Movie Museum Rethinks Exhibitions in Response to a Changing World

LOS ANGELES — How do you make a museum about an trade at the same time as that trade is altering? How do you symbolize a historical past when that historical past is stuffed with omissions?

This is the problem going through the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which has been in the works since 2012 and — after a number of delays, the newest of which was brought on by the pandemic — is lastly scheduled to open on the nook of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard in September.

While the 300,000-square-foot, $482 million museum, designed by Renzo Piano, has been underneath building, the film enterprise has been going by means of a technique of debuilding, led to by seismic social actions like #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. Recognition of the obstacles confronted by feminine administrators, Asian American actors and different teams has additionally intensified.

A new gallery on the history of the Oscars by year, for example, has wraparound screens that present significant acceptance speeches like those by Hattie McDaniel (“Gone With the Wind”), the first Black actor to win an Oscar, who was forced to sit at a segregated table at the ceremony; Bong Joon Ho, director of the South Korean film “Parasite”; and the only two women to win best director, Chloé Zhao and Kathryn Bigelow.

“What we don’t want is a celebratory space that doesn’t have critical conversations about what we haven’t gotten right,” Kramer said during a recent walk-through of the museum. “It’s not skewing the story. It’s talking about films that have been there the whole time.”

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 been growing since the academy was founded in 1927. These include photographs, scripts, costumes, production design drawings, props, posters and films.

Originally, the museum had planned to present a largely uncritical history of the movie industry with a plan titled “Where Dreams Are Made: A Journey Inside the Movies.”

But the museum under Kramer — who had worked in development for four years and was hired back from the Brooklyn Academy of Music — has pushed for a more complex, complete narrative that faces the field’s shortcomings.

Galleries in the core exhibition that explore the history of the Academy Awards now have a space containing 20 Oscars that represent victories by a diverse group including Sidney Poitier, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ang Lee and Barry Jenkins.

“We can’t represent film unless we’re representing all of film,” said Dawn Hudson, the chief executive of the film academy, adding of the industry’s inequities: “That’s a terrible legacy to have, and we have it.”

Along with a gallery that explores “Citizen Kane” are those that delve into 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 devoted to Oscar Micheaux, a Black auteur who produced films for Black audiences “who routinely found themselves excluded, stereotyped and vilified in mainstream movies,” Kramer said, adding that Micheaux was “as much of an innovator during the early decades of the movie industry as Orson Welles.”

Other galleries look at four social impact areas — Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, labor relations and climate change — through documentary and narrative films; at racism and sexism in animation; and at the history of blackface, yellowface and redface in makeup.

“It’s been easy for a long time for people to hide sins,” said the actress Laura Dern, a member of the museum’s board, adding that it’s time “to tell the truth about the history.”

The museum has an annual operating budget of $46 million and is hoping to bring its $22 million endowment to $115 million over the next several years.

Special exhibitions on the fourth floor will be devoted first to the animation of Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) and then the history of Black cinema from 1898 to 1971.

Decision making has also been more widely distributed to better reflect the diversity the museum seeks to represent, with an Inclusion Advisory Committee — led by the film producer Effie Brown — that has been expanded from eight to 24 academy members.

To help develop new exhibition content, Kramer created 17 task forces made up of three academy members each who represent their branches (such as editing, costume design or acting), with one member of each also sitting on the inclusion committee.

In addition, the museum has diversified its hiring.

At the first meeting of the inclusion committee in 2017, “I remember looking at the staff of the museum and thinking, ‘Why is everybody white?’” said Arthur Dong, a documentary filmmaker who is on the committee. “We put our stamp on this museum. We’ve made an impression on what the public will see, how it will interpret the history of cinema and how we think about the future of cinema.”

Among Kramer’s key hires are Jacqueline Stewart, a Chicago film scholar, as chief artistic and programming officer, and Jenny He, an independent curator, as exhibitions curator. In April, Stewart moderated an online conversation, “Breaking the Oscars Ceiling,” with four women who achieved milestones at the Academy Awards — Sophia Loren, Goldberg, Marlee Matlin and Sainte-Marie.

“We know we’re raising issues that might be polarizing,” Stewart said. “Some people may want to enjoy beloved films and characters and not necessarily think about minstrelsy or the ways films can reinforce problematic narratives about body image and what constitutes romance.”

Indeed, these changes haven’t always been easy, with industry professionals forced to adjust to a less halcyon version of Hollywood. But academy members say the process is necessary.

“After a while, the person that you love has some problems you’re not proud of,” said Craig Barron, an American visual effects artist and a longtime academy governor. “For the relationship to continue, these things have to be worked out. You have to have those other voices.”

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