Whites, Camera, Action

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It is pretty to think that all of this year’s Oscars outrage might have been avoided with just a few shifts in nominations. In truth, recognition for some combination of Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Teyonah Parris, Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Jada Pinkett Smith, Abraham Attah, Idris Elba, Mya Taylor, Aaron Covington, and Spike Lee* might have actually prevented the current and justified clamor over the blinding whiteness in the acting categories for 2016’s 88th Academy Awards ceremony; all people (rightly) want is to see talent represented from all backgrounds, all ethnicities, and all walks of life in what is easily the year’s most noteworthy celebration of the movies. Is that so much to ask?

Apparently yes. The reality is that even if the Academy’s voting body had shown favor to minority actors, actresses, writers, and filmmakers**, Hollywood would still have a race problem. The movie industry would still be white-dominant. White would still be the default. White people would still run the studios, hold the producer roles, the directing roles, and the screenwriting roles. Hollywood would still be the place where whiteness is recognized before blackness, or before any other minority identity, for that matter. The business is built around white people first and foremost. Ultimately, it is a small thing that The Danish Girl has been given prominence over films like Tangerine, for example, and that the white components of Creed and Straight Outta Compton have been acknowledged at the expense of its black components. 

At the same time, it is not a small thing at all. People watch the Academy Awards (though ratings saw quite a dip between 2014 and 2015, for whatever that’s worth). If snobs like myself roll their eyes at AMPAS voters for their taste level and proclivity toward mediocrity, we still tune in to watch the AMPAS telecast every year no matter how much bellyaching we commit to the subject beforehand (particularly when someone like Chris Rock is hosting, which in this case is pretty much the definition of a silver lining). The Academy Awards are a cultural phenomenon. They have been for ages. They are not so much a barometer of quality but a barometer of what the many-faced mirror of the film business is interested in, and according to the last couple of years, it is interested in emphasizing the status quo.

In micro terms, none of this matters. 2016’s release slate contains a slew of films created by people other than white men – Kelly Reichardt, Anna Rose Holmer, Assad Fouladka, Taika Waititi, So Yong Kim, Don Cheadle, Amma Asante, Ana Lily Amirpour, Nate Parker, Mira Nair, Roschdy Zem, Barry Jenkins, Ernest Dickerson, Roger Ross Williams, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and others – on top of films like Jeff Nichols’ Loving and Richard Tanne’s Southside with You. Even if the Oscars remain white-centric for the next decade, minorities will continue to make advances behind and in front of the camera. (See also: Coogler, soon to be helming Marvel’s Black Panther film.) But in macro terms, the AMPAS repeat offense of overlooking minorities in their nomination process is absolutely significant. Fifteen minutes in the Oscar limelight is a big deal. If fewer people appear to be tuning into the show each year, you’re still talking about a shindig with an audience of millions. If there is one sure way to solidify a person’s name in mainstream cultural consciousness, it’s by putting them on a stage with that kind of visibility. 

It is not the voters’ fault that Hollywood is incredibly twitchy about making*** movies featuring black people, that tell black stories, that are manned by black directors, that are penned by black writers; it’s Hollywood’s fault, though with Creed and Straight Outta Compton both proving that those sorts of movies can be both critically and commercially successful, Hollywood doesn’t have much of an excuse anymore. (Not that it did to begin with, but y’know.) The Academy’s voters are guilty of abetting Hollywood’s whitewashing tendencies, nothing more, nothing less. When the Academy nominates movies made by and starring white people, and which tell white stories, Hollywood takes note and makes more movies by and starring white people, and which tell white stories. (This can also be said of box office returns: when white-dominant movies do well, Hollywood churns out more of them in the hopes of raking in repeat revenue.) Picture this yearly drama as an ouroboros, a big, alabaster snake chowing down on its own tail. One problem feeds into the other, which feeds into yet more problems, which just go all the way back to feed into the problem that stirred up all these troubles in the first place. 

If you must blame the Academy for anything, blame it for validating Hollywood’s racial biases. Do not, however, blame them for the industry’s race problem, because there’s plenty of blame to go around for that. Blame the studios. Blame audiences. (You can even blame critics, because film criticism isn’t exactly a multicultural bastion. Film critics are predominantly white and male. It’s a problem.) Hell, blame Charlotte Rampling and Michael Caine, such as they deserve; both of them have offered roundly ignorant ideas on this year’s Oscars fracas, with Rampling suggesting that maybe, just maybe, no black actors were worthy of a nomination, and Caine stating that “you can’t vote for an actor just because he’s black.” They’re accidentally correct, of course, because tokenism isn’t the same thing as inclusion and is, in fact, harmful to the realization of true diversity, but this sort of thinking (which, incidentally, isn’t limited just to them) also grandly misses the point. No one is asking for the Academy to honor black people on the basis of their blackness. They are asking for the Academy to honor black people***** on the basis of their talent.

