Representation in Hollywood is an issue by itself, but Asian representation in Hollywood is near non-existent. With the state of Hollywood being that black equates to “diversity” (despite there being more types of diversity out there than just being black) and Asian characters are still overrun with stereotypes or whitewashing, Asian actors and actresses have had a tough uphill battle in breaking through the glass ceiling.
JUST ADD COLOR is all about exploring how all types of diversity are showcased in Hollywood, so I thought it would be fantastic to have an ongoing series called POC in Hollywood. First up, the Asian American experience in Hollywood. In this longform piece, we’ll take a closer look at some of the issues and biases plaguing Asian creatives in Hollywood.
This is a longform, so if you’d like to jump to specific parts, here’s the table of contents:
- Whiteness as the default
- The pain of exoticism
- The #OscarsSoWhite effect and the Academy
- What Hollywood’s doing right and wrong
- What audiences need to know
Whiteness as the default
Historically, Hollywood has used Asian locales and people as props, while white characters are given layered characteristics. In short, white characters have been treated as humans, while everyone and everything else are only developed in stereotypes.
The most recent examples of this include The Birth of the Dragon, in which a white character is used to frame Bruce Lee’s biopic, Doctor Strange, which sees Tilda Swinton playing an Asian role and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, which is a white character used to exploit a stereotypical Asian mysticism, Ghost in the Shell, which uses Japanese culture to frame Scarlett Johansson as The Major and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, which features India as a backdrop for white characters and Dev Patel playing a stereotypical Indian character.
“What’s particularly silly about The Birth of the Dragon is that they invented a fictional white character thinking that that would be what North American audience would want,” wrote Quentin Lee, The Unbidden director and founder of Margin Films in an email interview. “The filmmakers obviously fell flat on their faces. Not only it wasn’t historically accurate for the story, the film ended up insulting Bruce Lee and the audience who would support it. It was a creative misfire.”
Chris Tashima, an Academy-winning director for the 1998 short film Visas and Virtue and co-founder of Cedar Grove Productions, wrote that while he hasn’t seen The Birth of the Dragon yet, he found the basis of the film “ridiculous.”
“It’s understandable, why this has been the practice—being that traditionally, decision makers have been white males, and like anyone else, will want to see stories about themselves, and that audiences have traditionally been thought of as young, white males,” he wrote. “However, all of that is changing. It has been changing for a while, and it’s easy to see where it’s going: towards a diverse world. That’s an old practice and you’d think Hollywood would want to project, and put themselves on the cutting edge, and be more inclusive. It’s old, and tired, and more and more, I think audiences will want to see something different, something more truthful.”
“I think the overarching theme that runs through how Hollywood/the West represents POCs has to do with the ease with which they are able to strip POCs of agency over their own stories,” wrote Kesav Wable, Brooklyn-based actor, writer, 2011 HBO American Black Film Festival finalist for his short film, For Flow and Sundance lab short-listed screenwriter for a script about a Pakistani boxer wrongfully accused of planning a terror attack.
“This may come across as a bit exaggerated or radical, but I do believe that there is a link between white imperialist concepts such as ‘manifest destiny’ and ‘white man’s burden,’ which validated a lot of the literal takings from POCs that happened throughout earlier periods in civilized history, and now, in a media-hungry world where information, content, and stories are the most valuable currencies, there is an analogous “taking” of the narratives that POCs have lived through. By depicting POC characters through the lens of a white character, it enables white audiences to keep POCs’ stories at arm’s length, and to not completely empathize with those characters because they are not given the complete human dignity and complexity that is afforded the white character.”
“Perhaps, this, in a way, damps down the guilt that white audiences may feel if the POCs stories/circumstances have to do with the literal takings that were exacted by their ancestors. Or it’s just good for a cheap laugh. The truly insidious effect of POCs being usurped from their own narratives is that, even many of us POCs begin to start viewing things through a white lens and stop questioning whether these stories truly represent who we are because of how pervasive white-controlled media is.”
Wable used the upcoming film Happy End, which is about a bourgeois European family living amid the current refugee crisis. “Granted, I haven’t seen the film, so it’d be presumptive of me to conclude that refugees are not conferred with dignity/complexity as characters, but the very thought that French filmmakers think that shining a light on a bourgeois family with the refugee crisis as a ‘backdrop’ can be instructive about their world, speaks volumes about what it is white people are most interested in; themselves,” he wrote. “In this case, apparently, the context is a rueful rumination on their own blindness to the refugees’ plight. Somehow the irony of the very film’s existence as a manifestation of that blindness seems to be lost on them.”
Mandeep Sethi, filmmaker and emcee, also discussed about Hollywood’s tendencies to erase non-white people from their own stories. “I think centralizing POC stories around white characters is Hollywood’s way of taking a black or brown story and making it about white people,” he said. “Our culture is full of amazing stories and histories and Hollywood loves to cherry pick what they like but leave out the real nitty gritty including the people who created, interacted, and setup that story.”
Sinakhone Keodara, founder CEO of Asian Entertainment Television and host of Asian Entertainment Tonight, wrote that Hollywood’s penchant for using whiteness as a default is “a heinous tradition that is long overdue for a change.”
“Rather than trying to normalize Asian presence on screen to a wide American audience, Hollywood often goes the tired, well-worn and ‘safe’ route of using a white character in an attempt to more easily relate the character to a majority white American audience. It’s cheap and unnecessary, because the proper and more effective way of relating a character to an audience is writing a character with emotional depth,” he said. “Ethnicity informs and colors our individual and community experiences, but emotion transcends ethnic boundaries. With political correctness aside, Hollywood needs to stop engaging in a form of neo-emotional and neo-psychological colonialism against people of color, especially Asians by injecting whiteness into our stories.”
“I think that centralizing PoC stories around white characters is always going to happen as long as the people telling these stories are white,” wrote Asia Jackson, an actress, model and content creator. “What Hollywood needs is not only diversity on-camera, but to also make greater efforts to allow filmmakers of color to tell their own stories.”
Jodi Long, an actress who was a castmember of the first Asian American TV sitcom All-American Girl and member of the actors branch of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote that while whiteness as the default is the reality in Hollywood, a study shows a much needed change in film. “I just saw a new study The Inclusion Quotient done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media where the reality in terms of box office is changing, where women and diverse actors in lead roles are now performing extremely well,” she wrote. “Money talks in Hollywood but we still have to get beyond the implicit (unconscious) bias that factors into which projects get greenlit based on outmoded ways of thinking.”
Kunjue Li, Ripper Street actress and founder of China Dolls Productions Ltd., also addressed how money rules Hollywood, despite Hollywood not making the audience demand actually work for them financially. “I don’t think [whitewashing] is the right thing to do, and second of all, I don’t think it’s very commercial,” she said. “…[I]f they want to sell to Chinese audiences, which is the second biggest film market, then they need to tell a Chinese story…I think you have to tell a Chinese story [with] a Chinese cast.”
