The Movie Bloggers Roundtable is a feature where I join up with four esteemed movie bloggers and we share our thoughts on a certain subject. Everyone on the panel will share their thoughts and feelings on the topic of the day and then we want to hear from you. The panel may change from post to post and hopefully we will get a wide range and interesting mix of opinions and perspectives.
Today’s roundtable discussion is inspired by Oscar season and specifically the controversy surrounding the lack of racial diversity among the nominees. The opinions and reactions to this has been fascinating and I have asked an amazing group of bloggers who I greatly respect to share their thoughts. Joining today’s roundtable is Courtney from Cinema Axis, Stu from Popcorn Nights, and Jaina from Time Well Spent. Now without hesitation I can say that I LOVE THESE BLOGS and if you haven’t been checking out their sites you should. So lets get to this week’s question:
Should the Academy be obligated to include racial diversity in their Oscar nominations?
Keith (Keith & the Movies)
For me the the key word is “include”. The simplest answer is no, the Academy shouldn’t be made to include racial diversity in their nominations. Obviously doing so would put stipulations on nominations that aren’t based on the quality of the films. For an Academy Award to carry any kind of weight it needs to be based on the very best in the category. To require nominations based solely on racial diversity bleeds the award of its respectability. Nominations should be given due to merit. So the Oscars shouldn’t be obligated to ‘include’ racial diversity, but they should be obligated to ‘consider’ films which represent racial diversity. All films should be considered and failure to do that would show a deeper Oscar problem.
Why wasn’t there more diversity in this year’s batch of Oscar nominees. Many have pointed to “Selma” director Ava DuVernay’s omission as the most egregious example of racial oversight. I disagree. I actually feel a couple of her creative decisions hold the film back. On the other hand I was disappointed to see the phenomenal David Oyelowo miss a nomination. But it’s hard to be too upset when favorites of mine Ralph Fiennes and Jake Gyllenhaal where also left out. But several hefty accusations have been lobbed at the same Academy who just gave “12 Years a Slave” a host of nominations and some big wins. Personally I see no merit in the claims and I think the problem may lie in other often overlooked areas.
Could it be the bigger problem may be found in Hollywood instead of the Academy directly? Where are the actors, actresses, and directors from diverse backgrounds? Are they being given the same opportunities? Are their projects being given the same attention and studio support? Is there enough encouragement for minority groups to venture into the creative world of cinematic expression? These are just a few questions that have potential eye-opening answers. And that’s just with Hollywood. Sometimes we as moviegoers contribute to the problem by restricting our senses to what is good cinema. We become complacent and comfortable within our own cinematic perceptions. In essence we do more to contribute to the problem than help resolve it.
Requiring the Academy to include racial diversity in their nominations not only lessens the awards themselves, but it cheapens the accomplishments of the filmmakers and casts doubt on their inclusion in the categories. That does nothing to solve an issue that is worthy of inspection and consideration. I believe the solution can be found in introspection, receptiveness, and honesty. And filmmakers, studios, and moviegoers should encourage cinematic expression from a diverse range of racial perspectives. Don’t point fingers at the Oscars. Let’s first hold up a mirror to ourselves and the filmmaking industry itself.
Courtney (Cinema Axis)
This is actually a pretty complex issue to tackle. The easy answer is no. There should not be any obligations to ensure that the nominations are racially diverse. Not only would this cheapen the entire award process, but it would have a far more damaging impact in the long run. It creates a world where each nomination involving an individual of a particular ethnic background would be unfairly scrutinized. Claims of affirmative action pandering would hang around the nomination like a noose around the Oscar statue’s neck, regardless of whether the nomination was warranted or not.
It is no secret that the Academy Awards have had a spotty history when it comes to diversity in the films and talents they nominate each year. If I can look at it from a black perspective for a moment, over the course of its 87 years only a handful of films featuring a predominately black cast or centered on a black protagonist have been nominated for Best Picture. These films include Beast of the Southern Wild, The Color Purple, Precious, The Blind Side, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, and Selma. Of the seven films mentioned, three (Precious, 12 Years of Slave, Selma) would not have been made without the support of high powered celebrities (Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey) backing the projects as producers. These films point to the real problem with the film industry…the lack of support for racially diverse projects. If the industry was more diverse on the whole, including more women and people of various ethnicities in higher positions within the studio system, there would be more of a push to tell diverse stories.
