LOS ANGELES – How to create a museum on an industry when this industry is changing? How to represent a story when this story is full of omissions?
That’s the challenge facing the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which has been in the works since 2012 and – after several delays, the most recent of which was caused by the pandemic – is set to finally open at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire. Boulevard in September.
While the 300,000 square foot, $ 482 million museum, designed by Renzo Piano, was under construction, the film industry went through a process of ofconstruction, brought about by seismic social movements like #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Recognition of the obstacles faced by female directors, Asian American actors and other groups has also intensified.
As a result, the museum’s new director and president, Bill Kramer – who in 2019 replaced the museum’s founding director, Kerry Brougher – has used the past two years to redesign and refine the exhibition spaces, making sure to recognize the imperfect history of cinema and give women and people of color their due.
A new gallery on the history of the Oscars by Year, for example, has wrap-around screens that feature meaningful acceptance speeches like those of Hattie McDaniel (“Gone with the Wind”), the first black actor to win an Oscar. , who was forced to sit at a separate table during the ceremony; Bong Joon Ho, South Korean film director film “Parasite”; and the only two women to have won the award for best director, Chloé Zhao and Kathryn Bigelow.
“What we don’t want is a space for celebration that doesn’t have critical conversations about what we haven’t fully understood,” Kramer said during a recent visit to the museum. “It doesn’t skew history. These are films that have been there all the time.
Founded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, the museum has more than 13 million objects in a collection that has grown since the academy’s inception in 1927. It These include photographs, screenplays, costumes, production design designs, props, posters and films.
Originally, the museum planned to present a largely uncritical history of the film industry with a shot titled “Where Dreams Are Fulfilled: A Journey Into the Movies.”
But the museum under Kramer – who had worked in development for four years and was hired from the Brooklyn Academy of Music – pushed for a more complex and comprehensive narrative that addresses the shortcomings of the field.
“Hollywood – although it is a wonderful place and a big industry – has left a lot of things out,” said actress Whoopi Goldberg, who sits on the academy’s board of directors. . “The people who are going to go to this museum may not see themselves in the movies, on the posters – they just weren’t there.”
“If we are to survive as an academy, we have to rise to the occasion,” she added, “to make sure we say, ‘Welcome. The door may have been closed, but we don’t do it anymore.
After a redesign by Kulapat Yantrasast of WHY Architecture, the exhibits have been revamped. A new 13-minute introductory film on the history of cinema includes films by black, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, native and international filmmakers.
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A gallery that explores the making of “The Wizard of Oz” has been expanded to include not only the work of those who helped create the film, but also less flattering elements, namely the mistreatment of Judy Garland by Louis B. Mayer.
The main exhibition galleries that explore the history of the Oscars now have a space containing 20 Oscars that represent the victories of a diverse group including Sidney Poitier, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ang Lee and Barry Jenkins.
“We can only represent the cinema if we represent the whole movie,” said Dawn Hudson, Executive Director of the Academy of Cinema, adding of the inequalities in the industry: “It’s a terrible legacy to have, and we have it. “
With a gallery that explores “Citizen Kane” are those who delve into the 2002 comedy “Real Women Have Curves”; directors Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar; actor and martial artist Bruce Lee; and editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
One gallery is dedicated to Oscar Micheaux, a black author who produced films for black audiences “who have regularly found themselves excluded, stereotyped and vilified in mainstream films,” Kramer said, adding that Micheaux was “as much of an innovator. during the early decades of the film industry as Orson Welles.
Other galleries examine four areas of social impact – Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, labor relations and climate change – through documentary and narrative films; racism and sexism in animation; and the history of blackface, yellowface and redface in makeup.
“It has long been easy for people to hide sins,” actress Laura Dern, a member of the museum’s board, said, adding that it was time to “tell the truth about the story.”
The museum has an annual operating budget of $ 46 million and hopes to increase its endowment from $ 22 million to $ 115 million over the next few years.
Special exhibitions on the fourth floor will be devoted first to the animation of Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) then to the history of black cinema from 1898 to 1971.
The decision-making has also been more widely publicized to better reflect the diversity that the museum seeks to represent, with an Inclusion Advisory Committee – headed by film producer Effie Brown – that has grown from eight to 24 members of the ‘academy.
To help develop new content for the exhibition, Kramer created 17 working groups made up of three academy members each representing their branches (such as publishing, costume design or acting), with one member from each also sitting on the inclusion committee.
In addition, the museum has diversified its hires.
At the first inclusion committee meeting in 2017, “I remember looking at the museum staff and thinking, ‘Why is everyone white?’ Said Arthur Dong, a documentary filmmaker who sits on the committee. “We have put our mark on this museum. We marked what the audience will see, how they will interpret the history of cinema and how we think about the future of cinema.
Among Kramer’s main recruits are Jacqueline Stewart, a Chicago film specialist, as artistic and programming director, and Jenny He, an independent curator, as exhibition curator. In April, Stewart hosted an online conversation titled “Breaking the Oscars Ceiling” with four women who achieved Oscar milestones: Sophia Loren, Goldberg, Marlee Matlin and Sainte-Marie.
“We know we are raising issues that could be polarizing,” said Stewart. “Some people may want to enjoy beloved movies and characters and not necessarily be thinking about the Minstrel or how movies can reinforce problematic tales about body image and what constitutes romance.”
Indeed, these changes have not always been easy, with industry professionals forced to adapt to a less harmonious version of Hollywood. But academy members say the process is necessary.
“After a while, the person you love has issues that you are not proud of,” said Craig Barron, an American visual effects artist and longtime governor of the academy. “For the relationship to continue, these things have to be worked out. You must have these other voices.