Preference is subjective and no two people will watch a single film the same way. That’s just how art goes. But give me a damn break. If the Academy saw Creed**** and genuinely thought that Michael B. Jordan’s performance was simply not as good as Brian Cranston’s in Trumbo or Michael Fassbender’s in Jobs, then, well, fine: hurrah for white mediocrity, I guess. But they clearly thought enough of Creed to nominate Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is indeed phenomenal in that film, but a large component of what makes him great is Jordan, who gives him a dynamic, youthful foil to play off of. Similarly, the writing of Straight Outta Compton is fine, but made finer for its ensembles performances, which each give the film’s biopic conventions an injection of necessary vitality. But as frustrating as it is to see these movies neglected, and as easy as it is to leap on the Academy for their oversights, we can only hold them marginally responsible. The source of systemic racism isn’t so effortlessly cited and rooted out as that. You need wider and deeper change than even Cheryl Boone Isaacs can promise to achieve that goal******. 


*Yes, he won an Honorary Oscar. No, this doesn’t change the argument.
**In fairness, Alejandro González Iñárritu isn’t white. One out of four ain’t bad, eh?
***Much less promoting.
****See above. It is hard to tell how many critics’ groups actually saw Creed. WB didn’t send out any screeners, for one thing, and for another the movie mostly fell off of the promotional radar after November passed. Clearly enough voters saw it to secure Stallone his nomination, but maybe not enough to secure one for Jordan. Then again, maybe the voters really are all a bunch of virulent racists, though that seems unlikely.
*****And Asians. And Latinos. And so on. Don’t let my writing here fool you: this issue isn’t just about black artists getting their proper due, but minorities in general. Note that the openly gay Todd Haynes’ whiteness did not help him score a slot among the likes of Iñárritu, Adam McKay, Lenny Abrahamson, Tom McCarthy, and George Miller in the Best Director category.
******Solutions that you can put into affect right now: watch movies directed by minorities. Talk about those movies with your friends and get your friends to watch them. Stop watching the same middling crap about white struggles that studios output every year for the sole purpose of winning meaningless industry distance pissing contests. If you’re a critic, all of this goes doubly for you. You should also probably watch this. It’s important.

103 thoughts on “Whites, Camera, Action

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  4. Omg was literally only making the same point in response to Charlotte Rampling’s comments the other day – even if we were to argue that the “white” films nominated are better overall (which is a pretty dodgy generalisation anyway), it only reflects a larger bias of not enough non-white films getting off the ground in the first place, and the ones that do not getting enough funding/promotion to compete with the big white studio prestige films. Great, rational argument you’ve presented here – a rarity these days!

    • I do my best! Thank you much.

      I think this is a key point: assuming that the white actors who received nominations really did produce better performances than non-white actors, there is still a big systemic problem in Hollywood in that minorities still don’t get often cast in the sort of films that the white nominees get nominated for. (Sometimes, the roles are even changed from “black character” to “white character” in the production process, a’la The Revenant.) A big part of the problem is that opportunities are scarcer for minority talent, and a big part of why that problem persists is that minorities aren’t represented behind the scenes anywhere near as much as white people are.

    • Hopefully the changes Isaacs helped implement in Academy voting eligibility bring the industry a little bit closer to realizing a more egalitarian industry – but it’s just one small step. Change is going to take a lot more than that.

      Thanks for reading! I really appreciate it.

    • Indeed – I didn’t get around to writing this article before everyone else had their say on the issue, so it’s not really unique – but I hope my perspective gave it some individual flare. Thanks a lot for the kind words!

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  6. I must be a real dumkopf, not even knowing there was an Oscar outrage. My grandson Oscar will be pleased to hear of it. Suffice to say I went to the cinema yesterday evening and saw two men in the evening of their film careers. Oscars to both I say! The film was Youth and the two old geezers were Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel. Jane Fonda appeared but her role brilliantly played was too short, otherwise an Oscar for Jane Fonda too. I think it must get one for cinematography. Shots were brilliant, and nobody got killed.

    • I actually voted for Keitel and Fonda for the Best Supporting categories during critics’ voting. They’re both great. I have misgivings about the movie itself (see my review here: https://agcrump.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/review-youth-2015-dir-paolo-sorrentino/) but I appreciated what Keitel and Fonda did. Weirdly, the film received no cinematography nomination.

      That said, acting nods for Youth would only have added to the current justified frustrations over this year’s AMPAS nominees.

      • Thanks Andy. Pushing 70 I’m at an age to appreciate the film. I’d say the title Youth is a bit weak. Magritte had a poet come up with titles for his paintings. He knew the worth of it. Cheers, HZ

        • “Youth” is sort of a joke title. As my review’s title suggests, watching the movie is like hanging out with your sad grandpa. The themes translate, I think, but the whole exercise is somewhat unfocused for me; it takes its time making a point, which isn’t a problem per se. I just felt myself quite unmoved compared to Sorrentino’s last film, the tremendous “The Great Beauty.”

          Cheers to you too! Thanks for the conversation. Much appreciated.

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    • As a white hetero male, I will probably never be bored with white, hetero male leads – but I am finding more and more of them to be boring, and I have craved variety in my stories and subjects for years. The good news is, the movies have a lot to off in minority voices in 2016; Amma Asante, Babak Anvari, Nate Parker, Barry Jenkins, Anna Farrell. I can’t wait to see the films they’ve made.

  8. This was a great article to read. It’s not solely the Academy Awards that is at fault, but the film industry in general. There are great actors and actresses of every race, and they should be recognized for their contributions. If a movie is great, then say so – if it’s a steaming pile, then call it for what it is as well. For myself, I would just like to see movies coming out that aren’t re-hashes of previous ones, or mindless sequels that are just looking to cash in on a legacy.

