The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 26th

Film expert Dana Coen talks writing, Hollywood and his Oscars analysis

<p>Photo provided by and of Dana Coen</p>
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Photo provided by and of Dana Coen

Dana Coen is the director of the Writing for the Screen and Stage Minor. Coen has written for shows like "Carol & Company,"  "JAG," "Room for Two" and "Bones." University desk staff writer Casey Quam spoke with Coen about Sunday’s Academy Awards.

DTH: What movies should've been nominated for the Oscars but weren't?

DC: My favorites were "The Florida Project," written and directed by Sean Baker, a terrific film. I can see why it wasn’t nominated — it’s very much an independent film. It’s a very powerful film about matriarchal white families living in the outskirts of Disney World, in this very brightly-colored hotel, basically living on the edge. It’s about their children and particularly one child whose play land becomes kind of an alternate Disneyland, and so instead of being involved in all the park attractions, she’s getting involved in vandalism and voyeurism. 

I also liked "A Ghost Story," it’s about literally a white-sheeted ghost where this character dies and he doesn’t want to leave his house, nor does he want to leave his young wife, so he kind of sticks around without her knowing he’s there. The film is largely visual, there’s very low dialogue, except for extensive monologue about mortality. It’s really about his journey in a kind of purgatory and he needs to make a choice one way or the other, whether he’s going to stay in this world where he just watches the world move past him, or whether he’s going to complete his journey. 

Another film, "A Woman, a Part," is about an actress who is in a television series and she’s very unhappy with the way they are writing her character, so she has to decide whether she’s going to try to get out of her contract or continue on with the show. "The Big Sick" is one of those that was actually up for best original screenplay last night, that’s a very amusing film about a young Pakistani man who has an affair with a young white woman and doesn’t tell her that his mother is intent on arranging a marriage for him. He has to meet her parents, who already know they’ve broken up. So it’s a very interesting and a very funny film. "The Light of the Moon" was written and directed by a woman, about a woman who was assaulted and raped, a young architect in New York, and it’s really a film about her struggles to process it. It’s unapologetic, honest and not exploitative.

DTH: What was most striking about the Oscars?

DC: The "Lady Bird" snub was striking to me because this was an event that made its point on being inclusive, particularly gender inclusive, many times. I thought it was odd that "Lady Bird," which was up for I think four awards, literally did not receive one. Particularly given the fact that it was written, produced and directed by a female, and it’s a very, very good film. It was my favorite and my choice for Best Picture. I was disappointed. 

 DTH: Do you think gender bias played into the snub, or was it simply a snub?

DC: Well, the academy voting block is mostly male — aging white men. Now, they’re trying to do something about that. There’s been an attempt since #OscarsSoWhite to diversify racially and in terms of gender, but it’s a slow process and I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think it suits them to spend so much time talking about how inclusive they’re trying to be and not dealing with it in terms of membership.

DTH: Was there anything else that was significant about the Oscars?

DC: There was a thing we talked about at the Oscar Preview that I thought was interesting which is this thing that I have discovered called genre upgrading. So, this is where you take a genre film like a horror film like "Get Out," or a sci-fi film like "The Shape of Water," or a couple years ago they did "Mad Max: Fury Road," which was an action film. These are films that are genre oriented, they’re intended to make money and they’re reconstituted with social messaging to make them a little richer. I support it, I think it’s a good trend, but I hope it doesn’t replace deeply-nuanced and well-explored films about these subjects, that’s my fear.

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