Friday, January 15, 2016

Oscars So White?


If you were anywhere near social media yesterday, then you know the second Oscar nominations were announced, posts/tweets/statuses and the like were all exploding with a very specific and familiar hashtag.

#OscarsSoWhite

Yes, once again (second year in a row) all 20 acting nominees (and also the directing nominees) were all white.  Now, last year, after the Selma award’s run debacle, I wrote a piece on this very issue and once again I find myself somewhat baffled and kind of rolling my eyes a tad at all these outraged tweets and this constant use of the popular hashtag.

Before you get offended, let me explain.


I feel pressed to ask everyone complaining about this; what exactly did you expect yesterday morning?  I find it telling that I keep seeing certain names of actors and films popping up in tweets and ‘think-pieces’ and I find myself wondering why anyone really thought these nominations were going to happen.  Did anything indicate to you that Michael B. Jordan was even in the running for Lead Actor?  I’m not saying he isn’t worthy, but where were his critics wins?  Where was his Globe nomination?  Like I said to someone yesterday who, a few hours before the Oscar nominations were announced, tweeted that they were ready to flood twitter with #OscarsSoWhite; “what more do you expect when Idris Elba is the only POC in contention for an Oscar nomination?”.  It almost feels like this groupthink has gripped a large portion of moviegoers who wait all year, sitting on their clever new hashtag, just waiting for the moment they can get upset at the old white guys.

I’m not saying there isn’t a problem, because I see it too, but this particular barrage of “let’s boycott Oscars” is so misguided, because Oscars are not the singular problem.

Where was #GlobesSoWhite?  Sure, they nominated Will Smith for that football movie (are we proud of that?), but outside of Elba there was no one else?  Where was #SAGSSoWhite?  #BAFTASoWhite?  What about critics?  #NYFCCSoWhite?  #LAFCASoWhite?  Why are we dragging Oscar through the mud for doing exactly what every other awards body this year did?  I ask again, what did we expect?  This isn’t a solitary problem, and so all this vitriol towards Oscar individually seems so misdirected. 

#HollywoodSoWhite

This is the real problem.  Films championing actors and stories of POC are not getting made and distributed and campaigned as much and as strongly as they should be.  Creed is a prime example of a campaign that rapidly transformed into one thing; Stallone getting an Oscar.  While the initial reviews seemed to propel the film into the category of Oscar contender all the way around, critics bodies and precursor awards latched onto a single aspect of the film and ran with it, disregarding the rest and soon the whole film became about Stallone and nothing else.  This isn’t Oscar’s fault.  Oscar, religiously, does what it’s told.  It was told to nominate Stallone.  It did that.  It was not told to nominate Michael B. Jordan or Ryan Coogler or Tessa Thompson.  The problem runs deeper than Oscar, much deeper.

But at least Creed got made!  I’ve made mention many times before that sadly, POC (especially women) are not given the roles that Oscar likes to nominate.  It’s not that the roles aren’t there, but when someone looks at an actor of color, they see stereotypes and so they are generally only offered roles that confine to these stereotypes.  Again, Hollywood’s problem, not Oscars.  Look at the only viable contender this year, Elba.  He was playing a character that HAD to be black.  It would be nice if Elba could actually land the role of James Bond and break into a franchise like that, making it race-neutral. 

I’ll give you this, this year sported some very well received and critically lauded films about POC.  Straight Out of Compton, Beasts of No Nation, Dope, Creed, Chi-Raq; but the distribution and campaigns for these films was almost non-existent.  Beasts and Chi-Raq suffered from lack of studio backing, and so I doubt very many Oscar voters actually watched them, despite the reviews.  Dope was a small indie that came and then went without a revival from critics.  Straight Out of Compton was only ever a contender in BP, with no one singling out any performances, and it was probably within the Top 10.  We’ve already discussed Creed.  The point is, Oscar is not the only award’s body to snub these films.  Oscar just followed the pattern set by everyone else.

#AwardsSeasonSoWhite

This is a problem (as is the misogyny, which is almost MORE of a problem) but it’s an industry issue.  And before we get into blaming the Oscars for being lazy, I dare you to take a look at the NAACP Image Award nominees and wonder why they lazily nominated the likes of Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who I adore, mind you) for her absolute nothing role in Concussion over the likes of Mya Taylor for her critically lauded performance in Tangerine.  It’s an issue everywhere!

