect, the glory of being a soldier, selfless sacrifice, unconditional love, joy and freedom in a time that war between nations had dominated people’s lives. 

When the Gestapo agents come searching JoJo’s house, they are amazed by the sense of humor in one of his comic books and one even decides to stop searching, saying that “it has made my day.” Even Hitler is portrayed as a somewhat joyful character who cares about his “friend” JoJo. These seemingly insignificant details add on to the richness of the film. 

The movie consists not only of famous actresses like Johansson and Australian actress Rebel Wilson, but also two extremely young and talented actors. Despite it being their first time starring as main characters, actors Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKensie managed to bring out the complexity of their characters.

Davis, who played Jojo, is only 12 years old, and McKenzie is 19 years old. Their innocent perspectives on the gruesome reality of war and ethnic discrimination naturally shifts the movie’s focus from the chaotic life around them to the real messages that the movie wanted to embrace: acceptance and love. 

Even though “Jojo Rabbit” only won the Academy Award of Adapted ScreenPlay this year, the humorous yet heavy movie carries one of the most profound messages among films in this year’s Oscars nominations. It wasn’t worth of being the Best Picture, but it’s worth your time.

 

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On March 27, members of the Air National Guard converted the Santa Clara County Convention Center to a temporary federal facility for about 250 coronavirus patients. The center is to house those who have tested positive for the virus, but don't require intensive in-hospital care. More information can be found through the local news. Photo courtesy of Randy Vazquez of the Bay Area News Group.

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