As the rise of the foreign box office market has giving studios a new life raft to hold onto in time of worldwide economic uncertainty, studios now more than ever are pushing films that have “global” appeal. A polite way of saying films that feature predominately white cast in the leads. The funny thing about all this is that Hollywood has become increasingly concerned with having box office hits in China yet they are still not casting Asians in leading roles for their blockbuster films.
Conventional wisdom says that as long as a film is well-made and entertaining it should make a killing wherever it plays, but Hollywood does not work this way. Studios still have an old school mentality when it comes to the film industry, and let’s not forget it is a business first and foremost. If the Selma controversy proved anything, the Academy Awards are as much, if not more so, about the marketing campaigns as it is about achievements in filmmaking. The fact that Selma even got nominated for Best Picture is an achievement in itself. Not only did Ana DuVernay finish the film at the last minute, by Academy deadline standards, but the studio did not get is marketing campaign started in time. The reason she did not receive a Best Director nomination is primarily because the members of the Director’s Guild, most of whom have a vote in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, did receiver screeners for the film.
One assumes that the first major studio film about an important figure like Martin Luther King Jr. would have voters rushing to theatres, but the Academy Awards does not work that way. It all comes down to which horse studios decide to back and how quickly their stead can get to the front of the pack in the awards race. If there was more diversity within the studios on the whole, companies would start producing and backing projects that are both diverse in its contents and in the people who help to bring them to the big screen.
Stu (Popcorn Nights)
I would say that the answer, for me at least, is a very simple one: the Academy shouldn’t be obligated to include racial diversity in the Oscar nominations, as all categories should simply be judged on merit. Whether that’s what actually happens in practice is anyone’s guess; I’ve always assumed that’s what this shadowy cabal of
aging white supremacists industry movers and shakers are doing, anyway, but perhaps I’m way too trusting.
The statistics – whether we’re talking representation of black actors and directors among this year’s nominees, for example, or the race and gender bias among the Academy’s predominantly white and male voters – are simply more general indicators of the issue that really matters, and that’s the overwhelming dominance of the US film industry by white males (whether that’s ‘films funded by’, ‘films directed by’, ‘films produced by’, ‘films starring’, ‘films targeted at’ or ‘profits enjoyed and snorted by’). The problem isn’t really the fact that – for example – Ava DuVernay hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar for her direction of Selma, the real scandal is that it’s still something of a notable achievement for a black, female (or just ‘black’, or just ‘female’) director to get a film made and distributed on this scale in 2014 (though, suspiciously, it certainly seems to be easier if you’re making a film about racial conflict or slavery). Ultimately, if the typical yearly output of major Hollywood studios doesn’t change we’re stuck with this semi-regular diversity kerfuffle, as those voting can only pick from the films and the individuals that are put in front of them for judging.
As much as I get caught up in the fuss when awards season gets underway I think way too much stock is put in the biggest ceremony of them all. As this article succinctly points out the Academy has long been out of touch, and being ignored doesn’t necessarily affect a film’s cultural impact or its shelf life, which I would argue are more important factors than any individual or collective ego boosts, however valuable they may be for your career longevity. Perhaps if I was David Oyelowo, though, and I’d put everything I had into an incredible acting performance, I might think differ.
Jaina (Time Well Spent)
The Academy should be obliged to include what is of merit. Regardless of race or gender or whatever else separates us as human beings. These awards are meant to be about the films and the people involved in the making of these films. Including racial diversity almost feels like something slightly racist – a case of having to include your quota for the case of racial diversity. Positive racism would be a bi-product out of this obligation. Then they’d be even more reason to question the Oscar nominations.
Truth be told, I’m very cynical on the subject of the Academy awards in general – how they work in terms of nominations and who eventually wins. So I’m not even sure if an obligation to include racial diversity would do anything positive but breed more discontent