I’d love to see this rectified.  In a just world, we’d have Oscar nominees Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Mya Taylor, Karidja Toure and Assa Sylla, just to name a few; but we don’t live in a just world ATM.  The problem runs deeper than where you’re currently targeting, though.

And I’m sure many of you are thinking it, so I’ll beat you to the punch.


#OpinionSoWhite

28 comments:

  1. The problem is with industry. Sure Academy could nominated POC to make a statement, but for the love of God shouldn't they nominate based on quality of performances? People who these journalists are crying over - Isaac, Jordan, chick from Tangerine - were at no point contenders. The Academy has ZERO obligation to make the nominations diverse. I wonder if that moronic Selma director who deserved no attention at all for that movie and her 'work' screamed racism again - this is all she does now.

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    1. Yeah, I mean...crying over snubs that everyone saw coming a mile away is so bizarre to me. I would have loved for Isaac and Taylor to get nominated, as they were outstanding, but they were no where near close to even being contenders, to be honest.

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  2. Great post! I really, really agree with you. It's sad that no minority was nominated in the acting fields but hardly anyone was a contender to begin with, which sucks.

    However, I find it extremely hard to name who I would leave off the list. I mean, I'd easily swap out Christian Bale for Idris Elba, but other than that, this list of nominees is hard to argue, almost all of them were completely deserved, and still so many others who didn't make the cut (Del Toro, Dano, Theron, Mulligan, Carell, Depp, etc). Hopefully next year this trend does not continue and we can see the value in limited diverse roles.

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    1. Yeah, the list of snubs was strong this year because many of the categories felt up in the air all season, which was cool to see, I have to admit.

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  3. Great post. The problem definitely stems with the industry itself not the Academy. I would have liked to have seen Elba or del Toro in that mix though.

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    1. I really hope that the industry itself can sort out their diversity issues, and they're making strides...we just need bigger ones.

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  4. This is precisely why I didn't mention this at all in my reaction post yesterday. I don't see it as that big a deal. With all the problems facing POC, I just don't see the AMPAS as something to focus on. If you're that concerned about it, you'll try to take it to the top. Expose the suits that pay the money and get them to fight for your movie. The Academy just follows consensus, for the most part. However, I did some research and found that Creed and Tangerine are more favorably reviewed (according to Rotten Tomatoes) than The Martian, The Revenant, Bridge of Spies, and The Big Short. But, when you look at those pretty much solid white titles, you see that they are all films that EVERYBODY talked about. Not just critics. They feature casts of HUGE STARS. And therein lies the difference. They were all pushed onto the people. Creed didn't get enough marketing and sort of sneaked in under the radar with a lot of critical praise. Nobody but critics and film buffs are talking about Tangerine.

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    1. Creed is currently over 106 million for domestic box office. Very under the radar...

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    2. The real issue with Creed was that it's campaign rapidly became all about Stallone. When it was first released it felt like it was going to shoot for some major noms...and then the campaign and focus shifted to a very solitary mention, and it became all about getting Stallone an Oscar.

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  5. I get their point and there is a deep rooted conservative, business, white old guys (even if they are young) running the ship. This problem has been around for decades and it seems to be the in thing right now to admonish anything or anyone who does not have a minority(plural) in the nominations. I have heard of Beasts of No Nation and Straight outta Compton but have not seen them. Are they worth being nominated? It sounds like yes they should be but I hope people won't be nominated just to make sure the minorities get a vote. If I was a minority and found out I was voted for something not based on merit but because of my skin colour, I would be insulted. OK I may have veered off but I do agree with what you have written here. Thought provoking post

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    1. Yeah, it's a slippery slope. There is reason to draw attention to the cause, but if you don't attack something at the root...the problem will NEVER get fixed.

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  6. I think another problem is that even though minorities do have the right to complain about this or that film isn't nominated. They'll probably make the same complaint about why Kevin Hart's new movie isn't nominated or whatever bullshit. There is racism in the Academy but it's not just from whites.

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    1. It is a shame when racism is screamed at every corner, since that isn't always the reason/answer/problem.

