Making Love, Not War, at the Oscars


What can we learn psychiatrically from the Oscars?

red carpet



Self-disclosure: I am not much of a movie-goer and did not see a lot of the Oscars broadcast on Sunday night, but what a difference a year makes.

Last year’s Oscars was highlighted by the slap from actor Will Smith of emcee Chris Rock. This year the anti-war film “All Quiet on the Western Front” took home 4 awards, including best international feature film. I wonder about a deeper message the film perhaps also makes about lasting trauma and hatred in a time of rising divisiveness.

The pandemic years were marked early on by anti-Asian hate and harassment, which we covered in prior columns. Less has been heard publicly recently about that. Now the Oscars convey love of Asian Americans. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is an imaginative low-budget tale of immigrant Chinese American family intergenerational conflict in alternative universes that won best picture. One of the Daniels directors of the film, Daniel Kwan, is Asian American. The potential creativity of us all, which can be enhanced by the support others, was stressed by Kwan in his part of his film’s acceptance speech. Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win the Oscan for best actress. Ke Huy Quan won the best supporting actor award. As if to celebrate these awards for Asian Americans, the live dance sequence of the Indian award-winning film song “Naatu Naatu” was exuberantly joyous.

Also in the cultural diversity category, the costume designer Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman to win 2 Oscars.

The love and hate were also conveyed in the film “Navalny,” a portrait of the Russian activist which won best documentary feature. He is still imprisoned in Russian, but loved by the critics

of Russia for his courage.

In the audience, the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai stressed that the dress she wore was a representation of peace, love, and harmony.

Psychiatry lately has been emphasizing the social determinants of mental health. Societal support of creativity and cultural differences, as illustrated in this year’s Oscars, takes us positively forward in the United States of America. This trend should not go unnoticed in psychiatry as we, too, need to do better in our care of patients from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Serendipitously, during the early part of the Oscars, my wife and I were watching the live opening of the play Mahabharata at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Depicting over 5 hours the 4000-year-old Indian epic, which is also about family intergenerational conflict, this version emphasizes the point that our biggest enemy often lies within ourselves, and that who we are is often most revealed in families. Such relationships are also depicted in other ancient literature like the Old Testament Jewish Torah. We encounter such conflicts and challenges in our everyday clinical work because this is timeless psychiatric insight discovered well before our own psychiatric times. With such insight, we have the potential for improving ourselves with what we can cognitively and emotionally control.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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