Movie Bloggers Roundtable

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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?

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

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)

Interesting question!

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

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I want to thank Courtney, Stu, and Jaina for participating in this fourth Movie Bloggers Roundtable. You have heard our thoughts, now we want to hear yours. Do you like the feature? More importantly, what do you think about the discussion and concerns over the Oscars and racial diversity among the nominees? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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35 thoughts on “Movie Bloggers Roundtable

  1. Not a lot of diversity here, everyone pretty much is saying the same thing. Hollywood is run by people who look at the bottom line and assume that it is unlikely to be reached if someone untested is responsible. Those who are not already in the system have difficulty breaking into the system, and the ones not in the system are usually from the underrepresented groups. This circular reasoning is the fault of an industry rather than the Academy, which often bends over backwards in the last twenty years to find deserving candidates of diverse background (tough though it is).

    • Well said my friend! I do think the Academy tries to add diversity sometimes at the expense of better films. It may be that they are trying to address a problem that they realize is real. That’s what makes it so interesting that they are receiving the brunt of the criticism this year.

  2. There is no better time to discuss such an issue. I, personally, was taken aback at the almost racist claims to this years academy award nominations. In no simple terms, I find it ridiculous – especially after 12 Years a Slave winning best picture only a year ago.

    I first came onto this claim way back when Brian De Palma made Bonfire of the Vanities. Now it’s not a great film but a certain impingement was forced upon De Palma wherby he was forced to cast a black actor in a reasonably prominent role. It was claimed that no black actors were cast in a role that reflected a certain positive stature. Alan Arkin was originally cast a judge in the movie, only to be replaced by Morgan Freeman. Of course, this change made absolutely no difference to the film but it was the beginning of a new approach to casting and filmmaking. All of a sudden a shift had take place and that shift didn’t necessarily make any difference to an artistic vision or merit.

    It’s absurd! Racism certainly has no place in modern society or any artistic medium but to manipulate that only feeds such an issue in the place.

    • Thanks for sounding off on the topic bro. I can’t stand the idea of forcing creative decisions onto filmmakers. Diversity in cinematic expression can be accomplished without resorting to that. I want to see more racially diverse films getting pushed by studios but I don’t want race restrictions or requirements pushed on them either. Same for the Oscars. There is no evidence that this year’s nominations was rooted in some hidden racism. That is completely looking in the wrong direction.

  3. Great roundtable Keith and nice to see a diverse set of participants 😉 I absolutely agree nominations should and always be based on merit, same with any job application in any industry. Hiring someone of color simply to fill a ‘quota’ doesn’t help solve the problem, but expanding the opportunities for racially diverse group to apply for a particular job can only benefit any organization. I think you hit the nail on the head Keith, that I think the issue is that they don’t consider or look at more films that represent racial diversity. So yeah, the bigger problem is definitely w/ Hollywood as a whole (and beyond), the Academy is merely a reflection of that racial discrepancy.

    • Thanks Ruth. Some really great input from Courtney, Stu, and Jaina. It’s definitely a compelling discussion especially in light of the recent “controversy”. Unfortunately I think the controversy is misguided which is a shame.

  4. I’m in full agreement that nominations SHOULD only be based on the merit of the films released. You guys said just about everything else I was thinking so I’ll leave it at that. Great work!

  5. Great topic Keith (and co)!!!

    I actually think that it’s completely absurd to assume that the lack of minority nominees automatically makes it a racial issue.

    The noms should ONLY be based solely on merit and yes, there are always snubs, but a snub doesn’t always mean it’s based on racial issues. Personally I loved Selma, but the fact that it only got 2 noms (picture and song) in no way means it’s because of racially motivated reasons. The voters just didn’t think the other category potential nominees weren’t as good as the 5 nominees.

    Does the fact that Steve McQueen lost to Cuaron last year mean that it was racially biased? no. everyone accepts that the voters felt that Cuaron did a better job directing.

    There always have been and always will be snubs that people wont agree with, but that’s the way an awards show works, only one person can win and the nominee slots are also limited.

    The expanse of BP to more than 5 nominations has also let to backlash for the same reason, if there is potentially room for 10, why only 8 this year? It’s actually ironic that since the field was expanded after The Dark Knight got snubbed, Nolan wasn’t included for Interstellar; does that mean Hollywood doesn’t like successful British directors? 🙂

    Bottom line, it should always stay with merit without “slots” to not offend anyone

    • Fine, fine comments. The Oscars definitely have an imperfect system but as you point out that doesn’t automatically scream racism. In fact I think blaming the Academy actually takes any type of thoughtful discussion away from where it should be aimed. I just think people are hard-pressed to find legitimacy in the claims thrown at the Academy.

      • Thanks Keith, completely agree.

        That being said, the Academy has always been known as an “Old Boys Club” and it took a long while for women to break through in many categories, but today’s academy is a bit more diverse than it use to be.

        The claims of racism or any other claims do more damage to the people making the claims because hey are just screaming at the wall while trying to delegitimize the system.

