New Oscars museum to tackle racism and sexism: 'We will not shy away from problematic histories'

The museum is set to open in September in Los Angeles

General view of the Academy Museum during the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California on February 7, 2020. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)
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Los Angeles' long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will tackle the Oscars' "problematic history", from racism over Gone With The Wind to the recent #OscarsSoWhite campaign and the snubbing of female directors, officials said on Wednesday.

The Oscar-awarding Academy first envisioned a museum dedicated to the magic of movies almost a century ago, and its doors are finally set to open in September after numerous delays, most recently caused by the pandemic.

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We will not shy away from problematic histories, including #OscarsSoWhite

On the day voting for this award season's Oscar nominees closes, 2020's best supporting actress winner Laura Dern took journalists on a virtual tour of the museum.

"We will not shy away from problematic histories, including #OscarsSoWhite, the lack of female representation and Hattie McDaniel's mistreatment at the Oscars ceremony," said Dern.

McDaniel became the first black to win an Oscar, for Gone With The Wind in 1940, but was forced to sit at a segregated table away from her white fellow nominees.

Workers clean the roof of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, amid the coronavirus pandemic, October 14, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. - The museum is set to open in April 2021. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)

Other controversies to be addressed include the harassment of actress Sacheen Littlefeather when she accepted Marlon Brando's Oscar as a protest against Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans, and the casting of white actresses to play Chinese characters in 1937's The Good Earth.

"We didn't want to erase films and artists and moments that may be uncomfortable. We wanted to confront them and contextualise them, throughout all of our core gallery spaces," said museum director Bill Kramer.

The 4,645-square-metre museum is set to host iconic Hollywood treasures, from Judy Garland's The Wizard of Oz ruby slippers to Dracula's cape, as well as a giant orb-shaped theatre designed by Renzo Piano for premieres and screenings.

'Introduced to cinema'

Spike Lee and Pedro Almodovar will be among the first directors to curate temporary galleries devoted to the works of individual filmmakers.

"I want to see yellow school buses double-parked in front of the museum, and these young, beautiful minds get introduced to cinema," said Lee.

In the Oscars history section, 20 statuettes awarded from silent-era classics such as Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) through to Barry Jenkins' shock 2016 winner Moonlight will go on display.

General view of the Sphere Building during the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Media Tour in Los Angeles, California, on February 7, 2020. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)

Other galleries will honour crafts from animation and directing to hair and make-up, where the exhibition will "talk about black face and yellow face make-up, specifically designed for white actors to play certain roles", Kramer said.

A section devoted to costume designs will feature the African-inspired outfit worn by Danai Gurira in 2018's seminal superhero movie Black Panther.

"The inclusion of Okoye's uniform in the Academy's museum is incredibly powerful because the history of Hollywood doesn't look like the cast of Black Panther," said Gurira.

"But through the immortalisation of this iconic film, and this iconic character at the museum, it gives me hope that the future of Hollywood will."

Kramer admitted the museum "will not open if it's not safe" but said the building was now fully ready to receive visitors, and expressed optimism that California's vaccination roll-out and decline in Covid-19 cases would allow the museum to meet its Thursday, September 30 date.

Until then, the museum will run virtual pre-opening events, including talks with women who achieved historic Oscars milestones such as Sophia Loren, Whoopi Goldberg, Marlee Matlin and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

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