“If the film [was] an an American-Chinese co-production, [it would] actually help with the film itself because then it doesn’t have to go through the quota system…which means that only 30 percent of foreign films are allowed to show in China markets every year. If they do it as a co-production, then they get 1/3 of Chinese funding, but they have to have 1/3 of a Chinese [cast]. They’ll have one-third of Chinese funding, they’ll have domestic showings, they don’t have to go through the quota system, it’s much more feasible. Commercially, [whitewashing] doesn’t even work. I don’t understand why people keep doing that.”
JUST ADD COLOR is in the process of growing in 2016, and one of the ways we’re doing that is by creating COLORBLOCK Magazine, a monthly magazine that features more of the content JUST ADD COLOR has already—analyzing how race and culture are perceived in entertainment, and how those messages affect how we see ourselves.
The latest issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine is a recap of the Oscars, which was a mixed bag, to be honest. From the racist jokes to addressing stereotypes in film, to #OscarsSoWhite and more, this issue of COLORBLOCK hits some of the biggest moments from before, during, and after the Oscars.
Here’s a bit from one of the magazine’s articles, “Lesson Providers and Tragic Figures: How The Revenant Reflects Hollywood’s Objectification of Characters of Color”:
Would you believe that Oscar film The Revenant has something in common with No Escape? Even though the film has been praised for its technical prowess and stellar acting, the Leonardo DiCaprio starrer has been called out on the story still following an old Hollywood trope: having a story involving non-white characters revolve around white leads.
Gyasi Ross wrote for The Huffington Post that the DiCaprio’s lead time in the movie could have been ceded to some of Native actors in the film. Comparing DiCaprio to Marlon Brando, who allowed Sacheen Littlefeather to speak to Native American sentiments at the Oscars, Ross wrote, “it would have been cool if [DiCaprio] surrendered that space for Native people to have some agency.”
Ross goes onto say that while The Revenant successfully strove for historical accuracy, it doubles down on the “white savior” trope that plagues many Hollywood films.
You can read the latest issue by clicking the link in the sidebar as well as clicking right here. You can also read past issues in the archive. If you love what you’ve read, make sure you leave me a comment, either on Twitter @moniqueblognet and @COLORwebmag, Facebook, or at ISSUU and share with your friends! These people did:
— theblerdgurl (@theblerdgurl) January 5, 2016
— Nekkid Chicken (@saenzmom) January 3, 2016
— Nekkid Chicken (@saenzmom) January 3, 2016
I’d love for you to read, share, and support!
You’ve probably been hearing about the All Def Movie Awards. The event, which will air via Fusion and sponsored by Fusion, CROSS Pens, ADD, Ciroc, and Celsius, has been thought of as an answer to the Oscars, but it aims to be much more than that; it hopes to acknowledge and honor the talent Hollywood as in industry routinely neglects.
“The All Def Movie Awards are meant to fill a generational and cultural void — just as the MTV Movie Awards did,” said Sanjay Sharma, President and CEO of ADD. “FUSION is the perfect partner to celebrate the uncelebrated, and use comedy to encourage honest dialogue and action.”
The All Def Movie Awards celebrate the year’s best films in categories that are both traditional and light-hearted. Members of the public voted on two categories, which included Best Picture contenders BEASTS OF NO NATION, CHI-RAQ, CONCUSSION, CREED, DOPE and STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. Other awards during the show will honor Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director as well as Best Bad Muh F**ka and other often overlooked categories, such as Best Helpful White Person and Best Black Survivor in a Movie. Legendary actor and recording artist Will Smith will be recognized with the ADMA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award, and writer, producer, director and social activist Norman Lear will receive the Vanguard Award for his enduring contributions to entertainment that helped foster an essential dialogue about race and race relations. Tony Rock hosts the special which features celebrity guests including Tyrese Gibson, Nick Cannon, Terry Crews, Marlon Wayans, Vivica A. Fox, King Bach, Sannaa Lathan, Regina Hall, Robert Townsend, Bill Duke, Gary Owen, and Jerrod Carmichael, among others.
The event recently wrapped up, and the first images from the black carpet and backstage have been released!
Celebrities, including Michael Ealy, Robin Thicke, Tony Rock, Robert Townsend, Russell Simmons, Snoop Dogg, Amber Rose, Marlon Wayans, Ice Cube, JB Smoove, Nick Cannon, Michael Yo, Tyrese Gibson, Mike Epps stopped to Make their Mark with CROSS Pens by signing a commemorative poster. The poster will be auctioned to raise funds for #FlintKids, which is supporting the children and families affected by Flint, Michigan’s water crisis.
Here’s more about CROSS Pens:
CROSS has always championed the pursuit of greatness. From the spark that inspires a passion. To the hard work and creativity needed to make it happen. It takes courage and a lot of heart, but those who take this path are the ones who make their mark on this world.
The story of the CROSS brand begins in 1846 when artisan Richard Cross, in partnership with his son Alonzo Townsend Cross revolutionized fine writing instruments. Their early mark of entrepreneurial excellence included tools refined through more than 100 patents and accented by the spoils of the California gold rush. Still positioned to set the bar for what it means to symbolize achievement, human potential and usable luxury, CROSS seeks to provide those possessing extraordinary vision and a strong entrepreneurial spirit with the tools needed to make their mark. How do you #MAKEYOURS?
The All Def Move Awards will air this Sunday (Feb. 28) at 7 p.m. on Fusion.
Photo credit: Brady Willis
#OscarsSoWhite has been the headlining news topic, and with so many opinions out there about the hashtag and the movement, the one opinion that’s probably the most important to understand is the opinion of the hashtag’s creator herself. April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, spoke with JUST ADD COLOR about the creation of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy’s decision to change the status quo, the fallout surrounding the new Academy rules, and what she hopes people take away from the movement.
What prompted you to make #OscarsSoWhite last year? Did you think it would find the life it has found on Twitter?
Creating the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag happened very organically, in which I was sitting in my family room watching the Oscar nomination announcements. …I was just disappointed in the lack of representation of people of color and marginalized communities, especially in the acting categories but also behind the camera [like] the directors, especially last year with Ava DuVernay for the movie Selma and just overall—directors, cinematographers and screenwriters and so forth. I…was venting my frustration at that time. The very first tweet was “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.” It took off, and I had no idea then—and even today—that it would be as pervasive and as international as it has become. I’m humbled by the support I’ve received and that the hashtag has received. It’s gratifying to see that the voices of so many have made a difference.
Last year, #OscarsSoWhite hit a nerve, but this year, that nerve was hit in an even bigger way. What do you think prompted the scale of the outrage we’ve seen?
I’ve been asked that question a couple of times now and I really don’t know. The only thing that I can think is that perhaps people thought that last year was just a fluke that people of color and marginalized communities weren’t represented, and when it happened this year with the major acting categories, people said, “Oh, maybe this is an issue. Maybe this is a pattern, so let’s take more of a look at the underlying statement that #OscarsSoWhite is trying to make.”