  9. Reblogged this on and commented:
    We talk a lot in the writing community about diverse characters in fiction, POC writers and bestseller status, and what it will take to make matter-of-fact diversity the new status quo. Now we’re discussing a similar issue, on the red carpet, with characters and writers of the big screen.

    It makes me wonder a lot of things, but rarely do I feel qualified to make any suggestions on the topic. Mostly, I think, because I don’t quite know where to begin. If racial bias in books/television/film isn’t just a symptom, but also the underlying problem, how can we address it? Are we doomed to argue forever the chicken/egg origins of racism? Or can we someday find a balance between pretending it doesn’t exist/doesn’t matter and/or isn’t “that big” of a deal, and making it into an insurmountable divide between people who aren’t quite alike enough for simple minds to appreciate?

    Please discuss.

    • This is an interesting, complex, and necessary question to mull over. For my part, and put in short: if you want to see more diverse characters in your fiction (be they on screen or in writing), go find them and advocate for them. Film critics, in my experience, talk a very good talk about the need for diversity, but then you look at a film festival like Sundance and the vast majority of the films you hear about are made by/starring white people. (Even Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain People,” a movie made by a woman and which focuses on female protagonists, is totally white.) There’s chatter about Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” and Anna Rose Holmer’s “The Fits” and Babak Anvari’s “Under the Shadow,” but the buzz is predominantly about white filmmakers.

      That’s troubling to me, especially from a critic body that is largely liberal; part of the problem is that many critics happen to be white guys, but even white guys can be allies for genuine diversity. I think the solution, whether you’re talking literature, television, or film, is to seek out narratives from minority voices and
      celebrate them. Also consider that Hollywood is a business. It outputs movies based on what it thinks will make money. This is true even of independent production companies; they’re all just concerned over their bottom lines. If people go out to theaters to buy tickets to movies starring minorities and made by minorities, that’s an endorsement to the industry, and theoretically they’ll make more. (Hence why I think “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” are significant critically as well as commercially.)

      I’ll never stop watching movies by white guys entirely – hell, half the movies in my top ten for the year were made by white guys (though it is worth noting that one of them is George Miller, one of them is Sean Baker, and one of them is Andrew Haigh) – but I think it’s well past time that viewers and critics really started turning their eyes toward minority voices in film.

    • Compelling thoughts, my dear.
      I am a writer as well, and feel that diversity is an issue that will never come to a finite solution. Speaking about diversity in today’s society is also a wild card … a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. My perspective is that no one is actually qualified to speak expertly on this topic ( though rarely does that prevent EVERYONE from putting in their two-cents),and that seems to be one factor in this current mess. As for being doomed to be caught forever in the chicken/egg debate, the answer is yes. But I’m a devout pessimist, so I suppose I’m biased.
      We shouldn’t pretend that this problem does not exist or doesn’t matter, however… neither should it cause the uproar that it has. Social media has allowed a platform for voices that would otherwise have been muted. This hasn’t always been a positive thing, though.Case in point is this Oscar event.

      • I’m still not sure why the Oscars fiasco shouldn’t cause uproar, myself. And while I agree that MOST people are unqualified to speak expertly on the subject of diversity, everyone should participate in the dialogue about it because it’s that important, and that’s one of the best ways to grow and learn and change.

          • Does that really matter? I mean, at best, I would say that what qualifies the people who decides who can be qualified comes down to levels of study, knowledge, and experience. I take a lot of cues from leaders and scholars in black communities when it comes to the subject of black voices, myself – I feel like they probably know quite a few things about race politics, personally – and from well-considered and reasonable white voices, too. But at some point you have to stop worrying about who is and isn’t qualified and put yourself out there anyways, and hope that the people listening to you are willing to engage with you.

            • Yes, my dear, it matters greatly. Especially in times when people seem to think that just because they have independent thoughts immediately guarantees that they are right. Right and wrong seem to be irrelevant when there are so many gray areas being created daily.
              I would like to add, Andrew, that I am glad you listen to others views-mine included- and appreciate that you are willing to engage. I am not so nonchalant to think that isn’t a blessing taken for granted in the present days of emoticons and whatnot.

              • For me, quibbling over who is qualified to judge the qualifications of others is kind of a big old staircase to hell. Who qualifies the qualifiers? Who watches the Watchmen? Who critiques the critics? At some point these questions start to become totally immaterial. There are a ton of factors that contribute to a person’s qualifications. I mean, look at me: I obviously feel “qualified” to write about this subject, though I don’t know if that makes me “qualified” in the way that a guy like Ta Nehisi Coates is qualified.

                And I am always happy to engage with views that don’t necessarily line up with my own, particularly when they are being presented so politely and amicably.

                • I thank you for your point of view, but I would have to argue that simply because the question I asked is age-old and never seems to have a finite answer hardly classifies that as ‘immaterial’. However, I brought that point forth to underline the fact that so many of these things are unable to be answered. As limited creatures we must accept those limitations, which (in my own roundabout fashion) brings me back to the Oscars. In the course of over a century we have went from enslaving these people to segregating them to whatever slippery slope we now find ourselves at. I should note that we have never even thought to formally apologize for the part we as a race played in their suffering. Not once (though if you know something I don’t, feel free to correct me). So naturally we are going to have deep-rooted issues, one that I’m afraid we can’t resolve.
                  But this is merely the ranting of a pessimistic geezer. The youth of today seem to have a lighter view of things, God preserve them.

