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  • Kara Annett

Lights, Camera, Accession: The Collections of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

By: Kara Annett


The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Source.

It’s officially my favourite season: awards. While my dreams of attending the Oscars have yet to be realized (mark my words: you will all get a shout-out in my acceptance speech), I figured the next best thing would be to take a trip to Tinseltown via the Academy Museum’s vast collection of movie memorabilia. It is, as Humphrey Bogart said in The Maltese Falcon, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Me too, Moira. Source.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures currently has over 13 million objects, ranging from scripts to costumes and spanning from 1927 to the current day. Among its seven storeys worth of treasures are: one of the pairs of Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the cape Bela Lugosi wore in Dracula, C-3P0 and R2D2 from the Star Wars films, and the May Queen dress from Midsommar. For a museum 92 years in the making, it certainly doesn't disappoint.

One of seven pairs of Dorothy's red slippers. Source.

As you can probably guess, I’m sometimes guilty of glamourizing Hollywood’s Golden Age; one of my favourite procrastination activities is to watch clips of Fred and Ginger waltzing around opulent backdrops and I will quote Some Like It Hot at any given opportunity (just name a film with a better ending, I’ll wait). As Joe E. Brown says to Jack Lemmon while they speed off into the sunset, nobody’s perfect, and nowhere is this truer than in Hollywood. Instead of trying to keep this glamorous façade, the Academy Museum pulls back the curtain and reveals the problematic aspects of Hollywood history.

The museum states that they tell the “complete stories of moviemaking – celebratory, educational, and sometimes critical or uncomfortable.” Alongside the infamous ruby red slippers, visitors learn about the harassment Judy Garland faced while playing Dorothy. Another exhibition showcases makeup used for blackface. The “Inventing Worlds and Characters” exhibit tackles the uglier aspects of animation history that Disney would prefer you forget, breaking it down into three categories: “The Legacy of Minstrelsy in U.S. Animation,” “Racist Portrayals and Cross-Racial Casting,” and “Women in U.S. Animation.” Assistant curator Dara Jaffe acknowledges that, although it’s uncomfortable, these “extremely grotesque” animations – which include Dandy Crow from Dumbo (1941), and Betty Boop being sexually assaulted – “reflect the racism of the current time,” showing the disturbing side of Hollywood history that many are quick to dismiss. Although it’s far from comprehensive, the museum appears to make a genuine effort to address all aspects of Hollywood’s past and present in its collections, whether that be the good, the bad, or the ugly.

Totoro figures from the Hayao Miyazaki exhibition. Source.

And it’s not all bad and ugly; the museum strives to celebrate the accomplishments of those who are often forgotten. Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 will be opening this year and aims to “reveal the important and under-recognized” achievements of Black performers and filmmakers. Until June, visitors can see a retrospective of Hayao Miyazaki that features over 300 objects profiling Miyazaki’s illustrious career such as storyboards and cells from Studio Ghibli movies. Real Women Have Curves, a 2002 film centred around a young Mexican American woman coming of age in Los Angeles, also has its own exhibit, receiving its long-overdue credit.

The Real Women Have Curves exhibit. Source.

While the museum can’t right all the Academy’s wrongs (#OscarsSoWhite continues to trend every year for a reason), acknowledging the complicated and problematic past is a step in the right direction. Movies are for everyone, and the Academy Museum’s expansive collection is a true celebration of that.


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