I can say that a couple of days before the nominations were announced in 2016, people were coming to me saying “We’ve seen some of the predictions as to who the nominations are going to recognize, so maybe it’s going to #OscarsSoWhite again.” …And in fact, it definitely experienced a resurgence. While I did several interviews last year and talked about it quite a bit, I definitely did not see the amount of interest I’ve seen this year, not just nationally, but internationally. I’ve done interviews with organizations in New Zealand and Australia and Ireland and London and more BBC organizations than I knew even existed. Those are not interviews I did in 2015.
How has it been to see the reactions, both good and bad, to #OscarsSoWhite?
I’m gratified by the support, and we see that the Academy has made substantial effort to address the issues underlying in the hashtag. With respect to the criticism, I have yet to see any that was well founded. …I can give you the critiques and how they’re unfounded, but none of them really held any water when you shine a light on the underlying issues. I guess because I’m so active on social media, especially on Twitter, you’re readily available for anyone to come at you with memes and criticism of the hashtag, of you, and misunderstanding of what it’s really about. I hope that I’ve handled all of that with grace and really stayed consistent with the underlying issue, which is the lack of inclusion and diversity in film.
From what I’ve seen, you’re handling it great.
Thank you. …There are definitely some recurring themes that sort of come at me, like “You’re making this an all black thing.” No. I’ve always said it’s all people of color, it’s all marginalized communities. It’s not just a race issue, it’s also a gender issue and a sexual orientation issue and an issue for differently-abled communities to be represented.
[Some say], “If you look at the past 15 years, black people have gotten 10 percent of the awards even though they’re 12 percent of the population, so that’s roughly equal.” Well, that’s fantastic for the last 20 years, but the Oscars have been around for 80. You can’t just cherry-pick the facts to support your narrative. And even if that is true with respect to black people, it’s not true with respect to all people of color. The fact that I’m black doesn’t mean that I’m only advocating for black people. Let’s talk about the number of Hispanic actors and actresses or Latino/Latina actors and actresses, or Asian actors an actresses. This affects everyone and everyone should be included.
If you really run the numbers from 80 years forward, it’s still even taking into account [that] it was 37 years between Sidney Poitier winning the first Oscar for Best Actor as a black man and Denzel [Washington] winning it…and there’s no inbetween. I find it inconceivable that there were no qualifying performances within that 37 year span. Similarly, we’ve had one black actress with Best Actress within the entire span of the Oscars, and that was Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball. You can’t tell me that there haven’t been outstanding performances by black actresses. Even [with nominations], there were films who weren’t nominated that are fantastic, and that’s just with respect to black people. Clearly, there have been no Asian women, no Latina women, who have ever won [Best Actress]; why is that? In 2009, the first woman [Kathyrn Bigelow] wins for Best Director? It’s inconceivable to me that we are here in 2016 and we can rattle off on our fingers, with some to spare, the number of people of color and marginalized communities who have been properly [awarded] for their work.
And also with The Revenant; the film is being celebrated for having a large Native American supporting cast, but none of them are getting nominated for their work; Leonardo DiCaprio–even though it’s great how much he has spoken out on Native American issues on their behalf–is getting nominated, and not a Native member of the supporting cast.
That’s exactly right. …Hollywood is supposed to be a liberal bastion of whatever, and yet there are still some issues. I saw that Matt Damon spoke out…about how there should be more and so and so forth, but we saw how he treated Effie Brown on Project Greenlight. It’s like, but, bruh, that wasn’t even a full year ago! [He] said [on Project Greenlight], and I’m paraphrasing poorly here, something to the effect that diversity takes its point from casting, but not necessarily from who’s behind the camera. That’s what I took from it, anyway. So yeah, we want to have a diverse cast onscreen, but that doesn’t apply to who’s behind the screen, and that’s really the issue because it’s so important that these stories are told, but also who is telling the story. Who is the director? Who is the screenwriter? Who is the producer? What experiences are they bringing to this project and that was borne out this year with Straight Outta Compton. The only thing it was nominated for was Best Original Screenplay, but the screenwriters are white. So that’s an issue as well.
Something you said a while ago goes into one of my questions: Some of the conversations surrounding #OscarsSoWhite have been, unfairly, categorizing it as being primarily focused on black actors and as a black and white issue. How do you feel about some people keeping the conversation in a binary mode of thought instead of thinking about how Hollywood portrays all minorities?
I think it’s unnecessarily limiting and I think it’s unfortunate that they can’t get out of that box for themselves because I’m not in that box. I know why they’re doing it and I’ve had brought to me “Oh, you’re being a racist.” It’s not racism to speak truth about the lack of existence of roles for people of color. Speaking facts isn’t racism in and of itself. It it is without merit because I have never made this a black/white issue.
It’s not clear to me why people think that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black and they can’t see past who I am and understand that I’m multifaceted, or if it’s just easier for them to think in binary terms. But that’s not what #OscarsSoWhite is about at all. Race is just one portion of it; it’s all marginalized communities, and within race, it’s not just black people; it’s definitely about Asian people. It ‘s definitely about Latinos and Latinas and Hispanics. It’s about everyone who should be represented on the screen.
After the nominations came out, Jada Pinkett Smith released a video stating how people of color should consider reinvesting in our own community and celebrating our own. Some believe the Oscars is a lost cause, seeing how it was created to celebrate white actors in particular. Some people also view the Oscars fight as minority voices vying for white validation while not uplifting (or even attending) other awards shows like the NAACP and BET Awards. What do you think of these sentiments and the fight for the Oscars?
I feel very strongly that we should support those award shows and programs that celebrate our individuality and uniqueness. I hope that one of the outcomes of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag is that more people of color and marginalized communities continue to support and support even more the NAACP Image Awards, the Alma Awards, the BET Awards, the Soul Train Music Awards versus the Grammys [in relation to music] because it’s so very important. Those award shows were borne out of the same frustration that I have; the lack of representation of the so-called “mainstream” awards, so we had to make our own. But I will also say that I think we can multitask. We can celebrate our own and still critique for better or worse the pinnacle in film. Whether you are a fry cook or a corporate CEO, you want to be recognized for your achievements amongst your peers. If the Oscars are considered to be the top of that, why wouldn’t someone, anyone, want to receive that recognition?
We also know that very often, having “Oscar-nominated” or “Oscar winner” after your name, it brings with it some benefits. It may mean that it’s easier for someone to land a role or to even to get into auditions. It may mean you can command a higher salary or get taken more seriously the next time you want to take a chance on a film. So it does matter, and if the other award shows are uplifted to the extent that they are on the same level of the Oscars, then fantastic. That just gives everyone more opportunity to shine.