                  • My point, I guess, is that discussing “who qualifies the qualified” is a separate conversation from the issue itself. Race and racism aren’t easy topics to engage with, particularly in a modern context, but at some point you have to set aside concerns over who is best suited to judge the validity of other people’s opinions on the matter and just hash it out without fear of that judgment. (If that sentence makes any sense. I’m not sure.)

                    If anyone with authority has ever formally apologized for slavery, I don’t know about it. That being said, I will offer my own apology, even though I was born long after slavery was a thing. It isn’t much, but man, I am sorry every damn day for what our country did to black men, women, and children, and what institutionalized racism continues to do to them today.

                    • Agreed. I wish to add my name to the list of apologies as well, though like you, slavery was before my time.
                      You know, it’s the strangest thing: you aren’t the first person in the course of a week I’ve argued with about diversity. Nor will you be the last. The other argument was about the lack of diversity with women. The strange thing , I suppose, is that instead of transgenders and gay marriage, the main issues are the ones we’ve nearly always had. I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s strange.

  10. Nice article. Concussion and Creed were good films, and Smith and Jordan both gave great performances. I think Will Smith should have got a nomination. In my opinion the best way to make progress is for artist’s to keep making quality films with African American characters. Regardless of awards and nominations, at the end of the day it’s the stories that count.

    • I’m honestly surprised Smith didn’t get nominated, since he is, I am told, the best thing about the movie. Jordan I am perhaps LESS surprised about, based on his age, but then again, Jennifer Lawrence has taken Meryl Streep’s mantle in Hollywood law as “that person who must be nominated every year for whatever she’s in,” and she’s even younger than he is. So.

      I agree with your thoughts here. Keep making good movies with robust minority characters. Ice Cube isn’t wrong – the Oscars are very much just a horse race, so if you’re making good movies, that’s a check mark in the “win” column. Still, the exposure that AMPAS nominations provide can’t be ignored, so even if the awards are meaningless, the recognition definitely isn’t, and it’d be nice to see that recognition be shared by all rather than by predominantly white talent.

  11. I enjoyed this post, and subsequent discussion. Although I think most of the pageantry is Hollywood celebrating itself….and, of course, Hollywood isn’t exactly a beacon for role model behaviors or great decision-making skills (How many movie and television reunions, or sequels to the Nth degree do we need?!?)

    However, I am conflicted with sharing my thoughts. I wouldn’t want anything I said, even if presented academically, as being misinterpreted. I don’t know what the solution can be, especially if people don’t feel comfortable speaking their minds in a mutually supported atmosphere.

    • Well, if Hollywood loves doing anything, it’s patting itself on the back.

      As far as sharing your thoughts – first, this space is moderated by me. If anyone shared their thoughts in a comment section on this site and then found themselves on the receiving end of verbal abuse, I would moderate the hell out of that abuse. It is okay to share ideas that are wrong or misguided or poorly informed. This is how we learn. On the subject of race and racism especially, people should feel encouraged to express their feelings in the spirit of unity and self-education. I know that it’s taken me time and a lot of conversation to wrap my mind around concepts of diversity (actual diversity, not the tokenist version of diversity most well-intended white folks unwittingly advocate for) and the subject of systemic racism. I’m just grateful I’ve been able to evolve the way that I think about these ideas, courtesy of compassionate people who know way more about them than I do.

      So share away. If I disagree, I will disagree in measured response.

      (As an aside: if the Academy Awards ceremony is about Hollywood celebrating itself, and if Hollywood is predominantly white, then it should surprise no one that the nominations are so typically dominated by white talent. This is why you need representation behind the camera and not just in front of it.)

      • I appreciate your response, and agree. It needs to be talked about. But things typically become so emotional that it shuts down meaningful discussion – and leave people either feeling really uncomfortable and/or defensive.

        There are many thoughts that I struggle with intellectual dissonance between two concepts trying to exist at the same time.

        1) The N-word. One group takes the historically flammable word, and attempts to reclaim it to use playfully amongst themselves – even freely using it in music, movies, and media. Another group attempts to use it, and suddenly the word reverts back to its negative history. I am not aware of any other minority attempting to reintroduce ugly, insulting labels they were forced to wear long ago back into societal use.

        2) Empowerment – The majority establishment perpetuates an environment that inspires a minority to forms its own institutions to celebrate its own accomplishments. They complain of being excluded from the majority institution, yet endorse segregation.

        3) Celebrating culture – America is a great place. Minorities can share their traditions, language, history, and rituals with its next generation. However, there appears to be a culture that is revered in some genres in the media that endorse physical and gun violence – include using that force against law enforcement – as well as against women, dealing drugs, and other anti-social behaviors. We hear story after story where skin color is noted, but not the behavior around why the police not only end up involved, but having things escalate where the only results will be bad.

        The media does not help these issues either. And because there is a distinction between reality and perception of reality; the calls for justice are just a euphemism for “we don’t need a trial, just go after the other person.”

        The reality is that resources, opportunity, and choices are not all available to everyone, everywhere. The government isn’t likely to help, as the system is broken….and likes to only rally behind issues that allow the brokeness to continue.

        This is about what I planned to share, but the Internet can be a risky place to share opinions. I would love for their to be an academic place where discussion could always be productive and meaningful. I certainly hope this blog can be one of them.

