In keeping with the current reality of everything coming down to race in our supposedly post-racial nation (as expected and promised–but not fulfilled–by the election of Obama), controversy is brewing over a lack of Academy Awards nominations for black actors, directors, or movies:
Outrage erupted online Thursday about the lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Awards nominations, and stars are continuing to weigh in.
Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband, Will, missed out on a best actor nod for Concussion, took to Facebook Saturday to air her grievances — even mulling a potential boycott of the show itself.
“At the Oscars … people of color are always welcomed to give out awards … even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments,” the actress wrote. “Should people of color refrain from participating all together?”
Well, that’s certainly their right. It’s up to them. This is, after all, still a more-or-less free country.
Putting aside the racist-on-its face expression people of color, let’s think about the validity of the “grievance” against those people who nominate other people for awards based, admittedly, upon subjective standards of excellence in acting or directing or the many other accomplishments that are recognized and honored in the movie business.
One expects that those who do the nominating have at least some level of expertise beyond that of the ordinary moviegoer. Artists are probably better able to judge art than are non-artists.
There is, however, something to be said for the common person’s gut feeling. If an actor gives a convincing and moving performance, then it’s likely that most viewers of the movie would agree that the performance was above average, if not excellent and worthy of accolades.
But wait! The grievances do not consist solely of a perception that persons of color were overlooked by the Academy: Some perceive that females were unfairly excluded, as well. A black female director, Ava DuVernay, and a white female director, Angeline Jolie, were dissed by not getting a “nod.” But not in the opinion of Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a black female herself.
There are a lot of terrific motion pictures, it’s a very competitive time, and there’s a lot of great work that has been done.
To no one’s surprise or grievance, the African-American Film Critics Association recently declared
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON as top film of 2015.
To each his own. Or should I say, hir own?
Organizations form. Organizations decide to give awards. Organizations, in our country, have a perfect right to make subjective judgments in their own way. Right?
Numerous news articles have questioned the demographic makeup of those who decide Oscar nominations, telling us that the voters are
almost exclusively white men. According to a recent survey conducted by The Los Angeles Times, Oscar voters are on average 63 years old. 76% of them are men, and 94% of them are white.
Hmm. Old white men. Sounds like a meme. But it’s a lot more complicated when you consider that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is
made up of more than 6000 (currently 6,028) voting members. All are film industry professionals, most are US-based, and almost half are active filmmakers (i.e. their most recent credit was 2010 or later).
One would think that being an active filmmaker would be far more pertinent and relevant to a judgment about the quality of acting or film-making than skin color, race, sex, or ethnicity. In a sane world, that is.
Dig down deeper into the article and you find possible explanations for how some movies, actors, or directors might be overlooked; but it seems that too often these days a simple soundbite or a Twitter hashtag is more attractive and easier to digest than a complicated but perfectly plausible explanation:
There are different voting branches for each category at the Academy Awards, where members vote in their own fields. For example, the Actors branch (which has 1,176 members) votes to nominate in all four acting awards, the directors vote for Best Director nominees, and so on. How many votes you need to secure a nomination depends on the size of the voting branch.
Actors vote for acting; directors vote for directing. Who knows better, huh? Skin color, race, sex, ethnicity. Do they matter? Should they?
Are people with grievances suggesting that if more of the 6000+ voters were “people of color” or female, then the voters would choose nominees based upon skin color, race or sex, regardless of the true perceived quality of the movie or performance?
Even with the complicated nominating process, one must also consider the campaigning that goes into securing a nomination. Did people of color perhaps choose ineffective public relations consultants or not campaign at all?
It’s so much easier to choose simple culprits (old white men) or explanations (racism, sexism) than to consider the multiple variables that may lead to one’s preferred actor, director, or movie being passed over.
Surely somebody, somewhere, is going to suggest some kind of legal “solution”, such as forcing the Academy to diversify or maybe forcing all voters to undergo cultural sensitivity training or its equivalent.
According to the U.S. census, in 2014 the demographic breakdown of the United States was: White: 77.4%; Black: 13.2%; Latino: 17.4%; Asian: 5.4%. (It does not add up to 100% because Latinos can be any race.)
Let’s play a little game. Following is the rundown of the diversity of the National Basketball Association (NBA):
[T]he NBA in 2015 was composed of 74.4 percent black players, 23.3 percent white players, 1.8 percent Latinos, and 0.2 percent Asian.
Therefore, blacks are over-represented in the NBA by a whopping 61.2%, while whites are under-represented by 54.1%.
Players are chosen by teams based upon subjective standards used by their recruiters and other team authorities. They don’t look at race or ethnicity. They look at who they believe will help their teams to win, draw fans, and make them money. In other words, players who show talent.
Should this be changed? Should whites boycott the NBA unless and until they “diversify” teams to better represent the demographics of the nation, no matter any lack of talent by white players who didn’t get a “nod?”
Of course not. That’s ridiculous.
We could look at this another way. Odds are that the recruiters themselves, the team owners, the team managers, the coaches, are mostly white. Is it relevant? Their own race didn’t seem to matter when it came time to recognize talent by rewarding black players with positions on teams. So are whites who disproportionately hire talented black players for the NBA not inherently racist, while whites who determine Academy Award nominations are inherently racist because in some years, in their judgment, they didn’t decide to nominate any blacks?
If a certain number of nominations are supposed to be reserved for “people of color”, because of their representation in the overall population, then shouldn’t the African-American Film Critics Association give 77.4% of their “top film” awards to movies produced by, directed by, or performed by whites?
How about the Latin Grammy Awards? Should 77.4% of the awards go to white Hispanics? How about the BET Awards? 77.4% to whites?
Have you noticed that halftime performers at the Super Bowl are disproportionately “people of color”? Should we demand that the honor of performing at the Super Bowl be awarded based upon national demographics–race, sex, skin color, ethnicity–or consider a boycott?
Have you noticed the disproportionate representation of “people of color” in TV advertising? Shouldn’t whites be more fairly represented in TV ads, based upon their percentage of the population?
Do you observe that only about 13% of the people appearing in TV ads are black? Hardly. Vastly over-represented. Is that fair?
We’re still waiting for our post-racial country. How long will we have to wait? How sick are you of this perpetual division, this professional grievance industry? There are very few people who look like me in movies or on TV, as I’m multi-ethnic, multi-racial–the epitome of post-racial assimilation, the progeny of people who chose mates based upon the content of their character instead of on skin color, race, or ethnicity.
On this MLK Day, shouldn’t we all strive to honor what he professed to want?