The Academy has taken the mobilization of stars and fans seriously and released a statement promising sweeping change to the Academy and how it does business. All of this came about because of the hashtag’s popularity. How do you feel that #OscarsSoWhite has brought about this change?
I’m very encouraged by the announcement that was made by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. I appreciate that she spearheaded this issue because I know change is never easy–pushing against the status quo and something that has been in place for over 80 years had to have been difficult. I was happy to see that the vote by the Board of Governors was unanimous; I think that’s important because it sends a message that they are serious about making changes with respect to diversity and inclusion. We’ll see how the changes are implemented and what type of pushback they’ll receive, but I still think there’s more to be done by the Academy and definitely by Hollywood.
To that point, there have been several stars old and new decrying the lack of diversity and some boycotting or standing with the boycott. Meanwhile, we’ve seen some stand against change (particularly today, with Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine, Julie Delphy and producer Gerald Molen) and other actors and actresses who have decided to remain anonymous speak out against the hashtag and the Academy’s decision. Do you think this divide is indicative of the state of Hollywood at large? To me, it seems like Hollywood’s facade of liberalism has been taken away.
Yeah, I think that what we know—I think the numbers are from 2012—at that time, that the Academy is 94 percent white, over 75 percent male, and the average age was 63. So even though Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs invited 300 new members to the Academy; that was 300 [versus] 6000. Change is hard, so the Academy members who, for example, have not been active in film in the last decade and have now had their votes taken away, of course they’re going to speak out. It’s a change to the life that they’ve known. But I think that when the dust settles, the Academy members was the change for the better.
Although I have been pushing for more diversity with respect to people of color and marginalized communities, this is also a benefit to the white people in the industry because it gives them more of an opportunity to interact with—and act and direct and produce with—people of color and those marginalized communities that they might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. So I think everybody can win from this, and if it spurs more seasoned Academy members to get back involved in film so they can regain their ability to vote, then all the better, because there’s a reason why they’re already in the Academy. At some point, they were Oscar-nominated or Oscar winners, which means they’ve put out quality work. If they’ve been resting on their laurels for 30 years and come back into the Academy, even better.
The Academy gave themselves a deadline of 2020 for their changes to bear fruit; What kind of Hollywood would you like to see by then?
I hope to see a Hollywood that’s more diverse and inclusive than it is now. I think there’s no shortage of talented people of color and marginalized communities out there. I am hopeful that the Academy will proactively seek out these creatives, these artists, and welcome them with open arms because there are stories that need to be told. I think it’s important and hope that that the Academy, in increasing its diversity, pressures Hollywood to do the same because the Academy can only nominate films that are made. So it’s fantastic if the Academy becomes more diverse. But if Hollywood isn’t doing the same and is only making the same homogeneous movies year after year and aren’t being thoughtful about who can play these roles or who should tell the stories behind the camera, then still, when it’s nomination time, we won’t see any difference even if he Academy wants to see more films that are representative of everyone in society.
That goes into my next question : What are your hopes for the Academy? The Academy’s statement gives the sentiment of the Academy wanting to lead from in front, not from behind; do you think the Academy can change the industry from the front?
I think they can. I think the Academy is large enough that they can exert significant influence over Hollywood, but it really comes down to the studio heads being willing to consider groups that don’t necessarily look like them and don’t have shared experiences when determining which films they’re going to greenlight. That’s really the issue, that those perspectives must be shared. I’m hoping that there will be a significant push from the Academy to Hollywood to make these stories a priority.
There are those out there who still have their head in the sand when it comes to acknowledging the racism of the Oscars and the Hollywood industry. What message do you have for those who still don’t see a problem with the Oscar nomination process and Hollywood in general?
…I strongly believe that nominations should be made based on merit, but what we know, at least before the announcement, is that Academy members are not required to watch the films before they vote. If that is the case, then one can not say that the nominations or the winners are based on merit. If the argument is that only the best people should get nominated, I agree. But how are we ensuring that the best people are even being seen? I encourage everyone to dive into the rules of the Academy because they’re on their website and [see] how decisions are actually made….For the first vote, you have to vote within your category, so directors only vote for directors and screenwriters only vote for screenwriters. We have one female in the director category period. We have one Asian man [Ang Lee] in the directors portion of the Academy period. Why is that? You can’t say there haven’t been qualified people, but if that’s all we see, and based on the numbers, it’s overwhelmingly older white men who aren’t viewing the films before they vote, then how can we say the votes are based on merit and how can we ensure that the best films are being seen?
…I think it’s imperative that you challenge yourself and see a movie that you might not normally see…Let’s just talk about when you get nominated…once you get to the second vote, everyone can vote for everything. You’ve got to watch all five films. If you’re voting for Best Actress, you’ve got to watch all five films and make your choice. You can’t base it on that a friend of yours told you it was a good film, or you really like their ad in Variety so you’re voting for them, or you feel like someone’s just due for an Oscar because they were snubbed in the past, so let’s vote for them now. That’s what happens. Or, you recognize the name of the person, and since you don’t know any of the other names, you just go with whom you know, and, to my knowledge, that’s what happens, because if you’re not watching the other films, then on what are you basing your vote? It has to be that. It has to be some personal reason as opposed to something unbiased based on the quality of the work. Therefore, it’s not based on merit, and that’s [the point] I’m trying to get back to. Make sure that diverse and inclusive films are being made, look at those, nominate those for the first round, and after that, go see all five within the category and choose which one you think is the best. That makes sense to me and I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t agree to that. [The votes] should always be merit-based, but make sure the net is cast wide enough so all the films that are great in that particular year get a shot at a nomination.
There has been too much Oscars news lately! Well, complaining is wrong; there’s been just the right amount of Oscars news since it’s actually news affecting change. And in the past 24+ hours, there has been tons of movement (and tons of upset). Here’s what’s happened in four sections.
The big fact of the weekend is that the Oscars has changed its rules. In a sweeping historic move, the Academy has basically stuck it to the old white members in its ranks.
Needless to say, people aren’t happy about this, but that comes later in this article.
The support (and supportive critiques)
Many in the acting world and April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite have given their support (and in some cases, their constructive criticism) of the new changes.
“I’m very encouraged. I think that the changes that will be made will make a significant different,” Reign told the Los Angeles Times. I appreciate the fact that the vote was unanimous, which indicates to me that the academy is serious about making the organization momre inclusive and more diverse. I’ve spoken about my concern that some of the older academy members still have a vote even though they aren’t active in the film industry an that appears to be addressed. The fact that they will be proactively looking for more diverse members is [also] exciting.”
