Oh, my gosh, honey, you got my socks Oscar white! Thank you! Thank you! (quote from my new fictitious laundry detergent ad).
In the aftermath of this year’s Oscar nominations, much talk has been floating around about how “white” the Oscars are this year – again. It’s true. Of the well-received films that included black characters and black stories, including Creed (my personal favorite), Concussion (a close second), Straight Outta Compton (a brilliant script), and Beasts of No Nation (hard to watch, but extraordinary), none of them – well, none of the black people involved in them, anyway – received Oscar nominations. I really was expecting Michael B. Jordan and/or Will Smith to at least be nominated for best actor – not because they’re black, but because their performances were so powerful. But, despite all the controversy and the racist legacy of the film industry, I have a slightly different take on it.
As cool and as universally engaging as movies are, the people behind the scenes are a network of good ‘ol boys – not the Confederate flag, kind, of course, but a white male network nonetheless. These are the people who decide what’s good and what ain’t. But, remember, that doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. They are voting according to their opinions and their opinions (like all opinions) are shaped by who they are.
As a slight aside, in the idiotic Comments sections of some of the websites talking about this, low-class racist trolls muddy the issue by talking about black crime, Black Lives Matter, and Obama. Besides the obvious fact that their racism proves the point about bias in this country, there is a bigger issue. Institutional racism (not personal racism) is the problem. The white male Academy decides which movies are “great.” The white male legislature decides what crimes are real crimes (see the movie The Big Short for an illustration about the way “white collar crime”, or, perhaps, “white crime” is handled in this country versus petty street crime). The white male police academies throughout the nation decide which lives matter and which ones don’t. And the foaming mouths of bitter white conservatives repeat the same lies so many times on their media outlets that a (black) president with a stellar record continues to be treated with general disdain and fear, no matter what he does.
But, back to the Oscars. The answer, in my opinion, is to stop putting so much stock in these people’s opinions. Yes, they are powerful. Yes, they are the controlling voices in the industry. But on a very real level, these are just people with opinions. As Derek Thompson wrote less than two years ago: “Essentially, the Academy has the demographics of a New England all-men’s bridge club.” I’m sorry, but a New England all-men’s bridge club does not represent my interests. I take their stodgy old opinions with a grain of salt. They grew up in a different era. Their level of experience with things and people outside of their own group is perhaps very different from that of a Gen Xer, like me, who grew up in Los Angeles.
So, screw ‘em. Do we really care so much what this group says? I don’t. Just as there are now alternative production companies like Netflix and Amazon, and alternative distribution outlets, such as YouTube, and different ways of watching movies, such as smart phones and tablets, there should be alternative Academies. They should be filled with youthful, diverse, intelligent people who specialize in different niches. There are already many different award shows. Although they do not have the la-dee-da cache of the Academy, they are probably more relevant for more people. The world is steadily moving towards more democracy, not less. This Oscar situation is just a hold out. As the Academy cruises along in its comfort zone, the rest of the world moves on without it.
So, congratulations in advance to all the winners. Enjoy the night and the fruits of your hard work. Just remember to keep it all in perspective!
Thompson, Derek. “Oscar Voters: 94% White, 76% Men, and an Average of 63 Years Old.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 2 March 2014. Web. Accessed 15 January 2016.