With the announcement of the Oscar nominations this year, there’s been a controversy. Well, there’s always a controversy, but this one is probably less of a lark than usual. For the first time in almost twenty years, every single nominee for acting is white. Likewise, Selma’s Ava DuVernay, a black woman, was snubbed for director in favor if Bennett Miller, who’s Foxcatcher isn’t even a contender for best Best Picture.
This has led people to decry “racism”, including Al Sharpton, who had some ridiculous “emergency meeting” whatever that means. Meanwhile, countless Middle Americans who can name only three Oscar winners, (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Mel Gibson, who they think won for acting) have said that we should concede to the wisdom and taste of those who think Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a good movie, rather than give Al Sharpton an inch. Allen West has said that if professional sports shouldn’t have to include white more white people because black people hold their steroids better, why should the Oscars feel obliged to include minorities just because white people are better at being British people in the 1940’s.
Now, the Academy makes a lot of decisions we don’t agree with. We usually apply some apply some kind of bias to their reasoning, (Doesn’t like science fiction, too depressing, their friends were in it) because they idea that they could love some POS more is just unfathomable. When Spielberg was snubbed for Jaws in favor of directing legend Federico Fellini, he reasoned they were just jelly because his movie had made so much money. In fact, it’s something we do in everyday life, for any competition. We think, as a democracy, the only thing that could stop people from thinking like we do is some scammer trying to make a mockery of the whole thing.
Is the Academy racist? Well, I don’t think they’re the types to use “thug” as the new n-word and lament era of segregation or anything. However, I think we need to look at the difference between “racist” as a noun, and “racist” as an adjective, or perhaps adverb. (“They voted very racistly” this year or whatever.)
Let me put it this way–Benedict Cumberbatch has a wide swath of female admirers who call themselves “Cumberbitches”, and possess an intense, not altogether sane fixation on him. They think his engagement is a publicity stunt, that that he’s largely in love with his Sherlock and Hobbit co-star, Martin Freeman, to the point they write fanfiction about Bilbo Baggins having sexual intercourse with the dragon, Smaug – Not really the kinds of people you would accuse of being “down to earth”.
Yet, if you were to ask any of the Cumberbitches if the reptile-like object of their desire was going to be nominated for an Academy Award this year, they would say “Absolutely!” They would then say “By the way, I’m actually a reincarnated unicorn and that’s why Benedict Cumberbatch secretly wants to marry me.” And you know what, Cumberbatch was nominated for an Oscar, it would have been a realistic guess. But that contingent of fangirls would hardly, as a rule, be considered “realists”.
There were no non-white actors nominated this year because there weren’t a lot to choose from. The minority-driven pictures that had some kind of presence at the arthouse include Belle, Selma, and Top Five. Belle, was just too small, and I’ve mentioned in previous columns that the Academy isn’t keen towards comedy. I also mentioned that Selma was going to be a hard sell due to its release and lack of big names, but I decided to go with it because it seemed like the people who saw it loved it that much.
One major obstacle though, was that the film was on the editing floor so late, that the studio sent out screeners much too late, and to much too few people. (For those who don’t know, “screeners” are copies of the film that members of organizations who give out awards can watch at home. So if you feel like lazy ass just sitting at home browsing the internet, just remember even the rich and powerful can’t be asked to go outside the house and participate in society)
Of course, “ran a lousy campaign” in and of itself seems to dispel the concept of meritocracy, at least for those who voted for Mitt Romney, who probably overlaps with the “racism is dead” crowd. Just saying.
But anyways, there were only a handful of “serious” movies that had minority casts, so I think it’s fair to say the film industry, as a system, is racist.
And as the Academy is pretty much composed of the industry, I think they should shoulder the blame, if not for thinking Morten Tydlum directed the shit out of his movie more than Ava DuVernay did hers, than for the intellectual and moral laziness that let things get to this point.
It’s kind of similar to the logic of a robot dropping a rock on you and rationalizing that the robot itself didn’t kill you, but the rock and the forces of gravity are the perpetrators. By the way, that’s pretty much the logic loophole robots are going to use when they stop serving humanity and start destroying, so good job in thinking like killer robots, Academy.
And I do think they’re a little like robots. So many minorities are getting left out because of “the machine”. When people talk about how people voted for the performance they thought was “the best”, I don’t think I can agree with that. Now it’s all subjective, so I can’t argue with every single one. But look at Meryl Streep for Into the Woods. Not a bad performance, but from talking to anybody, Meryl Streep did not give the best performance, but Emily Blunt and Captain Kirk did.