Ava DuVernay tweeted this:
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Shame is a helluva motivator.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
We’ve all felt shame even when we didn’t believe we were wrong. It’s the fact that EVERYONE ELSE thinks you’re wrong. Fix it mode kicks in.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Marginalized artists have advocated for Academy change for DECADES. Actual campaigns. Calls voiced FROM THE STAGE. Deaf ears. Clòsed minds.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Whether it’s shame, true feelings, or being dragged kicking + screaming, just get it done. Because the alternative isn’t pretty.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Don Cheadle said during a Sundance interview that the changes are stage one in a much-needed process. “I think it is a step in the right direction, a needed step,” he said, according to Deadline. “But people really have to have access to the stories they want to tell. So what we really need is people in positions to greenlight those stories, not a hunk of metal.” (I’m assuming the “hunk of metal” Cheadle is referring to is the Oscar itself.)
Oscar nominated director Alejandro Iñárritu said during the PGA Breakfast that the new steps the Academy is taking is a start, but change needs to happen outside of the Academy and with the industry itself.
“I think the things the Academy has just made is a great step, but the Academy really is at the end of the chain,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Iñárritu also said, “Hopefully, active change, positive cahnge, they can start at the beginning of the chain. The complexity of the demographics of this country should be reflected not only at the end of the chain.” He also added that “cinema is the mirror where we can all see ourselves.”
Screenwriter/director/producer Jonathan Demme issued an op-ed for Deadline saying that the Academy needs to change the current nominations to reflect the diversity that was a part of the 2015 film year. He provides the example of Tangerine and how the Academy clearly ignored it. To quote him:
“Superb in every aspect and featuring dazzling, heroic performances by fantastic LGBTQ actors in leading roles, Tangerine had no campaign, but someone managed to send out screeners. The film was shot—brilliantly–on i-phones (!!!!!). This hugely entrtainiing and ground-breaking film brings fresh meaning to the “outstanding achievement” verbiage that defines the point of the Oscars. Did enough Academy voters—overwhelmingly older, white males—watch the Tangerine screener to give it a shot at nomination? Does our membership gravitate—maybe more or less exclusively—to white stories, white actors, white filmmakers? It sure feels that way, doesn’t it?”
These comments aren’t necessarily a reaction to the Academy’s changes, but Viola Davis’ comments during Elle’s 6th Annual Women in Television Dinner said the members of the Academy should ask themselves some questions about the industry.
“How many black films are being produced every year?” she said, according to BET. “How are they being distributed? The films that are being made—are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?”
Davis also touched on the pay discrepancy, which is even worse for actresses of color than it is for white actresses. “You could probably line up all the A-list black actresses out there [and] they probably don’t make what one A-list white woman makes in one film. That’s the problem. You can change thee Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”
Malik Yoba wrote this on Instagram, stating that being included in Hollywood shouldn’t be viewed as “a birthright”:
Only in NY will this happen. Such an interesting time we’re living in. The more things change the more things stay the same. A function of living inauthentically and disconnected from the eternal truth that God is love and we were all made in His image. From atheist to believers one thing is certain, everybody wants to feel loved, honored, included, acknowledged and feel the support of their peers. Working in a business that doesn’t always see the big picture is a challenge but being included is not a given or a birthright. All we can do as individuals is continue to honor our gifts and work toward building our own pathways to get our stories out to the masses. None of this is easy and every little bit counts including the protestations. Happy Friday Fam!! It’s a great day to be alive as we take nothing from granted 🙏🏾 #truth #honor #oscars #hollywood #america #actor #blessing #pop #popculture
A photo posted by malikyoba (@malikyoba) on
Marlon Wayans, on the other hand provides a perspective that could be argued as missing the point. During an Essence Live appearance for his latest film, Fifty Shades of Black, Wayans said that while the discussion about diversity in Hollywood is important, showing up to support minority films is even more important.
“How about we all show up and we support these movies? A lot of times we complain but yet we sit in our seat opening weekend and we don’t support our films,” he told Essence. “Everybody out there, come support because Hollywood is not about black and white. Hollywood is about gree. So why don’t we support our own, make sure we make the green because as long as you make thee green, we can make more movies and then we won’t have these discussions.”
(Some would say that Wayans’ point dodges the actual issue at hand; it’s not about people not supporting minority films, because people did and have been supporting minority films—Straight Outta Compton doesn’t get to number one at the box office and stay there through just critical support. The real issue is getting the films that the people love awarded for their achievements.)
Some other things of note are some highly interesting and necessary articles about the racist underside of the Oscars and the industry at large. Entertainment Weekly has teased their magazine interview with Sacheen Littlefeather, the woman who stood on stage and delivered Marlon Brando’s message to the Academy in 1973 when he boycotted on behalf of Native Americans. NBC Latino provides a list of Latino films that could easily be nominated for an Oscar. Mashable also has an article addressing how Latino, Asian, and Native American actors are hardly nominated for an Oscar. (This also goes into why the industry needs to be changed; currently, the industry itself doesn’t greenlight enough films telling Latino, Native American and Asian stories, and when there are Latino, Native or Asian characters in films, they are sometimes played by white or “beige” actors, such as Emma Stone in Aloha and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, while Benedict Wong is stuck with playing what could be racist stereotype—Doctor Strange’s manservant/sidekick.)
|Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!|
The outrage to #OscarsSoWhite took a while to whip up, but it came, especially after the Academy changed its rules. Friday alone saw Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine and Julie Delphy saying annoying, tone-deaf and, in Rampling and Delphy’s cases, extremely racist things.
Rampling, who is nominated for an Oscar for her role in 45 Years, said the Oscars controversy was “racist to whites.”
“One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” she said to French radio station Europe 1, according to The Guardian. She also said in response to a question about if the Academy should have quotas, “Why classify people? These days everyone is more or less accepted…People will always say: ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white’…someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that]…But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”
She later walked back her statement after a vicious roasting on Twitter. According to USA Today, the statement, which was given to CBS News, states, “I regret that my comments could have been misinterprted. I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration.” The apology-PR damage control also stated, “Diversity in our industry is an important issue that needs to be addressed. I am highly encouraged by the changes announced today by the academy to diversify its membership.”
Michael Caine said that black actors should “be patient,” a statement that was in response to the fear of the Academy using quotas, but it’s also a statement that could be uncomfortably interpreted as telling minorities to wait their turn. As he told Radio 4 according to the Independent, “There’s loads of black actors. In the end you can’t vote for an actor because he’s black. You can’t say ‘I’m going to vote for him, he’s not very good, but he’s black, I’ll vote for him…Of course [nominations and wins] will come. It took me years to get an Oscar, years.”
Julie Delpy also put in her two cents, saying that it’s harder to be a woman in showbusiness than it is a black person. “Sometimes, I wish I were African-American because people don’t bash them afterwards,” she said to The Wrap. Her statement widely ignores the fact that 1) black women are also women, which illustrates why people should have intersectional feminism and 2) that all women of color including black women have it easier in Hollywood, when women of color have historically had it much harder in terms of finding roles, pay equal to their white female counterparts, and the respect white actresses receive on a daily basis.