        If next year there are 5 worthy racially diverse nominees, everyone will then claim that it’s backlash for this year.

        It’s unfortunately a neverending cycle

        😦

      • I think you’re right. It is a never ending cycle. Hopefully in the future we will be able to get past this so that movies are made and awarded based on the merit of the creators.

        Thanks for the great contributions to the discussion.

  6. Hey Keith, thanks once again for asking me to participate – it’s a fascinating issue and well worth discussing. It’s interesting to read the opinions of other bloggers in the article and the comments to date; I’ll drop back in later to read more. Cheers!

    • Thanks for your willingness to join in Stu. Excellent contribution. I too think its a fascinating discussion especially considering the recent accusations lobbed at the Academy. It does offer an opportunity to look at the bigger picture.

    • It’s interesting that the accusations were made at the Academy when any observant eye can see that the Oscars simply reflect what Hollywood is putting out.

  7. Cheers for including me in the roundtable here, Keith! Certainly got me thinking.

    You could argue it’s a problem with Hollywood or whatever but I was just thinking, growing up the career paths I was motivated to go for didn’t include anything from the arts. I mean, it’s pretty astounding that I opted for a creative career at all. There’s a certain racial stereotype that all Indians are doctors or accountants. And while Bollywood is booming, these sort of stereotypes don’t go away – you’ll just get less people from certain races doing some jobs. It’s changing these days, for sure, but a big part of me feels like it’s probability too. You can’t just blame Hollywood, or the system – there’s some stuff that’s just ingrained in cultures that is very slowly going away. Very slowly.

    • Those are great thoughts. Thought-provoking. I agree with you that sometimes blaming the system is taking the easy way out. I do think there is a ton of truth to the culture idea. And the cultural influence can be either good or bad depending on what lens it’s being viewed through. I think there probably isn’t an easy answer to it all.

      Thanks so much for your contribution. It was perfect.

      • Yeah, this is a multi-faceted issue. It’s easy to stamp words like racist and sexist on the issue because it gives the media the bit to chomp at.

        And a sad fact is, Hollywood isn’t the only industry rife with racism, sexism, and all other ‘isms – it’s a disease that’s common in SO many industries. It’s just that Holly is, well, in the limelight.

  8. Pingback: Diversity and the Academy Awards | Cinema Axis

  9. I think the biggest thing the uproar this year has shown is just how short people’s memories are. As others have already pointed out, a major film on an extremely important subject – 12 Years a Slave – won Best Picture just last year. And people decrying Ava DuVernay’s lack of a nomination for Best Director because of her race and/or gender seem to be forgetting that only two years ago Ben Affleck also was not nominated in that category despite his film Argo winning Best Picture. And Affleck is as white and as male as you can get.

    There always have been people passed over for nominations and/or wins that have left people scratching their heads (i.e. Hitchcock, Kubrick, Cary Grant, Peter O’Toole, etc.), and there always will be. With the somewhat greater opportunities non-white directors, performers, etc. have today over that of decades ago it simply means that more non-white people will potentially fall into the “why the heck wasn’t [fill in the blank] nominated?” discussions.

    • Points are well made. I swear, every time I say to myself “Cary Grant never won an acting Oscar” or “Alfred Hitchcock” never won a directing Oscar” it leaves me shaking my head. But that is the way the Oscars are. I think its hard to blame them for any kind of racially motivated nomination snubs.

  10. Love your topic! Not sure what happened, but I “lost” your posts in the WP reader. I missed this as well as few recent others. Weird. Anyway, I agree, no they should not. Who won Best Picture last year? What of other minorities? You couldn’t possibly represent everyone proportionately. As a woman, I’m always rooting for the female director, actress, producer, etc.

  11. interesting read ,ate. Personally I think the race thing came up because Selma didn’t rake in the noms. You know how the media hypes up tiny things to astronomical levels eh?

    • I think you are probably spot on. I think there are some who profit from making things like this ‘controversial’. I think that may have been the case here.

      • For sure, controversy means someone’s pockets are being lined. And in the context of cinema, it is such a total non-issue – racism is far worse in almost any area outside the bloody Oscars!

      • LOL! I hear ya. The milk stories dry or the simply throw gasoline on a topic and make it into a controversy. They also love giving air time to those who love generating animosity. And the often causes any true thoughtful discussion about issues to be tossed aside.

      • Yep yep and yep. Its amazing how many people look at you like you’re a conspiracy nut when you say things like that, but its reality. News bulletins never have good news, its always a fire here, an earthquake here, a war kicking off over here. Its depressing! And it also keeps the people watching in that state of fear, which is ultimately one of the best weapons – both for terrorists and the ruling-class. No wonder there are so many bloody CSI NCIS cop shows!!

        /end rant

  12. “shadowy cabal of aging white supremacists industry” that comment alone in the gentleman named Stu, even though it is done with a strike-through, cheapens this whole posting and is really uncalled for. Everything else was on point.

  13. Pingback: Road To The Oscars – Oscar Week Begins!

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