boycotting the oscars for the “right” reasons

IT’S ACADEMY AWARDS TIME AGAIN, and the 2016 Awards will be the 88th time that some sort of ceremony has taken place to recognize the “best” of Hollywood. There is already mucho brouhaha surrounding this year’s nominations, as this is the second year in a row that all the acting nominees were for white folk. Outrage was immediate following that announcement with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trending on Twitter.

If the membership of the Academy voters was representational of the general population, would we be having this conversation right now?

Jada Pinkett Smith was the first major voice to call for action via Twitter: “At the Oscars, people of color are always welcomed to give out awards, even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together?”

This set off a brushfire.

Several players have leveled accusations of institutional or systemic racism against the Academy and will be boycotting the ceremonies.

But I am not addressing those accusations here. I am addressing someone who addressed those accusations, and I will bring up some numbers that should interest you whatever your own opinion on this matter.


Oscar_Forest

Forest Whitaker has been a fave since his marvelous turns in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Bird (1988). The photo here is from Ghost Dog – The Way of the Samurai, a 1999 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Whitaker plays a Mafia hitman who tries to adhere to the code of the samurai as he carries out his orders.

You take the lowbrow and I’ll take the high

Taking the lead and speaking for those of us whose aesthetic eyebrows are above sea-level—meaning we would like to think that we focus on Best Cinematographer, Best Documentary, Best Screenplay, etcetera—I acknowledge that most of the sex appeal of Oscar Night is within four categories, and they’re all about the actors and actresses. 1 

I think the black actors have a point about cultural bias among the mostly white Academy voters begetting what can appear to be racism.

Now except for the Baseball Hall of Fame, I don’t usually follow these award things. With the Oscars, I find that the films and creators nominated and selected each year by the Academy’s reviewers are a reasonable combination of the year’s “best” films (always subjective) with the year’s most commercially successful. 2

Through the years, the nominators and voters may not have always made the best choices—especially given hindsight—but they have almost  always made good choices! 3

A walk through the list of nominees over the past few decades should not embarrass most movie buffs—if representational choices are what you are looking for. 4

In fact, if you were stranded on Hypothetical Desert Island, and for entertainment you had a DVD of every movie that made the Top 5 nominations for Best Picture (if that was possible), you would have a helluva fine representation (almost 500 movies) of the history of Hollywood movie-making since the inception of the Awards.

When friends drop by, you could entertain them endlessly with movies they had never seen! (Naturally, they would have to bring the beer and popcorn.)


Oscar_Morgan

Morgan Freeman is a household word and every moviegoer has seen him in so many movies that we actually lose count! But one that sticks in my head is his role in the indie 10 Items Or Less, in which Freeman plays himself driving around LA with a cashier talking about life and things—a sorta lightweight My Dinner With Andre. You have to see the movie. 

Have them take a look at this list!

Earlier today I received my Independent Journal newsletter and it featured an article taking to task those brouhahaers stirring up the lack-of-racial-diversity accusations. Here is the entire text of “If Anyone Tells You the Oscars Are ‘Too White,’ Have Them Take a Look at This List” by Conor Swanberg:

“The 88th Annual Academy Awards haven’t even happened yet, and there is a whirlwind of drama surrounding Hollywood’s most star-studded night. Celebrities like Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have called for a boycott due to a lack of “minority” nominees.

So what have the past fifteen years looked like in terms of “minority” winners? Take a look at this list of Black, Latino, and Asian winners of the Academy Awards since 2000.”

Please note that I added the emphasis on Black, Latino, and Asian winners.

Mr Swanberg then lists the “minority” winners in twenty categories over the past fifteen years. Here are the Big 4 categories and the “minority” winners in each:

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Denzel Washington, Training Day (2001)
Jamie Foxx, Ray (2004)
Forest Whitaker, The Last King Of Scotland (2006)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball (2001)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Benicio del Toro, Traffic (2001)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006)
Mo’Nique, Precious (2009)
Octavia Spencer, The Help (2011)
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave (2013)

Since 2000, there have been fifteen Academy Awards ceremonies. Fifteen times the four big categories is sixty, oui?