The real fire came when the Academy released their new rules, leading many in Hollywood, mostly those members among the older set, to release angry statements. You can read many of their statements at The Hollywood Reporter (and again), The Los Angeles Times, and Deadline, but most of them (including those who were smart enough to remain anonymous for fear of backlash) include feelings of resentment at what they feel is the Academy’s implication that their age makes them unable to judge talent as well as the implication that their voting strategies have been biased (or as many have said, “racist.”)
While the angry members are the most vocal right now, there are quite a few members who are glad of the changes, including those who are of the older set. These members recognize that there’s a clear bias at work when most of the Academy is made of old white men. 72-year-old actor Robert Walden summed it up perfectly when emailing his response to the Times. “I can tell you now that if the voters had actually viewed ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ the situation might have been different. But because of the subject matter, or presumed understanding of what the films were about, I’d venture half the members did not see thoe films. …I feel a significant segment of the older members might assume that certain films don’t appeal or ‘speak’ to them. That they speak to a ‘niche’ and not to us all.”
There’s going to be tons of Oscar talk for the weeks leading up to Feb. 28, the night the Oscars airs (still hosted by Chris Rock, thank goodness; get your popcorn ready for viewing some uncomfortable faces in the audience). But I have read enough to give some takeaways, and these takeaways are going to be just the same now as they will be in the future.
The older members who are upset (including, in an ironic twist, Tab Hunter, who is for all intents and purposes the first outed gay actor of the 1950s and 1960s) are upset for very human, very selfish reasons. Their view is that the Academy sees them as not just old, but antiquated and out of touch with the times. To a certain degree, the Academy’s view is just that; they are too out of touch and too set in their ways to see past what they think is and isn’t art worthy of being nominated. That’s a problem, and that problem doesn’t just occur with Hollywood; it occurs in many other segments of life in which an older body is trying to impose old rules on a younger, more agile, more integrated set of individuals. America, to be frank, was founded because of an older “parent” trying to rule a younger country who wanted to fail or succeed by their own terms. Just like with the War for Independence, the Academy and its sympathizers are now rebelling against some of the older set who are comfortable having things just as they were. There’s a historical analog to this too: the South wanted things to stay the same because many white southerners were comfortable with Jim Crow and other segregationist tactics because they served their interests. When stuff started changing, they started rebelling against the tides of change. They ultimately lost that fight, for the most part, and the Old Guard at the Academy’s going to lose their fight as well.
Perhaps, some of the old members who feel like they’ve lost their way will find another way to assert what remains of their power, but it’ll never be like how it was before. Hollywood itself won’t be the same after this controversy, because now the onus will not just be on the Academy to provide a facade for diversity; it’ll be up to everyone who runs anything dealing with entertainment. In order for there to be films to nominate, there have to be more films featuring non-white, non-male stories getting greenlit. There has to be more of a reliance on the now and less of a reliance on, as some members intimated, an “I’m not racist” card just because they might have participated in the Civil Rights Movement in some way.
This gets to my last point: Right before writing this, I read this tweet:
So many ppl speak on racism w/o having ever studied it. They are far more concerned w not being called racist than actually fighting racism.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 24, 2016
I think that’s true for many things, and it’s definitely true for this. Everyone who has had their feelings hurt by #OscarsSoWhite is quick to say “I’m not a racist.” The Academy’s changes aren’t fearful for some just because it’s change; the changes are being met with fear because some of these people know that there’s more they could have done to prevent this nominations fiasco in the first place. Like what Walden said, if half of the members who didn’t view Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation actually watched the films instead of writing them off as niche, then the nominations card would look completely different. Basically, I personally think many of the ones crying foul are actually crying out because of their guilt. Who wants to own up to the fact that they might have had a damaging, insidious bias in their voting when they thought they were voting strictly on talent?
Some folks in the Academy are, if going by their statements (especially the anonymous ones) harbor clear racist sentiments. Others are ill-informed and don’t even understand the implications of what they’re saying. Others are still holding onto the good (or guilt-easing actions) they did in the ’60s to justify “voting on talent” today. But there are others up and down in the Academy who believe these changes are good for the organization and that, sadly, they are necessary. I think so, too. These changes shouldn’t have had to be implemented, but Hollywood is nothing but a reflection of society. If we all want a seat at the table–the Academy, Hollywood or otherwise–then the table has to be retrofitted or completely remodeled to accommodate. Cheryl Boone Isaacs has taken the first step towards a remodel, and now the rest of Hollywood has to follow suit. Create more films for all minorities, not just black people. We need more LGBT stories, more Asian stories, more Middle Eastern stories, more Native American stories, and more biracial/multiracial stories. We need stories of all types, including those I might have missed mentioned here.
Rampling asked why there need to be labels; little does she know that it’s the society she participates in that created those labels. If we had more stories of all types, and if those stories were valued on the same level playing field, then the negative, segregationist thinking that comes with these labels, would go away and the labels would just be mere descriptors, not assessments of a person’s entire being.
TONS of Oscar news, I tell ya! Tons of it! The battle for diversity in the Oscar nominations has gotten bigger than anyone thought it would get (including me, which might surprise you—I vacillate between cynicism and optimism) . Here’s what’s been happening so far.
•Will Smith will not attend the Oscars after all. You can read more about his comments at Entertainment Weekly, but just know that during his Good Morning America exclusive he said these points: 1) he didn’t know about his wife’s plan to release a video, 2) he feels his wife would have made a video whether or not he was nominated (despite his concession that perhaps the lack of a Concussion nomination was the catalyst for Pinkett Smith’s feelings), and 3) this issue is about more than him and Concussion; it’s about the whole industry.
• Mark Ruffalo heavily weighed not going to the Oscars over the course of Thursday. First, he said to BBC News that he was considering joining the boycott, saying, “I woke up in the morning thinking, what is the right way to do this? Because if you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was, the good people who don’t act are much worse than the people, the wrongdoers that are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.” Later on Twitter, Ruffalo gave his final decision and his reasoning:
To clear up any confusion. I will be going to the Oscars in support of the victims of clergy Sexual Abuse and good journalism. #Spotlight
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) January 21, 2016
I do support the Oscar Ban movement’s position that the nominations do not reflect the diversity of our community.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) January 21, 2016
The Oscar Ban movement reflects a larger discussion about racism in the criminal justice system.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) January 21, 2016
Correction. I hope the Oscar Ban movement opens the way for my peers to open their hearts to the #BlackLivesMatter movement as well.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) January 21, 2016
50 Cent and Tyrese Gibson want Chris Rock to boycott the Oscars, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. But personally, I want Chris Rock to host and slay the game. Embarrassing the Academy on live television is the type of righteous pettiness I can get behind.
• Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Quincy Jones are among other actors who are calling for more diversity in the Oscar voting pool. Davis, who was nominated for her role in The Help (a role indicative of the kind of roles the Oscars nominate for black people), said that the Oscar issue is indicative of a much larger societal problem. To quote The Hollywood Reporter:
“It’s not the Oscars. The Oscars are a symptom of a much greater issue and that’s the issue of the Hollywood movie-making system. How many more movies are being made that have this in it,” she asks as she points to the color of her skin. “More films need to be made wher we can shine. That’s the bottom line. The opportunity does not match the talent. There needs to be more opportunity, that’s just it. And you have to invest in it.”
