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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Another all-white oscars shows issue with Academy

I already have my entire Oscars acceptance speech all planned out. It’s really good, but I won’t get to utter a word of it unless I happen to win one of those little golden bastards in the distant future. All aspiring filmmakers have some version of their speech worked out already, if only vaguely in the back of their minds.

The massive influence of the Oscars within the film industry cannot truly be understated, despite the fact that most don’t even understand what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is, or who comprises its membership. For this obscure, sometimes clandestine group to neglect to nominate a single black artist for the second year in a row is — despite what we’d like to tell ourselves — a very big deal.

These are the people who somehow thought that “Shakespeare In Love,” was a better film than “Saving Private Ryan,” who chose Meryl Streep as Best Actress for the 100th time over Viola Davis in 2011, and who somehow thought that “Argo,” was a movie people were going to watch beyond the winter of 2012. We really shouldn’t give them the four hours it takes to watch their annual award ceremony, and yet, every year, there we are in front of our TV screens.

If we’re honest with ourselves and admit that the Oscars are as much a historical and cultural institution as they are an actual measure of quality filming, then it should truly be a no-brainer to acknowledge that the awards should strive each year to represent the full spectrum of people who are making films, not just one ethnic group or even one gender.

The Los Angeles Times 2012 study of the Academy’s make-up revealed that the voting membership is 94 percent white, 77 percent male and has a median age of 62. Unfortunately this is also representative of the ethnic and gender make up of filmmaking professionals working on studio feature films. Variety reported last year on how only 7 percent of the 250 biggest films in 2014 were directed by women, for example.

However, it’s important to note that it is the establishment, and there are of course many films being made by non-white, and/or non-male filmmakers outside of the studio system. This is what is truly frustrating about this year’s nominees. Ridley Scott’s quality, but unremarkable film “The Martian” gets chosen over the likes of more innovative and more diverse films such as “Tangerine” or “Beasts of No Nation.”

Diverse films within even the studio system face an uphill battle at the Oscars. “Creed” was a critical and commercial success — undoubtedly one of the best-written, best-directed and best-acted films of the year. But of course, the voting body as it stands saw fit only to acknowledge the work of the film’s white supporting actor, not its black lead or its black director. The only reason we get “The Martian” as a nominee over “Creed” is because the old, white and male voting body preferred it.

To be fair, not every snub of a black artist is necessarily indicative of racial bias. One of the loudest voices when it comes to this year’s lack of diversity at the Oscars is Will Smith, who surely wishes he could’ve made it into the running for his turn in “Concussion.” That film received mixed reviews and had a fairly pathetic box office return, indicating that, if nothing else, Academy members simply weren’t aware of the picture.

Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson’s snub for “The Hateful Eight,” is more outrageous not because of race, but because that spectacular film found itself almost completely excluded from the awards. Then again, perhaps that very fact is indicative of just how conservative the voting body is, as “Hateful Eight,” featured some of the most provocative, racially charged imagery of any film this year.

One positive feature of the Academy as it stands now is its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a black woman. Her statement regarding this year’s controversy is hopeful:

“In the 60s and 70s it was about recruiting young [Academy] members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation,” she said.

While it’s easy to cry “merit regardless of race,” or something similar, the truth is that there are any number of films that could’ve filled the top spots this year. Making a conscious effort to ensure that next year’s films represent not only the depth of quality modern filmmaking, but also the breadth of diverse modern filmmakers would guarantee that the Oscars endure as a true representation of the best cinema the world has to offer.


Follow Greg Castro on Twitter.


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