Wednesday, January 20, 2016


So this conversation is awkward. It's not an easy conversation to have with the impending fear of being labeled a racist for speaking out against anything that doesn't immediately elevate People of Color in the world. But I'm going to have this conversation because I've been reading the articles and the ensuing comments that followed for the past few days, and I even touched on this issue many, many years ago on this blog: the unforgiving world of Oscar nominations.

Since the nominations were announced earlier this year, there has been an outcry among the people for the lack of color in the nomination pool. Blacks and whites were screaming racism, some actors have vowed to boycott the show, and people have flung accusations of white privilege to anyone who questioned their stance. The opposition, however (also blacks and whites), has surged in rebuttal, demanding acknowledgement for achievement alone rather than skin color, retorting that the majority of films that included PoC cast and crew were not Oscar worthy, others were not Oscar eligible, and they accused the general public of requesting a sort of affirmative action for the film industry's biggest night.

The reality of the situation is that there is an issue of color when it comes to the Academy. The majority of members are older and white, and arguably this can skew what films they're drawn to, what films they're willing to watch, and how they are exposed to different films. This inevitably drives an unfair disadvantage to PoC when the nods are handed out. Undoubtedly there needs to be a change in the racial make-up of these award shows' voters. According to Academy president Cheryl Boon Isaacs, years ago, in the 60s and 70s, the academy began recruitment for younger members in order to "freshen up" the ranks. This was intended to give a more balanced approach to the film industry in acknowledging different works, and she plans for the same to be done in the coming year in order to balance the scales for next year's award show. Isaacs stated she was "heartbroken and frustrated" over the white washed Oscar Class of 2016.

But the Academy is not taking too kindly to being called racists for their film preferences. Penelope Ann Miller, an Academy member, shared with The Hollywood Reporter that many of the older members probably didn't see Straight Outta Compton. She also argued the majority of members probably weren't exposed to Beasts of No Nation because it was premiered on the internet streaming service Netflix and they can't figure out how to use computers, hell they're still getting used to the Talkies! She felt it was "extremely offensive" to be called racist or lumped into a class of white privilege, given that she had voted for multiple PoC cast and crew members this year. Jeremy Larner felt Straight Outta Compton was a good film but wasn't worthy of the nomination to begin with due to issues with "structure and substance." I was able to view Beasts of No Nation, and to be honest, I felt it was one of the best films I had seen in awhile, but there was a total lack of exposure. I happened to stumble across it accidentally without knowing that this small, internet streaming production was nominated for SAGs and a Golden Globe. This $6 million only grossed $51K in its opening weekend, and most people never knew it existed. There have been other arguments for Tangerine, Creed, and Concussion, but again, most claim these were not note-worthy performances.

The issue of PoC films rises and falls like the waves of the ocean when films and actors are denied or granted the coveted statuette, and it's hard to discern when we're up or when we're down. Many, many times in the history of this awards show have incredible films been ignored and passed over, other times they got their nods but never took home the gold, and once in a great while, they get a winner. Upsets have included films like Malcolm X, Hotel Rwanda, Ali, and Boyz N the Hood, but there was probably no upset larger than The Color Purple in 1985, nominated for 11 Oscars and taking home none. Some winners have been films and actors such as Training Day with Denzel, Ray with Jamie Foxx, Dreamgirls with Jennifer Hudson, Precious with Mo'Nique, and The Last King of Scotland, with the fabulous Forest Whitaker.

But a new issue arises when there is such a backlash against the academy and its members, and the fear of being politically incorrect drives the affirmative action of Hollywood. No one could have outlined this issue better than Ellen Degeneres when she opened for the Academy Awards in 2014. "There are two options for Best Picture tonight, Option 1: 12 Years a Slave wins, Option 2: You're all racists." It came as a minimal shock that some of the Academy members later admitted to voting for the Best Picture Winner without actually having seen the film, presumably because it seemed the non-racist thing to do. I'm uncomfortable in admitting that I did not care for 12 Years a Slave, because this is what existing in a overtly politically correct society has done to me, but I will say it did not live up to the hype. I'm uncomfortable stating that Lupita N'yongo, albeit a talented actress, did not deserve the Oscar she won for the three bits of dialog she blurted out and the brutal abuse scenes she portrayed. This was the result of the pity Oscar, which I described in the post linked above, when the award members realize they've been too white for too long and they throw a few statues at a few black actors and film makers and call the score settled. Whoopi Goldberg did not get the Oscar for her incomparable performance as Celie Johnson in the adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which everyone knew was invariably fucked up. So they gave her the pity Oscar for playing a sassy mouthpiece to a dead white guy and got a few good jokes in the dialog. Sorry, Ghost should not have been her winner. The Academy had never graced an African American actress with the Best Actress statue, though many had been dealt out for Supporting Actresses. Whoopi should have been the first. But she was shoved back to Supporting Actress, and after some bumping and grinding with a racist and a minor dramatic meltdown, Halle Berry got the honor with Monster's Ball. Again, in my opinion, undeserved. Oprah also got passed over for her portrayal of Sofia, another big miss by the show. I never saw Training Day, I don't know if Denzel deserved the Oscar for it or if it was his pity Oscar for losing the Best Actor for Malcolm X, but I saw that one and he totally should have gotten it. Sidney Poitier got an honorary Oscar that same night that Denzel and Halle won for all of his work, because the Academy suddenly realized "Fuck, we were supposed to be giving them to him all along!"

Changes must be made, that is is undeniable. A committee that equally represents all People of Color and varying demographics of gender, sexual orientation, and cultures to ensure a more accurate reflection of the faces we see here in America everyday is desperately needed. But change does not mean slapping a band-aid on the problem by awarding some unworthy actor or writer with a pity Oscar either, giving accolades to the films that are sub-par in order to compensate for the Academy's past failures of truly amazing artistic PoC productions and performances. And as Penelope Miller states, the Academy is not entirely to blame: "There were an incredible number of films in 2015 that were primarily about white people. Talk to the studios about changing that, not the Academy. There's only so much we can do." One commentator on an article I read estimated that only 10% of actors in the film industry are black. It's hard to stand out in that glaring sea of white faces, but neither should the first darker face we see get the gold for simply showing up to the party.

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