Nyong’o, who won for her role in 12 Years a Slave (a slave role, another type the Oscars love for black people), posted this on Instagram:
Jones, who is the first black person to be added to the Academy board of governors, said to the National Association of Television Program Executives conference Wednesday that said he intends to address the diversity issue with the AMPAS board next week. “I’m going to ask the board to let me speak for five minutes on this lack of diversity. We’ve got to find a solution. It’s been going on for too long,” he said, according to Variety.
Brie Larson threw her support behind #OscarsSoWhite with this Instagram post:
Reese Witherspoon also called for more attention to the nominations outrage, writing on Facebook (and lauding TIME Magazine):
• Other actors are furthering the diversity discussion by talking more about the industry at large. Idris Elba recently spoke to British Parliament about the lack of roles for black British actors, saying “Talent is there, opportunity isn’t, [a]nd talent can’t reach opportunity”(you can read the transcript here). On Twitter, Elba called the speech “the mot important speech I ever made.”
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) January 18, 2016
Nate Parker, who is playing slave rebel leader Nat Turner in the upcoming film Birth of a Nation (a film he wrote, produced and directed), said that too many of the roles for black men lack “integrity.” “As a black man, you leave auditions not hoping you get the job but wondering how you explain it to your family if you do,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter. “Historically, and this is truly my feeling, generally speaking we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings, or being in the center [of] our own narrative driving it forward.”
Dustin Hoffman told BBC News (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter) that that lack of inclusion with Oscar noms is indicative of America’s racist history, calling it “subliminal racism.”
“In our country, there’s a subliminal racism, and it’s been there…the end of the Civil War didn’t change that,” he said on the red carpet of the National TV Awards. “It’s only been 200 years, this is just an example of it.” He also said, “Other than black entertaiiners being nominated, there’s a bigger problem with young black individuals being killed on our streets by police. That’s a bigger problem.”
• The Los Angeles Times has also addressed that it’s not just black people denigrated by the lack of Oscar nominations and the industry; the Times‘ Susan King points out that it’s been 54 years since a Latina won an Oscar, and an Asian actress hasn’t won in 58 years. Ben Johnson, of Cherokee and Irish descent won an Oscar in 1971, and no other indigenous person who was nominated for an Oscar has won since.
• Some of the Oscar voters themselves have come out to The Hollywood Reporter on the defensive, with some saying that they feel it’s unfair to imply that they are racist (even though no one applied the word “racist” and the consensus doesn’t account for a more nuanced reading of the outrage fans and other Oscar voters have). Others have also said that the battle should be with the industry, not with them.
• Despite what some of the offended Oscar voters are saying, many of the current and former Academy brass are working on getting their members in check. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson had an op-ed published in The Hollywood Reporter, stating that this moment in time is an “inflection point.” To quote a piece:
“There’s not one part of the industry that doesn’t need to be addressed, and it’s been this way for 25 years. The needle has hardly moved. It’s cultural, it’s institutional, it’s our society at large, it’s our education system–all of it–before you get to an industry that’s supposed to reflect this beautiful world. And the indstury has been building up over a very log time, starting with white men running the studios who hire other people who look like them. It hasn’t changed that much, and it won’t until there’s a concerted effort on every single front: talent, the executives in the studios, the people we mentor.”
The former Academy president, Hawk Koch, wrote in a passionate open letter to the Hollywood industry (published in The Hollywood Reporter) that a boycott won’t solve anything, but changing the industry will. Quoting the letter:
“…[C]learly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled an all under represented gropus. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.”
All of this and more will probably be discussed this Tuesday when AMPAS will meet for a routine meeting next Tuesday. One of the governors told Entertainment Weekly that “[i]t promises to be a long and adventuresome night.”
News about #OscarsSoWhite is still developing as we speak, so we’ll see what happens in the coming days.
Last week, the Oscar nominations came out, and people were livid. A week later, people have gone from just “livid” to “activated by anger.” Injecting my personal opinion for a moment: I’d say being activated by anger is a much more effective state of being rather than just being outraged. Now that folks have become fueled by their disappointment, it seems like it’s finally become inevitable that the Oscars must change (mostly because they’re being forced to change). Here’s what’s happening so far.
•Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Jada Pinkett Smith are boycotting the Oscars. Lee put out a statement on Instagram:
#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont’d)
And Pinkett Smith put out a video suggesting that POC actors create their own form of recognition outside of the Oscars. (Also: yes, I know about Janet Hubert’s—aka Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—video “discussing” Pinkett Smith. No, I’m not talking about it; I’d recommend going to Awesomely Luvvie for a hilarious play-by-play of the video).
Snoop Dogg backed up Pinkett Smith’s call to boycott, saying in a very succinct way, “Fuck the Oscars, fuck the Grammys,” saying how the “old slavery bullshit-ass awards show” model and the Hollywood industry takes minority culture without acknowledging where the culture came from.
Moore told The Wrap that he’s “happy” to join the boycott, saying, “I thought about this all day, and I don’t plan to go to the show, I don’t plan to watch it and I don’t plan to go to an Oscar party. And I say that as a proud member of the Academy, as someone who still sits on the executive board [of the Documentary Branch], as someone who knows full well that [AMPAS president] Cheryl [Boone Isaacs] and [CEO] Dawn Hudson are doing their best to fix the situation.” He also said that having no diverse nominations two years in a row is “crazy,” and that “if it will help to lend my name to what Spike and Jada are doing, I’m hoping to be a symbolic participant in this [boycott].”
Al Sharpton is also calling for a boycott, so the situation right now is fluid, probably right up until the Oscars this February.
• Numerous stars are speaking out against the Oscars’ all-white nominations, including Straight Outta Compton producer Will Packer, who said to his Academy colleagues “WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period.”
George Clooney told Today, “I think African Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough.” He also talked about how women and Hispanics aren’t getting recognized enough in the industry as well. “I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?”
Don Cheadle joked that the only job he’d be able to have at the Oscars is parking cars:
— Don Cheadle (@IamDonCheadle) January 17, 2016
and David Oyelowo has sounded off on the Oscars, saying during an evening honoring Boone Isaacs, “This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation,” he said at the King Legacy Awards. “The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” he said. He spoke about meeting with Boone Isaacs after Selma, discussing what went wrong during last year’s nominations (as you might remember, Selma was also at the center of nomination snubbing controversy). “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” He, like everyone who has commented on this, expressed support for Boone Isaacs and the hope that she continues the work needed to get the problem fixed.
• Boone Isaacs herself issued a longer statement after her initial comments about the Oscar nominations. The comments, below, feature an intense expression of getting the ball rolling even faster.
A statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pic.twitter.com/Nqhgc7sbqG
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 19, 2016
Overall, the focus has been primarily on black actors and filmmakers being recognized, but let’s not forget all of the other minorities (race, gender, sexual orientation) that haven’t been acknowledged in film for so long, if ever. For instance, The Revenant features First Nations actors, but the film itself isn’t primarily following the story of a First Nations person; it’s following Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, there hasn’t been a single American film featuring an Asian lead or Asian cast nominated, ditto for American-made Hispanic and Spanish films. Also don’t forget that films like Tangerine, which features trans women of color, didn’t get a nod, while an establishment film like Carol and The Danish Girl did, even though the latter two films do represent otherwise overlooked stories.
In short, the Academy has to learn that a human being doesn’t just fit into one mold. Stories that are recognized need to show humanity in all its complexity; a trans woman or man of color wants to see themselves on screen just like an Asian woman who is also a lesbian or a black straight man who is also part Native American. There are so many intersections in a person’s life, and it makes too much sense that the film and TV industry represent that and recognize that for its achievement. TV has made great strides this year, and diverse TV of all kinds were given well-deserved accolades. It’s time film get on the same pioneering path TV has been traversing, and if they don’t want their bottom line to dwindle, they’d better do it soon.
The throughline of the conversations this time around is that minorities don’t have to give our money to the film industry if we don’t want to; we can take our talents and dollars and reinvest in us, just as Pinkett Smith said in her video. That idea was the throughline of Ryan Coogler and #BLACKOUT’s #MLKNOW event. A tool of revolution is an economic boycott, and if push comes to shove, things just might come to that if Hollywood’s not careful.
The Oscar nominations have been released, and the talk isn’t about who people want to win, but about why the list of nominees aren’t more diverse. This makes the second year that #OscarsSoWhite has dominated the social media and real world discussions about the highest honor in film, but this year is just one of many in which white stories and white actors and directors have been chosen over equally-as-talented minority actors and directors. Personally speaking, some of the domestic projects I’m rooting for are Spotlight, Sanjay’s Super Team, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Carol, The Danish Girl, and The Revenant, since they are the only stories featuring diversity of any sort and/or tell stories that need more in-depth coverage. (By the term “domestic,” I’m not including foreign films.)
The big question lots of people are having is why the nominations are still just as homogeneous in the acting categories as they were last year? At the very least, Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for Best Director. Some people are probably feeling like no one is listening to their cries for more diversity in films, especially since 2015 itself wasn’t that diverse of a film year to begin with; the biggest films featuring racial diversity were indie films, like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and Dope, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens dominated the end of 2015 so hard, to the point that it seemed like 2015 was more diverse than it actually was. Also, films like Carol, Tangerine, and The Danish Girl were about the only films of the year featuring LGBT stories. Yet, Tangerine, which featured transgender characters of color, was overlooked for Carol and The Danish Girl, which feature white lesbian or transgender characters.
The answer about the nominations issue comes in the form of time. There simply hasn’t been enough time for the changes the current Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, have implemented to really be effective. The Hollywood Reporter called the Academy’s recruitment of more members from diverse backgrounds as “Phase one,” stating that “phase two” needs to be in effect, if it’s not already. “Now campaigners must ask: Do these freshman members change the nature of the game? The answer is yes, though the full effects of change won’t be felt for a few more years, as even more new members replace the old,” wrote Stephen Galloway for the site. “…Some insiders argue that the apparent diversity isn’t as widespread as it seems, and that the bulk of new members are entrenched in the Hollywood establishment. They’re right—this is still a relatively small contingent. Diversity is starting to happen, but it’s slow and its effects may not be felt fully for several years to come, or until the industry itself is more diverse.”
The old guard in the Academy could be considered part of the problem; the nominations list includes nominations for the screenwriting team of Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus; however, the screenwriting team is white, while the rest of the Straight Outta Compton crew, including director F. Gary Gray, weren’t nominated for the same movie. In case you haven’t guessed, F. Gary Gray is black, as are the actors in the film. Also, the critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation wasn’t nominated at all, despite the star talent of Idris Elba, young actor Abraham Attah, and the direction of Cary Fukunaga. Ditto for Concussion, starring Will Smith, whose role in the film is tailor-made for Oscar nominations. Ditto again for Creed, which starred Micahel B. Jordan and was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, but only Sylvester Stallone was nominated for an award.
The other part of the problem is, of course, that it’s an industry-wide problem. Tambay A. Obenson wrote for Shadow and Act that people’s anger shouldn’t be with the Academy at all. “I continue to argue that our ire should not be with the Academy, but instead with the studio heads and financiers who decide what films are made. Until the playing field is leveled, this disparity between the volume, variety and quality of films made by/about white people and those made by/about people of color, will extend its run, uninterrupted.” One way he illustrated his point earlier in the article is when he discussed the Straight Outta Compton snub and wondering if Gray, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Will Packer, producers of the film, had any say over who would get to write the film.
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However, one observation is the Academy’s old guard and the perpetrators of industry-wide problems are hand-in-hand, since quite a few of the perpetrators are a part of the Academy. Right now, the Academy—and the Hollywood industry itself–are in a vicious circle, feeding each other BS while the the public demands something new. However, there’s something to be said when the Academy president herself is speaking out against the nominations. “Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated],” Isaacs told Yahoo’s Pete Hammond. “This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it.” When discussing the problems with a lack of diverse nominations, Isaacs said, “We have got to speed it up,” saying that the Academy’s efforts to recruit and focus on diverse films is happening at too slow a pace.
The changes are happening, but at a glacial pace. But as Obenson wrote, it would behoove us to support indie films that do showcase diversity as well studios and companies focusing primarily on diverse filmmaking like Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and Charles D. King’s MACRO Ventures, both of which put out statements today:
— Macro Ventures (@Macro_Ventures) January 15, 2016
We salute the artists of BEASTS OF NO NATION, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, CREED, GIRLHOOD, BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF REVOLUTION today. #oscars
— ARRAY (@ARRAYNow) January 14, 2016
We salute the artists of color associated w/ BEASTS OF NO NATION, CREED, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON, GIRLHOOD, BLACK PANTHER today. #OscarsNoms
— ARRAY (@ARRAYNow) January 14, 2016
Here’s what I had to say about the Oscar nominations on Twitter:
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) January 14, 2016
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) January 14, 2016
And we should fight even harder to make the mainstream change happen quicker. As my dad says, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) January 14, 2016
The Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s actually started decades before; no fight happens overnight, and this one w/ media is no different.
— Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet) January 14, 2016
The irony of all of this is that Chris Rock is going to host the Oscars this year. I wonder what his jokes will be like.
What did you think about the nominations? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
I honestly can’t say I’m surprised, given the talk/excuse about the rumored event of the Selma team not sending out screeners (which I don’t completely believe because something seems left out of the story), but I am a little sad that Selma‘s been snubbed at the Oscars.