Americans of “minority” descent (primarily black, Latino, and Asian) make up approximately 37% of the legal US population—and that percentage is growing.

For this article of mine (“Boycotting The Oscars For The ‘Right’ Reasons”), I will use a conservative 35% for a fair and balanced view of our “minority” brothers and sisters. If I assume that there is an equal percentage of “minority” actors and actresses available for Hollywood roles, then the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress Awards (the Big 4 of the Awards) should have gone to “minority” actors and actresses at least twenty-one (21) times.

In fact, they won ten (10) times. That’s a HUGE statistical discrepancy in favor of the brouhahaers.


Oscar_Whoopi

Here’s an Oscar situation that I never understood: in The Color Purple (1983), director Steve Spielberg took comedian Whoopi Goldberg and in her first movie role assisted her to a nomination as Best Actress in a Leading Role. He took television host Oprah Winfrey and in her first movie role assisted her to a nomination as Best Actress in a Supporting Role. He took singer Margaret Avery, who’d appeared in several earlier movies in minor roles, and in her first major movie role assisted her to a nomination as Best Actress in a Supporting Role. And for this remarkable achievement he wasn’t even nominated as Best Director! 5

Only 10.8% of speaking characters are black

I know enough not to make assume equal representation in Hollywood. In a survey of one-hundred top-grossing films of 2012, speaking roles went to following ethnicities: 6

Black actors and actresses                                            10.8%

Hispanic actors and actresses                                        4.2%

Asian actors and actresses                                               5.0%

Mixed race actors and actresses                                     3.6%

That is, less than 24% of “minorities” get speaking parts in Hollywood movies, which is considerably lower than my already low 35%! 7

Still, using that lower number (23.6%), “minority” actors and actresses should have won the Big 4 Awards fourteen (14) times.

In fact, they won ten (10) times. That’s not a big enough statistical discrepancy to work in favor of the brouhahaers.

And that, my friends, is all the time and research that I am putting into this article. I acknowledge that my math here and use of statistics is basic and simplistic, but it’s accurate enough for you to draw some conclusions.

Using the low and high figures above, there should have been between fourteen and twenty-one (14–21) names of “minority” actors and actresses in the four categories that I selected from Mr Swanberg’s article.

As noted, there were ten.

So then, did Mr Swanberg make his point? 8

Before you answer that, read on . . .


Oscar_Will

In Hancock (2008), the extraordinarily popular Will Smith plays a superhero with a HUGE ego, a HUGE attitude, and a HUGE drinking problem. While most viewers and critics focused on the down-and-out and misunderstood superhero aspect of the film, few paid attention to Smith’s portrayal of Hancock as being remarkably similar to a stereotype of a homeless alcoholic black man who, devoid of superpowers, would just be another annoying asshole on the streets. PS: You won’t find Mr Smith’s name among the Oscar winners on this page.

The red herring and the straw men

First, the Independent Journal is anything but independent: it is very rightwing. Conor Swanberg specializes in articles with an exclusively rightwing perspective. While the text of “If Anyone Tells You the Oscars Are ‘Too White,’ Have Them Take a Look at This List” is politically blasé, the title of the article stands as editorial comment. 

That said, Mr Swanberg’s (implied) refutation of the boycotters’ position and my (implied) refutation of Mr Swanberg’s refutation are both just so much horsepuckey. And here is why:

• On one hand, the article is a red herring in that it “distracts from a relevant or important issue.”

• On the other hand, it’s equally a straw man argument in that it “gives the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument which was not advanced by that opponent.” 9

The people denouncing the Oscars are not debating the past fifteen years. They are pointing out that in the last two years (2014 and 2015), the total number of “minority” actors and actresses nominated—not winning, but just nominated—in the Big 4 categories was zero (0).

Mr Swanberg does not even address that in his piece.

In fact, let’s look again at those categories: the last time that a “minority” won Best Actor in a Leading Role was 2006, not a good sign racial-diversity-wise.