        -D

        • Apologies for the delay in responding – in order:

          1) If you’re white, this is really, really shaky ground to walk on. The reason that that epithet’s meaning changes when issued from the maw of a white person instead of a black person has everything to do with the word’s history (that negative history you speak of); historically, whites used that word as a way of stripping away black folks’ humanity and reducing them to two syllables. So, for starters, there’s that. But it’s worth noting that black communities do not agree on whether it is acceptable or not to use that word among themselves, either, precisely due to that negative history.

          2) Politely, I will say that this is completely untrue. I’ve heard this argument before; it holds no water. The reason that institutions like BET exist is expressly because minorities don’t enjoy the same representation within majority institutions. Once that is no longer the case, institutions like BET will have less reason to exist. (I assume that BET and such are the sorts of things you have on your mind here.) It isn’t an endorsement of segregation – white artists have been nominated at the BET awards, and they have won at the BET awards – as much as it is a reaction to it.

          3) You may need to clarify what you mean with this one. Are you suggesting that the media is only interested in police-involved killings of minorities from the moment they happen onward, and do not care about the outside factors that led to the killing happening in the first place? I would argue this is untrue; there is a history in the media of vilifying young men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown after their deaths, as much as there is of idealizing them (though I would argue that the truth probably lies closer to the latter than the former). I don’t disagree that it is important to consider the factors that allow these sorts of tragedies to occur, but I think in every case, you can easily make the case that the tragedy should not have occurred in the first place, and that the onus for that is on the police, not the Browns or the Martins or the “cultures” that they come from (which don’t necessarily endorse anti-social tendencies as much as critique them).

          Hope that helps!

  12. I’m sick of watching movie after movie of rich well dressed snobs and lavish mansions. Straight outta Compton was the most inspiring film I ever saw as a musician. But the general American people are afraid of abrasion.

    • Yeah – I’m tired of those movies too (though in fairness, that description doesn’t really nail this year’s slate of nominees). Mostly I’m just sick of the idea that only white people deserve awards.

      I had my issues with “Compton” (see my review – https://agcrump.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/review-straight-outta-compton-2015-dir-f-gary-gray/), but the acting is uniformly great. It is telling that the Academy voters chose to honor the film’s screenwriters (who all happen to be white) rather than the minorities behind and in front of the camera. The same is true of “Creed.” I find that more bothersome than a scenario where both films get shut out entirely (though of course I would find that bothersome, too).

    • Pardon?
      My dear, if you don’t like what you see then walk away. Hollywood is an old empire that will continue to do as it has always done. The filmmakers will continue to make films based on their fancy, and most do not give a single hoot about said ‘abrasion’. As it should be. Society should not influence the individual, rather individuals should be given the freedom to be just that … individual. Individual creativity is a trait to be desired in present day.
      Straight Outta Compton was an excellent film, but it has not broken out of any figurative molds, simply because there was no mold to begin with. Hollywood has been wonderfully diverse in that aspect.
      That would be my take, anyway.

      • I’m not a big fan of the “if you don’t like it, ignore it” philosophy to life. And the trick to Hollywood is that – surprise – it’s a business, so if you tell Hollywood what you want and show them that it is worth their while to give you what you want, you may end up getting what you want. I expect studios will begin financing more movies with female and minority leads in light of the success of stuff like “Star Wars,” for instance.

        And “Compton” is definitely trapped by the mold it’s in, and it is very much stuck in the mold of “biopic hagiography.” The writing and the structure are not at all its strong suits.

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  18. I have no desire to see ‘Compton.’ I was around when the album came out, but never got into their music. Although, I do have some Dr. Dre’s later stuff in my mp3 playlist. I think that they take themselves too seriously. Ice Cube, in my opinion, does not entertain me. His movie trailers are even too long to watch. I think he’s even attempting comedy, but with a chronic (no, that type of chronic) angry look – it just doesn’t work for me.

    Speaking of violence, I have done my own research and experimented with listening to music that challenges my tastes. Bands like The Geto Boys are way bigger offenders with taking their tough talk to a much more violent path (see: Gotta Let Ya Nutz Hang, single). Geto Boys also have lyrics describing ending the life of a women with a knife, then participating in an act not typically associated with those dying. Here is where it stops being a culture I want to see supported. It’s not racism. It’s a call for unadulterated violence.

    I prefer much less intense, perhaps even playful rap. De La Soul, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, 3rd Base, even Public Enemy. Some of its clever. Some just good rhythms. But the sentiments are playfully done one-upmanship. Especially, LL.

    So, does this sound informed and
    Academic?

    -D

    • While I’ll say that you don’t know how you’ll like something until you try it, and that in the case of “Compton,” the film is much softer than the album it is named for, there is nothing wrong with having preferences and liking certain things at the expense of others. I do that, too. That said, I have made space in my life for musicians like NWA and De La Soul. But that’s just me!

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  20. Here are some statistics.
    The US population of 308m is:
    63.6% Non-hispanic white
    16.3% Hispanic or Latino
    12.2% Non-hispanic black
    4.7% Non-hispanic Asian

    With the remaining being a mixed bag of pacific islanders, native Americans, and so on.

