LOS ANGELES – How do you make a museum about an industry, even though that industry is changing? How do you present a story when that story is full of omissions?
This is the challenge facing the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which has been in the works since 2012 and – after several delays, most recently due to the pandemic – is finally set to open on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in September.
While the 300,000-square-foot, $ 482 million museum designed by Renzo Piano is under construction, the movie business is going through a deconstruction process sparked by seismic social movements like #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter. Recognition of the obstacles faced by women directors, Asian-American actors, and other groups has also increased.
As a result, the museum’s new director and president, Bill Kramer, who replaced the museum’s founding director, Kerry Brougher, in 2019 has used the past two years to rethink and refine the exhibition spaces, while recognizing the flawed history of film and women as well as people of color to give their right.
For example, a new gallery on the history of the Oscars by Year has wraparound screens that showcase significant acceptance speeches like Hattie McDaniel (“Gone with the Wind”), the first black actress to win an Oscar who was forced to take part Ceremony to sit at a separate table; Bong Joon Ho, director of the South Korean Film “Parasite”; and the only two women honored as best director, Chloé Zhao and Kathryn Bigelow.
“What we don’t want is a place of celebration where there are no critical discussions about what we haven’t done right,” Kramer said recently during a tour of the museum. “It doesn’t distort history. It’s about films that were there all along. “
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 was founded in 1927. This includes photographs, scripts, costumes, production design drawings, props, posters and films.
The museum originally planned to present a largely uncritical history of the film industry with a plan entitled “Where Dreams Are Made: A Journey Inside the Movies”.
But the museum under Kramer – who had worked in development for four years and was rented back by the Brooklyn Academy of Music – has pushed for a more complex, full narrative that contrasts with the area’s shortcomings.
“Hollywood – while it’s a wonderful place and a great industry – has left out a lot of things,” said actress Whoopi Goldberg, who sits on the academy’s board of governors. “People who go to this museum may not see themselves in the cinema, on the posters – they just weren’t there.”
“If we are to survive as an academy we have to go,” she added, “to make sure we say, ‘Welcome. The door may have been closed, but we’re not doing that anymore. ‘”
After a redesign by Kulapat Yantrasast from WHY Architecture, the exhibitions were revised. A new 13-minute introductory film about the history of cinema includes films by Black, Asian, Hispanic, Latin American, Indigenous and international filmmakers.
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A gallery devoted to 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 components, namely Louis B. Mayer’s abuse of Judy Garland.
Galleries in the core exhibit, which explored the history of the Academy Awards, now have a space with 20 Academy Awards depicting victories by a diverse group including Sidney Poitier, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ang Lee and Barry Jenkins.
“We can’t represent the movie if we don’t represent the entire movie,” said Dawn Hudson, director of the film academy, adding that the industry has the injustices: “This is a terrible legacy, and we have it.”
In addition to a gallery that deals with “Citizen Kane” are those who deal with the 2002 comedy “Real Women Have Curves”; the directors Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar; the actor and martial artist Bruce Lee; and the editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
One gallery is dedicated to Oscar Micheaux, a black writer who produced films for a black audience “who routinely felt excluded, stereotyped, and vilified in mainstream films,” said Kramer, adding that Micheaux “was in the early decades of the Film industry as Orson Welles. “
Other galleries look at four areas of social impact – Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Industrial Relations, and Climate Change – through documentaries and narrative films; on racism and sexism in animation; and about the history of blackface, yellowface and redface in make-up.
“It has been easy for people to hide sins for a long time,” said actress Laura Dern, a member of the museum’s board of directors, adding that it was time to “tell the truth about history.”
The museum has an annual operating budget of $ 46 million and hopes to grow its foundation assets from $ 22 million to $ 115 million over the next few years.
Special exhibitions on the fourth floor are initially dedicated to the animation of Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) and then to the history of black cinema from 1898 to 1971.
Decision-making has also been broadened to better reflect the diversity the museum seeks to represent, with an inclusion advisory board – chaired by film producer Effie Brown – expanding from eight to 24 academicians.
To develop new exhibition content, Kramer has created 17 working groups, each with three academy members, who represent their fields (such as editing, costume design or acting), with one member each sitting on the inclusion committee.
In addition, the museum has diversified its rental offer.
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 on the committee. “We put our stamp on this museum. We left an impression of what the audience will see, how they will interpret the history of cinema and how we think about the future of cinema. “
Kramer’s key employments include Jacqueline Stewart, a Chicago film scholar, as Chief Artistic and Programming Officer, and Jenny He, an independent curator, as exhibition curator. In April, Stewart hosted an online conversation entitled “Breaking the Oscars Ceiling” with four women who reached milestones in the Academy Awards – Sophia Loren, Goldberg, Marlee Matlin and Sainte-Marie.
“We know we’re addressing issues that could polarize,” said Stewart. “Some people may want to enjoy beloved movies and characters and not necessarily think about minstrels or the ways films can reinforce problematic narratives about body image and what romance is all about.”
In fact, these changes have not always been easy as industry experts have been forced to adjust to a less fortunate version of Hollywood. But academicians say the process is necessary.
“After a while, the person you love has some problems you aren’t proud of,” said Craig Barron, an American visual effects artist and longtime academy governor. “In order for the relationship to continue, these things need to be sorted out. You have to have these other voices. “