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  7. I agree the issue is within the entire industry and not just with the academy itself. Do I wish there was more POC performances? Hell yes I do, but the Oscars go after the majority and some of those great roles, like Attah, and Del Toro and (apparently) The Straight Outta Compton cast is that they didn't get enough critical backing for the Oscars to consider them. #HollywoodSoWhite is a more appropriate hastag. I don't think general movie goers have even heard of Tangerine.

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    1. Effing UGH...Attah gives my favorite performance by anyone in any category and of any race this year. It's such a shame he couldn't get any traction.

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  8. I don't know whether I agree or disagree with you, because I don't really follow academy awards. But I agree that it's an industry-wide problem. We need so much more racial and cultural diversity in films.

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    1. Yeah, #HollywoodSoWhite is a real problem.

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  9. You hit the nail on the head by saying that the issue is really much larger than the Academy. The Academy so happens to be a more visible and concentrated body to focus on. I agree that #HollywoodSoWhite is a more appropriate hashtag. I think you may not even be aware how appropriate it is. The truth of the matter is that there are plenty of movies about people of color. The issue is that the vast majority of these are either done independently or my specialized departments of the studios (often as just distributors). Whatever marketing is done for these movies is very purposely directed toward whatever specific type of people are featured in the movie which marginalizes them as far as everyone else is concerned. For instance, a movie about Mexicans is heavily marketed in places researched to be frequented by a lot of Mexicans leaving it unheard of among Whites, Blacks, Asians, etc. In the case of something like Tangerine, about transgender people of color, marketing was nil and it quickly wound up on Netflix before most people had even heard of it. After that, there are no Oscar campaigns mounted. Even in the case of a money-maker like Straight Outtta Compton. Sure, there was lip-service paid to the idea that it could receive Oscar consideration, but there was no push for this to happen by the people who made it. It also doesn't help that none of these films are held up for release until Oscar time, either. As you know, the norm is that films released before Thanksgiving are mostly forgotten. Finally, we have something else you mentioned. The overwhelming majority of race neutral roles are going to White performers with the exception of those going to actors who have built up huge resumes over the years like a Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, The Rock, or someone else of that status. That said, I can't completely absolve The Academy, either. I would like to think that people who claim to be awarding the very best in film in a given year would take it upon themselves to really seek out films big and small and form their own opinions on what the best is and not just sort of form a consensus of what other bodies that give awards have done.

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    1. Excellent discussion, Wendell! I agree with you 100%.

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    2. Amen, Wendell! You are right on with it, and I really hope things start to change. I get what you mean about Oscar needing to really root through and find the best, but we all know that this is NEVER what happens...it never has and never will, at least not since the precursors and critics bodies became so large.

      I mean, can you imagine what would have happened back in 1939 if we had 100+ critics bodies and precursors handing out awards before Oscar. I don't think we would have seen Hattie take that Oscar, since the narrative to award the young yet already 'star' Olivia de Havilland would have probably been so strong she would have swept things like the Globes, SAG and BFCA. It's a different beast the more awards we get because it starts to hand select the crop Oscar has to choose from, which is a shame.

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  10. Excellent write-up! If the industry changes, the Oscars will change with it. Hopefully, Hollywood will start offering better roles/films/campaigns for POC.

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  11. Wendell pretty much summed up my thoughts so I'll keep it brief: good write up but I do have a qualm. There was a performance absolutely worthy of a nomination and that is Idris Elba's turn in Beasts of No Nation.

    Anyway, it's been a while. I did post an essay on Hateful Eight on my blog but beyond that it's been silent. Still building a best of 2015 list though so look out for that. I still read your blog on a consistent basis. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Luke! Love hearing from you. I'm exciting to hear you have some stuff coming, because I miss reading your blog.

      And I don't question Elba's worth. I even mention that he was in the running, but he was, let's face it, the ONLY POC in the running, and his snub, while terrible, is probably more of a result of the whole Netflix thing than anything else.

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  12. The silver lining in all of this Oscars crap is that long after the feet stomping and the dissection of valid nominees and online outrage and boycotts, the films will still exist. People will still be able to watch Creed and go "hey that Michael B Johnson dude was pretty good in it" or whatever. Long after the heat of battle has passed, the things everyone's arguing about, the movies, will continue, and always will.

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