    So demographically speaking, 12.2% of the nominations should be for black actors. Seeing as we have 5 nominated actors for best male and best female, the total nominations for each should be as follows:

    10 Nominations:
    6.3 for white actors
    1.6 for Hispanic or Latino actors.
    1.2 for Non-hispanic black actors.
    0.4 for Asian actors.
    0.5 for “others”

    The question is, do we want everything to be done according to demographics? If we follow them, and do not want to be ageist, then we have to make sure that each age group from 0 – 4 all the way up to 60 – 64 get roughly 6% of nominations, and we also have to make sure to give the 64 – dead their fair share also.

    I’m going to stand up for the Asians, where are their Oscar winners and nominations? Where are the Latinos?

    It does not follow that just because a given group makes up a certain percentage of population, that they should make up that percentage of a given position, such as CEO, Oscar Nominee or anything else. For instance if there is 1 black actor nominated for Best Male and another for Best female, they are over-represented. This cuts both ways.

    In an ideal world, the Oscars along with everything else should be a question of merit, not a question of race, age, gender, or anything else. The problem is that, there are no objective criteria in the art business, except how much money a movie made for the studio. There is no way to say if Michael Fassbender did a better job than lets say Will Smith in a movie, from an objective perspective, it’s all about subjective interpretation. Perhaps the author of this post thinks Will Smith did a better job than Michael Fassbender, and personally I like chocolate icecream better than vanilla.

    • To answer your question, no, we do not want things to be done by demographics (and for the record, one of my footnotes qualifies that this is not just a black and white issue). And you are absolutely right that in an ideal world, this would all be a matter of merit and we would not sniff out racism in situations like Oscar nominations favoring white talent at the expense of minority talent. But we don’t live in that ideal world, which is why people are upset. Merit being what it is, you can’t reasonably tell me that every single one of the white male nominees for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, for example, produced better work than Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan, Samuel L. Jackson, Benicio del Toro, Oscar Isaac, or Idris Elba. I grant that this is, as you say, a matter of subjective interpretation, but when you have that many quality performances from minority actors (and more still that I didn’t list in other movies that enjoyed equally as well-promoted or better promoted award campaigns), I am incredulous that everything comes down to “merit.” (Note, again, that the only award nominations received by “Creed” and “Compton” were awarded to their white components, which is absolutely absurd for a number of reasons.)

      The merit debate is why institutions like BET exist – because majority institutions have a history of non-inclusion for minority participants, so whatever “merit” those participants might have ends up being overlooked for the default within the majority institutions.

      I’m fully against celebrating mediocrity of any kind. I do not think that tokenism is a solution to the problem, and nominating middling work from minority talent just to satisfy diversity quotas may in fact exacerbate that problem. But the Smiths and the Jordans didn’t get overlooked by the Academy because their performances were “middling.” (It might not also be that the Academy voting body is populated with former Klan members or whatever. It might be that they just didn’t see “Creed” or “Concussion,” though the nomination for Stallone sort of makes me incredulous that people didn’t see “Creed” enough to vote for Jordan.)

      • My issue with “sniffing out” the myriad of “isms” and “phobias” these days is that it has shocking similarities to the Mccarthy trials.

        The issue you raise with the composition of the academy, and actually watching all the movies is a very good point. I haven’t seen them all either, which perhaps should entail that the panel needs to have a more diverse taste in movies. There is a reason why “Meryl Streep in anything”, “Holocaust drama”, “Triumph against disability” and “Period costume drama featuring British actors” have become running jokes.

        If I direct my argument in the form of a question; what are the odds that the academy awards for next year is going to have a lot of nominated minority actors, not based on merits but based in a mix of PR and wanting to avoid another situation just like this?

        Until we can all agree on an objective scale for a subjective performance, I imagine that in a few years we’ll see “#Oscarssotransphobic”

        • The OscarsSoWhite ruckus has similarities to the McCarthy trials the way that PC language is destroying free speech, which is to say that it is not similar to the McCarthy trials at all. This is not a political witch hunt. People aren’t losing their livelihoods over this, or over the recent Academy voting rules changes. At the same time I am concerned that any “progress” we see over the next couple of years will stem from those rule changes rather than from a shift in taste among voters, which I think is harder to change but more essential to change. You can’t force diversity or inclusion. You have to foster it. I appreciate that Isaacs et al are taking steps to create change and prevent this sort of thing from happening again, and there is nothing wrong with implementing policies to achieve that end – see the NFL’s Rooney Rule. But I think change has to run deeper than that. People need to be exposed to more movies featuring and made by minorities, and you need to have more minorities in positions of authority behind the scenes, too. Otherwise the status quo stays the status quo, and will continue to reinforce itself. As I mention in the article, you can also put only so much blame on the AMPAS voting body, too.

          • In reverse order:
            I fundamentally disagree with “fostering”. Movies are entertainment products, and as products they are marketed towards a group of people. For instance, “rom-coms” tend to be marketed towards women, in the same way that action movies tend to be marketed towards men.

            Who you market your product to, will affect not only who is “exposed” to it, but also who consumes it. In order for “non-minorities” to be “exposed” to movies made by minorities, starring minorities, those movies have to be made for and marketed to “non-minorities” it is really that simple.

            Hip hop music started out “For us by us” and spread throughout the culture, there is no reason why the same will not happen in time to the rest of the entertainment industry. Much of the driver in the music industry, is the same driver that should be used in the rest of the entertainment industry, in tech, and all other sectors that suffer from a lack of minorities. Namely, start their own production companies, sound companies, special effects studios, and so on.

