Someone today, I don’t remember who, was expressing irritation that “How Far I’ll Go” was nominated for Best Original Song over “You’re Welcome.” And while I grant you that it would be incredibly fun to see the production number of “You’re Welcome,” if we’re doing production numbers this year, I think there’s a deeper significance to the fact that Disney put their not inconsiderable weight behind the female character’s expression of power over what I have to say feels to me like the song where Maui (Dwayne Johnson) teaches us that he invented mansplaining.
I’m sure not everyone sees it that way. After all, Maui’s arrogance doesn’t entirely stem from the mere fact that he is male; it stems from the fact that he is a demigod and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a mortal. I get that. At the same time, though, one of the reasons I argue that Maui is at best the antagonist of the film is that he simply does not listen. If he listened to anyone, ever, he’d not have endangered the world the way he does? And let’s face it, he may be a demigod, but he’s a demigod who’s been on one barren rock for a thousand years. Yet it simply does not occur to him that there may be information he doesn’t possess. He’s so confident in his power that he doesn’t have to think about that, and you don’t have to be a demigod to think that way.
I don’t know; maybe the difference would be more notable if it had been between “I Am Moana” and “You’re Welcome,” but it still, well, calls to me. Either way, we’re looking at a woman making a statement of purpose. And listening to the song now, “I Am Moana” is essentially a reprise of “How Far I’ll Go.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that; one of the reasons I’m irritated that the score as a whole didn’t get nominated is that I am impressed by how it uses call-back and reprise and so forth to build a more unified whole. Graham’s problem with “How Far I’ll Go” is that it doesn’t feel like a complete song to him, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be, entirely—it’s a part of the whole.
It’s easy to get caught up in the sudden shift to diversity this year—and I’m proud of the Academy for that, don’t get me wrong. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hardly the first Hispanic nominee, but he’s still a Hispanic nominee, and we don’t get a lot of those. But the fact is, the Oscars aren’t all that friendly toward women, either. It’s easy to miss that, because there are two whole categories that are nothing but women, but women aren’t hugely likely to be nominated outside those two categories. And if those categories didn’t exist, would women who aren’t Meryl Streep get nominated for acting?
Women’s stories are less likely to be told at all, and they’re less likely to be rewarded when they are told. The category most likely to reward films that tell women’s stories is Best Actress, of course, but even there, no few of them are actually women acting in men’s stories. Supporting Actress is probably the second highest, but it’s actually kind of astonishing to look at how often that award goes to a woman in a film actually named after the male lead, either his name or a description of him. The stats on Best Animated Feature are frankly depressing, given how much the perception of animation seems to be dominated by the idea of Disney princesses.
I mean, if you want to say that “You’re Welcome” should have been nominated instead of the song from Trolls, I’m completely okay with that. Wasn’t impressed by that song. But given how many of this year’s nominees are men’s stories, let’s celebrate the extra attention given here to a woman’s story. And I also legitimately think it’s a good song, and I teared up seeing it in the movie in the theatre. Which is surely at least worth mentioning.