First, you’re Warren Beatty.
A few moments earlier, someone handed you an envelope. You didn’t really inspect the envelope, but if you had, maybe you would have noticed that printed on it were the words “Actress in a Leading Role,” not “Best Picture,” the award you are presenting. The nominees have been reviewed, and now you’re opening the envelope. And now you’re a bit confused. Because the card inside says, “Emma Stone, La La Land,” and you know that doesn’t make sense for a Best Picture award. Those awards go to the producers. Emma Stone is an actress.
You know this isn’t right. You know something has gone terribly wrong; this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be. But you have the power to right this wrong. You have the power to avoid what is to come – a disaster, a situation that extends far beyond yourself. You aren’t fully responsible for this problem, but now you’re a part of it, and you have a part to play in fixing it. There may not be one right way to move forward, but avoiding the problem, choosing to ignore it, transferring it to someone else, hoping it will go away: that would be cowardice, and that is not you.
Now, you’re Faye Dunaway.
You don’t understand why Mr. Beatty is taking so long looking at the card and doesn’t just get on with it. The show’s been going on now for more than four hours; get it over with already.
He then turns the card to you.
And of course it says “La La Land.” You don’t think twice about the other words on the card, you just blurt it out. You voted for it, after all. And so did so many friends you know, white and older though they may be. But still. Who wouldn’t want to be taken back to the Hollywood of old, when everything was glamorous and golden? Who wouldn’t want to go back to the days before identity politics, before #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter? Who wouldn’t want to “Make Hollywood Great Again?”
Now you’re Brian Culliman.
You hear Ms. Dunaway say La La Land – and you know that’s not right. That’s not right at all. In fact, you and Martha Ruiz are the only two people in the world who know the truth, who know that Moonlight, not La La Land, was voted Best Picture. You look in your briefcase and pull out the envelope for Best Picture. You realize your mistake: you had given Mr. Beatty the wrong envelope, a duplicate from the previous award.
But now it’s been a full minute, and you’re still not on stage. You’re still not using your body to shut this thing down, to correct this wrong. You’re implicated in this, big time, and you realize it now. You’ve discovered your place is the system, your role in the injustice, and you know you need to take action. But you don’t want to rock the boat too much, to cause a commotion. You don’t sprint out on stage with the envelope, call a halt to things right there and then, before the speeches can be given, while the rightful winners marinate in the sting of defeat. It’s more important for things to be proper—or as proper as possible, given the circumstances—even if that means extending the suffering of those who’ve already been suffering far too long.
Now you’re Fred Berger.
You’re holding a golden Oscar statue tightly in your right hand, a statue you’ve dreamed of winning your whole life. It’s been 90 seconds since Faye Dunaway called out the title of your movie, a movie you spent countless hundreds of hours pouring your time and soul into, a movie with six Oscar wins before this one. Your co-producer Jordan finishes his speech, and Marc, your other co-producer steps forward to begin his. And you start to notice the commotion next to you on stage. You try to stay in the moment, but it’s impossible. Someone in a headset comes up and inspects Jordan’s envelope, the one Mr. Beatty had opened just two minutes ago. You see Emma Stone’s name on it, and you know it’s all a mistake; you didn’t win at all. It’s the wrong envelope, obviously. But that’s not the problem, for if your movie had actually won, no one would be on stage, trying to fix this.
But then Marc says your name, beckoning you to take your turn at the microphone. You know you don’t deserve this moment. But you step up and start talking anyway. They called your name, your movie’s name, after all, and the show must go on, right? You’re caught up in the moment, sure, but you still know this is wrong. Why not sit back, for just a moment, to let things get straightened out? You’ve had you turn at the Golden Globes and too many other award events to count. Would it be so hard to step back and share the spotlight?
In the end, they got it right, but why did it take so long? Why didn’t Warren, or Faye, or Brian, or Fred – YOU – why didn’t YOU stop it sooner? Why didn’t you step up when you had the chance? You had the power and the opportunity. You have the power, and the responsibility to make change happen, to right the wrongs of the past and of the present, so they don’t continue to be wrongs into the future.
Now you’re you.
But who are you? And who are you going to be?