            The recipe in far too many cases is that companies or organizations that are already working well, have a goal to maximize benefits for the shareholders and stakeholders, have to take on additional goals that interfere with the primary goal.

            I do regret the reference to the McCarthy trials, it was not the correct reference to use. It is much more accurate to say that it is similar to Stalin era or Mao era showtrials, where an offense against “the revolution” leads to condemnation, followed by a show trial (conducting with hashtags) complete with tear-filled apology and a promise to do better.

            Now, if you excuse me, I have to go write a blogpost about how there are not enough short people and jews in the NBA, and far too few black people in the NHL.

            • You disagree with “fostering,” but I’m not sure you understand what I mean. Part of fostering diversity (really belonging and inclusion) is getting people to see it. Marketing tends to be segregated by design – as you say, movies are marketed so that they skew toward demographics. That’s the business side of the industry. But yes, if you want to draw non-minorities (read: white people) to movies made by and starring minorities, and which are about minority issues, you have to market those movies to those non-minority crowds.

              The problem is that unless you’re selling a “12 Years a Slave” or a “Selma” or even a “Creed,” you’re probably not pulling in those audiences, who will go out to see movies about minority issues and made by minorities only when they’re about Important Shit™ (or when they’re rousing entertainment, a’la “Creed”). You will not get white folks out to see a “Dear White People” or even a “Top Five,” which is too bad because they’re both great (and so are many other movies like them). And that has nothing to do with marketing. It has to do with peoples’ attitudes about race and racism and inclusion and diversity, which is why you need advocacy beyond marketing to get these films the attention that they need and deserve. So when I talk about fostering diversity, I’m talking about advocating for filmmakers who won’t get the kind of marketing for their work that will put their work into the periphery of a broader moviegoing audience (and for those who do, too).

              Rap music is a curious example to bring up, because yes, it did start out as “for us by us,” and yes, it did spread throughout the culture, but historically a lot of white people had to get involved in producing and promoting rap music before it really struck a vein with mainstream white America. (This is a point that “Compton” touches on, though it does not have the balls to really sink its teeth into it.) It is true that minority filmmakers can benefit themselves by starting their own production companies to output their own films, but that is, quite frankly, easier said than done, and even filmmakers who do make that work don’t enjoy the same visibility in culture at large that white filmmakers normally do. Spike Lee is probably the best representative of that model’s success, and even he had to wait a long damn time to get his honorary Oscar, so I’m not sure that whole “by your bootstraps” philosophy has as much merit as it seems.

              What cases are you thinking of where “additional goals” (by which I can only assume you mean “diversity initiatives”) have interfered with the primary goal of a corporation? There is actually a lot of research that shows that inclusion benefits companies instead of hurting them.

              And sorry, the Stalin and Mao references don’t work either. I’d refrain from making those kinds of leaps and connections entirely; they hold zero water, at least until the voices demanding inclusion start killing off people in Hollywood by the millions. Then you might have something. (Also: short basketball players? Ever heard of Muggsy Bogues?)

              • Yes, I have heard of Mugsy Bogues, Ever heard of Halle Berry or Denzel Washington? Oh please, Stalin and Mao did kill everyone, the unlucky ones got sent to re-education camps where they were told what to think and what to like by advocates.

                I can understand why white people would be hesitant to go watch “Dear White People”, “How do I want to spend my evening off, do I want to go watch Adam Sandler be funny, or do I want to watch white people be portrayed as racists?”

                Wasn’t white people moving into the highly non-diverse hip-hop industry a good thing? Or is this the same thing as when feminists argue that tech has a “lack of women problem”, while education does not have a “lack of men” problem?

                • Jesus Christ, really? Nobody is telling anyone what to think or what to like. This is the common and willful misconception people have somehow been suckered into accepting as a substantial and reality-based critique of diversity movements: that the quest for inclusion and belonging in the world of art and visual media is a quest to indoctrinate people to like what they are told to like. Nobody is telling you that you have to like Creed, Dear White People, Belle, Selma, The Birth of a Nation, 12 Years a Slave, Top Five, Southside with You, Chi-Raq, Do the Right Thing, Beyond the Lights, Keanu, Tangerine, Luke Cage, Black Panther, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Girlhood, Malcolm X, Blade, Mediterranea, or whatever. (There are movies on that very list, which isn’t even a scratch on the surface of movies made by or which are about minorities and minority stories.) Quite frankly, whether you “like” them is besides the point. It isn’t about liking them. It is about striving for a culture where these movies are not treated as though they are disposable, and where they are maximized not just as products but as works of art. How is that a bad thing? Who is being hurt by that quest? Nobody. The notion that there is some diversity conspiracy out to force you to like these things is the absolute peak of pathetic white paranoia, and quite frankly I have very little use for it.

                  And yes, white people participating in the hip hop industry is a good thing because there is nothing wrong with cross-cultural participation. White people muscling in on that industry to profit off of the efforts of people within that industry (read: exploiting black people and black culture to make themselves rich), on the other hand, well, there’s a lot that’s wrong with that, but only a reasonable person capable of complex thought has what it takes to see the difference between the two. (And there has been plenty of conversation among people, feminists included, about potential “lack of men” issues in education, so what the fuck are you talking about?)

