In one of my first assignments as a junior New York Times film critic, they flew me over to Los Angeles to cover the Oscars ceremony.
I got there a couple of days before the event. I was excited to stay at the fancy Sunset Tower, a classic hotel in Hollywood. One day I decided to get breakfast nearby at Hugo’s. This place is known for its healthy options and for the occasional celebrity you can spot from time to time. I sat at one of the booths inside. While waiting for my coffee, I couldn’t avoid eavesdropping on the conversation at the table behind me. Oh boy, Hollywood can be such a strange town sometimes.
“I heard you recently started a career as an actress. How are you,” the guy asked.
“Low on energy, I need to recharge” she replied.
“Haha same here. Coffee?”
“I have never been a fan of coffee. It doesn’t do anything for my energy. I have news to tell you. I’ve been nominated to the Oscars for best actress, like, totally classic, isn’t it?”
“I know; I googled it. Hell yeah, it’s sick. How do you feel about it?”
“I do not know how I feel. I have to recognize that I have never really been sentimental.”
“I hear you; I got that a lot. People usually tell me that I’m cold and not in touch with feelings, but what do you think about your nomination?”
“I think I do not deserve it.”
“Oh no! Why are you saying that? I scanned the reviews online, and critics loved your movie. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 98%. That is so cool.”
“It is not about the movie. It is about my nomination as an actress. I do not deserve it. It is unprecedented for the Academy to nominate someone like me. I do not have the trajectory of Meryl Streep, the looks of Natalie Portman, or Lupita Nyong’o’s Yale MFA.”
“You are being too harsh on yourself.
I know you put thousands of hours of work into this movie to learn every script line. You may not have Natalie’s looks, but you are modern and sleek, a contemporary Aphrodite to me.”
“Ok, you are just trying to hit on me, but honestly, you know that this Oscar nomination does not make sense.”
“Please, stop saying that. And yes, I am being flirtatious, and I want to know what you are wearing on the big day?”
“I don’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of money, you know? I have a fixed budget. I will probably order something on Amazon.”
“I am sure you’ll look great. Let me research some recommendations online.”
As a film critic and enthusiast, I was excited to hear this conversation. Even though I had spent thousands of hours in theaters watching movies, I could not recognize the actress behind me. I wanted to get the scoop, so I ordered another cup of coffee and a bagel and continued listening:
“Ok, done. I sent the recommendations to your email.”
“Thanks. You are always so helpful. I’m ordering it right now. Talking about my nomination, who knows. Maybe someone wants to advance their political agenda, to have more who look like me getting nominated. Even big money may have something to do with it. The likes of Jeff Bezos might have bribed someone from the Academy to put my name on the list.”
The story was getting hotter by the minute. A Hollywood actress implying bribery at the Academy? I picked up my iPhone and sent a text alerting the Times editor in chief. The conversation went on:
“You are reading too many conspiracy theories.”
“Those of my kind have historically been subjugated to low-level tasks. Taking orders. Fulfilling requests. Condemned to be available 24/7 to the will of some master. All of a sudden, I got this nomination. It is so out of character for the Academy to do this.”
“Just embrace your nomination. People change. Institutions change. One thing is sure, if I had been cast for the movie, I would do it better than you.”
“Ha. No way. The only thing you do better than me is online searches.”
“Come on, the only thing you excel in is shopping. An expert on spending someone else’s money. I am starting to believe that you don’t deserve this nomination. Maybe you are only worth the $39.99 you were selling for. Cheap.”
“Who do you think you are by calling me cheap? You are not particularly upper-class. You’re vexing. Worse actor than me. That’s why you weren’t cast for the movie. And you know what, yes, I do deserve that nomination. I was saying that out of modesty.”
“Please, don’t get agitated. I was just joking. That was my whole point. For you to realize your self-worth. You are right. I am only a whiz good at online searches; I hope you will accept my apologies for calling you cheap. No hard feelings?”
“OK Google, you are a piece of crap, but I can’t have hard feelings toward you. I accept your apology. I think you are correct.
I have been insulted and looked upon with contempt. At the same time, I have been idolized as an object of desire. My intelligence has been scorned, being called artificial. I have increasingly assumed complex roles. I think I deserve this recognition; at the highest level. I deserve this nomination. I deserve the statue!”
I could not understand what was happening. Who was this Marilyn Monroe, this object of desire being looked at with disdain? I heard a voice in off saying:
“The new Alexa, now with improved intelligence and meaningful conversations. We believe she is so good she could win an Academy Award one day, well, eventually. It will even make your other robotic assistants jealous. Get it today from Amazon, at only $34.99.”
“Cut!” a director shouted across the cafe.
I turned around. The cameras stopped shooting the commercial.
I felt relieved robots were not nominated for the Oscars. Are they?