Another year, another Oscar controversy. Despite the frivolous nature of the whole thing I do love the Oscars. But without fail the Academy always manage to spark controversy either with their nominations or with their snubs. This year it comes in the form of diversity, or more accurately the lack of it in all of the major categories. This has given birth to a vocal Twitter protest movement called #OscarsSoWhite.
While the movement may be noble in purpose, some of the uses of it are ridiculous. Some have used it as a springboard for accusations of racism, boycotts, and all sorts of toxic rhetoric. Careless terms like “Whiteout” have been thrown around with no regard for the divisive nature of them. Some people have shown a much more intelligent but no less passionate approach to the lack of diversity. Their concerns are certainly rooted in the right place, but both responses have placed their sights on the wrong target.
First there is no doubt that the lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees is a worthy cause of concern. I’ll also say that I disagree with several of Oscar’s omissions. When listing my personal picks for the four major acting categories I chose three African Americans and one Puerto Rican who I believe gave fabulous nomination-worthy performances. There were definitely diverse performances that deserved recognition.
But here’s the problem. It could be said #OscarsSoWhite insinuates racism from the Academy. Often times fingers point to the “whiteness” of the Academy voters, a worthy topic for discussion but not an indicator of racism. Taco am is deplorable and any accusation or insinuation should be always be rooted in fact. This year’s lack of diversity in the Oscar field does not offer any factual basis for insinuations of racism.
Let’s examine that a little closer. Look at the names being mentioned as proof of an existing racial insensitivity. “Creed” seems to be film mentioned most. I loved “Creed”. The best movie surprise of the year. But does its omission from Best Picture point to a white-leaning Academy? As much as I love the film it finished just outside of my Top 10. The Academy chose 8 movies for Best Picture consideration. Therefore I (and many others) can name at least 10 films I believe to be better than “Creed”. And then there is this – I have seen seven of the eight films and there are no glaringly bad movies in the category. Therefore nothing looks intentionally biased in the Best Picture race.
What about Best Director? I love Ryan Coogler and I believe he is one of the best young voices in filmmaking. His work on “Creed” was astonishing. But does his omission from the Best Director category point to a white-leaning Academy? Just think of the other names that didn’t get nominated – Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Todd Haynes, Quentin Tarantino. Truth is this was an incredibly loaded category and good, compelling arguments could be made for each nominee and several others that didn’t make it.
What about the acting categories. Michael B. Jordan was excellent in “Creed” but does that invalidate the other tremendous performance by those nominated. Many have mentioned Samuel L. Jackson in “The Hateful Eight”, a good performance but similar to every other role he plays for Tarantino. Will Smith for “Concussion”? Remember when so many were shocked that he even got a Golden Globe nomination? There have been several criticisms of his performance particularly his odd accent. All reasonable reactions and none that point to a white lean.
What about other omitted films like “Straight Outta Compton”, what many call about 40 minutes of good movie. What about films like “Beasts of No Nation” (one of my favorites of the year), “Tangerine”, or “Chi-Raq”? All have good arguments but are they truly Oscar-type films? Does it surprise anyone to see them not receive nominations? If anything it points to an independent void in the Oscars, not an intentional racial one.
In the end you will still have folks like Spike Lee (who has already ignorantly called this year’s Oscars “Lilly White”) using the opportunity for self promotion and Jada Pinckett Smith calling for a full Oscar boycott by minorities. But neither of these approaches are aiming at the right target. Neither are looking in the right direction. They are too linear and reactionary. They failed to recognize or address where the true problem lies – HOLLYWOOD.
It’s easy to see a number of white faces and assume something nefarious is at play. It’s just as easy to look deeper for the true reason for the lack of Oscar-worthy diversity. That’s when true weighty questions arise. Are minority voices being giving the same platforms to express themselves? Are minority performers getting the same opportunities? Are minority writers getting the same considerations. Are studios putting these rich projects in the hands of minority talent? These are the questions that need to be discussed. These are the things that truly lead to diversity on Oscar night.
So no, I don’t condemn this year’s Oscars. No, I don’t see any cause to insinuate even the slightest bit of racism with this year’s nominees. No, I don’t think boycotts of this particular awards show have any merit. But I do think this year’s Oscars are simply a reflection. And just like when looking in a mirror, nothing is accomplished when pointing fingers at the reflection. True change comes when you deal with the caster of that reflection. Hollywood, I’m looking at you.