  21. Thank you for writing that, Andrew. I think it’s only when a light is shone on the things that a culture unthinkingly takes for granted: that women can’t vote or that slavery is absolutely fine – that those things begin to change as people are forced to examine their own thinking.

    Once you’re forced to make a conscious argument for it, it’s hard to justify the way black actors are sidelined or funnelled into the same roles over and over again – the criminal, the prostitute,the Morgan Freeman-style voice of old-fashioned morality or, occasionally, the token, ‘surprising’ high-level professional.

    Idris Elba has been speaking about exactly the same lack of opportunity over here in the UK http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/jan/17/idris-elba-black-actors-lack-of-diversity-uk-television He has commented, more than once, that Luther, the detective he plays, doesn’t seem to have many black friends. He’s hemmed in by a white world, as the intriguing foreigner.

    Best wishes
    Elaine

    • You’re welcome, Elaine. Thanks for the reply. I don’t know if I can offer much of a response – I agree with 100% of what you’re saying here, and I especially love Elba’s work no matter what he’s in or who he’s playing – but I think it’s a sad state when minority actors wind up in roles that Hollywood doesn’t normally funnel them into, and they still don’t get recognized for their efforts. (See: Jordan.)

  22. Personally, the fuss is just… fuss. It is what we make of it that makes the difference. The secret of life isn’t that people change people, my dears. The secret of life is perspective.

    • I’m not sure that this is the best logic to apply here, because if you follow that logic to its inevitable conclusion, everything is just fuss. Racism is what we make of it. Discrimination is what we make of it. Systemic intolerance of “others” is what we make of it. Minority exclusion is what we make of it. Maybe you aren’t wrong, but I think that’s a pretty apathetic way of looking at the world.

      • Not to mention (hypothetically following my logic, as you say), your reaction to my comment is also perspective, it is simply what you make of it. You aren’t wrong in your evaluation, either. However, not allowing what others think of how you handle life and its many issues is not , as you say, ‘apathy’. Not by a long shot, my dear.
        I appreciate your output, all the same.

          • Yes, that would be more accurate. Aware, but nonchalant. If everyone cared about every negative Facebook or Twitter post, there would be a massive increase in depression treatments- or to be relevant to the topic at hand, if all of the African- American actors and actresses cared that they weren’t on the Oscar ballot, it wouldn’t be the Smiths spearheading this boycott, I assure you.
            The point of this rant, I suppose, is merely to say that a nonchalant perspective is not a bad attitude… it is a virtue of survival instinct.

            • But we’re not talking about negative Facebook or Twitter posts. We’re talking about pronouncements made by the highest awards body in the movie realm.

              I’m keenly aware that social media, as a platform, has a way of magnifying outrage or furor beyond its actual quantifiable scope. (See: Donald Trump, who looks like he’s the king of the Republican party but is in truth the king of only a small portion of it. Still a terrifying asshole, though.) But I don’t think that’s what’s happening with the Oscars. People are justifiably upset, not simply over this year’s white slate of Acting nominees, but at the Academy’s long-standing habit of acknowledging white talent at the expense of minority talent. This is sort of the straw that shattered the camel’s spine. Remember, we were in this exact same moment last year, and nothing has changed, mostly because expressing discontent over the web isn’t a very good way of enacting said change.

              If you can afford to be nonchalant about that sort of thing, bully for you, but many people – particularly those who care about inclusion in our society, and if the Oscars “fuss” is about the entertainment industry alone on its face, it is about general inclusion in our culture at large, too – nonchalance is a major luxury.

              • Interesting, my dear. However, you overlook the fact that all of it, the social media, the Oscars, hell, even the Donald himself, are all interconnected and relevant to one another. Whether you talk directly about it or not.
                Nor is my ‘nonchalance’ a turning my back to exclusion in society. I merely wish to convey that we have a habit of turning an (admittedly) unsavory situation into something worse.

  23. This is definitely one of the biggest problems the Academy have to deal with fast. Not only will they stop losing fans if they don’t diversify, They’ll also lose something more dear to them. Their status as one of the most meaningful awards a film maker or actor can win. The credibility of how prestigious and fair these awards are is on the line at this point. The academy has to start not only diversifying, but updating some of their rules when it comes to theater releases and festivals. One of these technicalities got in the way of Edris Elba getting a supporting actor role nomination (and what would’ve been a well deserved win.) I wrote a bit about the other things in my blog, since diversity is the hot topic right now.

    This is definitely one of the more spot on posts I’ve read on the diversity problem the Oscars have. Thanks for posting and keep up the awesome work!

    • Thanks for chipping in, Berto – I appreciate the comment and the encouragement. (I’m fairly certain I have more posts like this in me, so expect further musings on race in Hollywood and pop culture down the line.)

      You’re making a great point here: that if the AMPAS continues to only (predominantly) represent whites in its nominees, potential non-white viewers (and even a portion of white viewers) may end up turning away from the ceremony and possibly even Hollywood itself. It’s in their best interests not to alienate big chunks of their viewership.

      Obviously that’s a shitty reason to promote inclusion, but the fallout of snubbing inclusion is much greater than just a ratings slide. The fewer people you allow at the table, the more stagnant your industry becomes. You need new ideas fueled by new experiences, and you get both of those by investing in inclusion.

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