But Meryl Streep got the nomination because not nominating Meryl Streep is like turning down a friend request on Facebook. You’re allowed to do it, but eh, it’s just easier this way.
Steve Carell gave an okay enough performance in Foxcatcher, but a lot of reviews say that Channing Tatum gave the better performance in Foxcatcher. But Steve Carell got the nomination, because his name’s first on the poster and he’s more established and Jack Nicholson’s going to have a much harder time hitting on Emma Stone if Channing Tatum is in the room.
But I mean, as an actor, it can’t feel good to miss a nomination to the guy who couldn’t out-act Channing Tatum in a movie. Then there’s Robert Duvall in The Judge. I don’t think anyone out-acted him in that, but I don’t think anyone acted in that movie. Well, they acted, in that they committed actions, like drinking from glasses and standing.
Nobody gave what I would call a “best performance”, not even a legend like Duvall. The thing is, these guys got nominations because of who they are, because of their standing. Which is you know, kind of the cornerstone of prejudice. I’m not sure any minority actor in history has been nominated on sheer inertia.
There are Oscars you can dispute, like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, or Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, but there’s never been one of those “Eh, I didn’t even see the movie, but why not?” nominations. I guess you could say that’s ultimately where the divide in racial politics in this country stand. Those think equality is when minorities can succeed if they work as hard as white people, and those that think true equality is when they get to coast as much as white people.
The idea that the Academy shouldn’t, or doesn’t, fiddle around with things just to spare hurt feelings or leave people out is patently false, too. They have a special category for foreign language films, just so other countries will be represented. They have a special category for animated films, because it was felt that voters’ biases were neglecting fine efforts like Pixar’s.
In 2008, it seemed like that wasn’t enough, as the exclusion of Wall-E and The Dark Knight convinced them that maybe they should give more movies nominations. So I mean, I’m not for affirmative action or anything, but it seems there’s less of a pushback when we have affirmative action for cartoons. Of course, then there are times when people get Oscars without even having to compete for them, the Academy just says “Hey, you’re special enough to deserve one.” Walt Disney got those famous seven little statues for Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Oh, and then there was that time in 1934 when they just gave Shirley Temple an Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Adorableness or whatever. That’s right, Shirley Temple, icon of How Things Were Better Back Then, was the original kid who got a trophy just for showing up.
I think for me, the argument hit the harder when someone said “They don’t give out awards based on race or gender” which…they do.
They separate the acting awards by gender. (They also divide them by “lead” and “supporting” which, let me tell you, is often pretty darn arbitrary in execution.) They’re never going to combine them either. We’re never going to see a “ten best performances, uni-sex division.” You know how much shit that would get the Academy? Not just from the P.C. police. From the dressmakers, the designers, the magazine writers and photographers. Men get more and larger roles than women. It’s a statistic fact. The same field of males that was so competitive David Oyelowo was left out fair and square is contrasted with the the female field where Jennifer Aniston was almost nominated for a movie I’m not even sure actually exists.
In a field of say, ten nominees, I think it would at least be a seven-to-three ratios. More fifty year old dudes in tuxes. Housewives who don’t really care about French New Wave, but just want to see what Reese Witherspoon is wearing don’t tune in. The telecast is down, advertisers have less eyeballs to sell their wares, clothing labels see weaker sales…you know what, just imagine that whole scenario from the campaign manager from Miracle on 34th Street but with more boobs. The point is, the Oscars will never err towards being a more libertarian form of fair, because the trusting in all things being equal would literally cost them.
It should be mentioned that nobody’s asking for movies like No Good Deed or one of Kevin Hart’s 1,000 vehicles to have been recognized. While Angelina Jolie is so high profile that her being left out isn’t seen as some conspiracy of misogyny, but simply not her not bringing it. (Or, according to some people, is the result of some war of attrition with Jennifer Aniston. Which is both an odder theory than sexism, and a pretty sexist theory.)
Selma was one of the well-reviewed movies of the year, especially when you subtract all the genre stuff that doesn’t get awards anyways. While I don’t think its snubs were the result of any insidious politics, that the body has been guilty of politics means you can’t approach them with the mindset it’s all a level playing field.
I don’t think you’re racist if you don’t think Selma wasn’t one of the best movies of the year, but if you would rather go to the mat for something like The Judge than admit there’s problems with the Academy, and by extension showbiz as a whole, that is pretty racist.