By Sunjin Chang
Emersonians’ Oscar weekend was filled with a series of special events that gave them valuable insight into the ceremony and Academy Awards nominees.
A day before the big show, on March 11, eight Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) students got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look during the presenters’ rehearsal thanks to an invitation from Academy Awards Supervising Producer Rob Paine ’92, with help from Michael Kiaunis ’18 and Cassie Cormier ’20. Students sat in the upper level of the Dolby Theatre as the presenters came on stage and practiced their lines.
“It was awesome seeing how many Emersonians work on the show, and how much pride they take in working with each other,” said Julia Murphy ’23, a Visual and Media Arts major. “Seeing some behind-the-scenes action has definitely helped me realize how important every single person working on the show [is]—the show does not magically come together.”
A few days prior to the ceremony, on March 9, the College hosted its eighth annual Oscar Talk at ELA. The hybrid event is organized each year the Department of Communication Studies and allows members of the Emerson community to hear from entertainment experts about the Academy Awards and the industry.
“This year’s event was so special because of the excitement generated by Everything Everywhere All at Once in the Emerson community,” said Owen Eagan, a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies. “There was no better testament of this than the number of alumni who turned out to celebrate the success of this film and the achievements of each other.”
Daniel Kwan ’10 and Daniel Scheinert ’09, collectively known as the Daniels, took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay for their genre-blending, multiverse-hopping film Everything Everywhere All at Once. Overall, the film ended its triumphant awards season with seven Oscars.
Prior to the Oscar Talk panel discussions, ELA hosted a reception during which alumni, faculty, and students networked and chatted over complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Emerson alum and 2020 Oscar winner Michael McCusker ’88, who won for Best Achievement in Film Editing for Ford v Ferrari, joined the reception and reminisced about his days at Emerson, while sharing his excitement about seeing the growth of the film program and working with fellow Emersonians in the field.
“There was absolutely zero footprint for Emersonians out here in the film business [before], so seeing what’s going on now is incredible,” McCusker said. “Emerson’s a name in the business [and] I think that has much to do with how the attitude of Emerson students has always been whatever it takes and that’s become the standard.”
Representation Is Critical
The panel portion of the night kicked off with “Let’s Talk about Representation,” where panelists discussed the importance of representation on and off screen, and touched upon what true representation looks like. Communication Studies Assistant Professor Sharifa Simon-Roberts moderated the panel, which included Alex Lo, an award-winning journalist and filmmaker; Richard Lui, an award-winning journalist, best-selling author, filmmaker, and humanitarian; Tallie Medel ’08, an educator, artist, and award-winning actor who played Becky in Everything Everywhere All at Once; and VMA Associate Professor Maria San Filippo.
“It was such a special moment to moderate a panel discussion that featured members of the Emerson community,” said Simon-Roberts. “Their contributions were engaging, meaningful, and thought-provoking.”
Panelists touched upon representation, misrepresentation, and tokenism. Emphasizing the importance of listening to different voices and actively making an effort to work with people from underrepresented groups, each panelist also shared films with authentic representation and talked about the relationship between representation and authenticity.
“Dare to be intersectional, because when we talk about representation and authenticity, we sometimes oversimplify what that might mean,” Lui said. “In reality, all of us walk into this room with 30, 40 intersections, and as filmmakers, we dare to be intersectional, and it’s not easy.”
Moving the Industry Ahead
In closing, Simon-Roberts asked each of the panelists to present a challenge to future filmmakers as well as the greater Emerson community. Lo encouraged filmmakers and storytellers to find stories that are not their own. For producers, he specifically challenged them to be very conscious of representation as they produce stories and hire their team.
“Find a story that is inclusive in a way where you are reaching out and helping tell the story of someone who doesn’t look like you,” Lo said. “That is a way to have that kind of representation in front of the camera.”
Medel emphasized how important it is for people to learn more about other communities if they choose to tell those stories while constantly asking themselves why they’re telling this specific story.
“Just interrogate if you are choosing to write about a marginalized community of who you are not a member,” Medel said. “Just ask yourself why it is you’re writing about this specific population, and make sure it’s not just so that you can pat yourself on the back or be writing something different.”
Tying the discussion back to the importance of representation at the Oscars, San Filippo said that it’s important for people to see representation on the stage as well as behind the scenes. However, she said, in order for us to address deeply entrenched inequities and systemic issues, the challenge begins with us.
“I would just encourage everyone who wants to make creative work to see as much stuff that they can that is outside of what they’re accustomed to seeing, because I think we’re all kind of in the same channels of content and it’s hard to break out of that,” San Filippo said. “Challenge yourself to go see stuff that you don’t think is for you or is ordinarily your taste.”
Following the representation panel, Eagan moderated “Oscar Buzz,” featuring Dana Bseiso Vazquez, vice president at The Angellotti Company; Kymn Goldstein, head of revenue & growth for StoryFit; Tim Gray, awards editor and senior vice president of Variety; and K.J. Matthews, a veteran award-winning entertainment journalist.
The panelists shared their expert opinions on several of the Academy Award races and discussed the strategies used to generate Oscar buzz. Everything Everywhere All at Once factored into several of the predictions, which excited many of the Emersonians in attendance.