The last time that a “minority” won Best Actress in a Leading Role was 2001, again not a good sign.

And the last time that a “minority” won Best Actor in a Supporting Role was 2004, ditto.

I dunno, but combine that with the zero nominations for a “minority” in any of the Big 4 categories two years running seems to paint a less than flattering image of the Awards and would seem to give considerable weight to the boycotters’ arguments.

But the last time that a “minority” woman won Best Actress in a Supporting Role was 2013. In fact, a black actress has won that Award four times in the past ten years, which would seem to be in Mr Swanberg’s favor.

But then again, it can be interpreted as quite the opposite—if you catch my drift.

Almost all the Oscar voters are white!

Did you know that 94% of the Academy’s 6,000+ voting members are white? If the membership of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences voters was representational of the general population and 37% of the voters were “minorities,” would we be having this conversation right now?

So, do I believe that the Academy as an institution is racist?

Nope.

Do I believe that the Academy voters as a group are racist?

Nope.

Do I think the black actors have a point about ingrained cultural bias among the almost exclusively white Academy voters begetting what can appears, if only superficially, to be racism?

Yup.

I think that the method of making the nominations and selecting the winners is antiquated and insufficient. First, given what we know about cultural bias—to which we are all susceptible—it should be addressed immediately with a ‘tenth man rule‘ committee that oversees unconsciously blindered decisions.

Second, I think that selecting one person as the “best” in any of the categories is impossible and self-defeating. There should be at least five winners in each category and we still wouldn’t cover all the brilliant acting that we see year in and year out!

But couldn’t it just be a coincidence?

Sure, I guess it could . . .


Oscar_HalleB600

FEATURED IMAGE: In 2002, Halle Berry received the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Monster’s Ball. It was the first time that a black woman had received that award; it was the last time that a black woman has received that award. Frankly, I found most of the photos of the beautiful Halle Berry accepting or posing with her Oscar to be less than desirable or dignified. This one was the best of those large enough to be used as a featured image. 10

PS: Just a thought here, but we white folk should probably oughta wanna keep outta this brouhaha for the time being—especially if we have a “suspect” background. As an example, there is Gerald Molen, who referred to the boycotters as “spoiled brats” and somehow brought Michael Moore into this, referring to him as a “socialist always looking to insert his brand of racist hatred.”

Huh?!!?

Mr Molen’s movie 2016: Obama’s America purportedly “documents” rightwingnut and apparent racist Dinesh D’Souza’s fantasies about the future. This piece of anti-Obama propaganda almost undoes Mr Molen’s marvelous achievements as producer of such faveraves of Berni’s and mine as Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Rain Man, Minority Report, and the under-appreciated Twister.

The combination of this fake documentary with his utterances could allow others to paint Mr Molen as a knee-jerk rightwingnuttybuddy type.

As my fly-fishing phone-buddy John James Peipon would say, “Just sayin’ . . .”



FOOTNOTES:

1   The word brouhaha is French and indicates a state of social agitation when a minor incident gets out of control. And here me wee brain has always thought that brouhaha was something that drunk Irish did—I probably confused it with brew, ha ha!

2   The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, New York. It’s the place where Pete Rose the player deserves to be but ain’t, as Pete Rose the manager may have forever barred his entrance. And now that Bert Blyleven is in there where he belongs, I can blather on about getting Darrell Evans and Craig Nettles in there, too!

3   Berni and I love movies and watch lots of them. If it were up to her (and this is the subjective part), Richard Curtis would be a deity, if only for Notting Hill, Love Actually, and About Time with Mr Bean being forgiven. If it were up to me Woody Allen would need a storage locker for his awards (way too many films to mention). 

4   And people with highfalutin’ taste for avant-garde and experimental films, or with a lowfalutin’ taste for ‘B‘ and exploitational movies, are free to disagree.

5   If you have not seen The Color Purple, stop reading and go do whatever it takes to put this at the top of your personal list of Movies I Must See Before I Die!

6   The statistics are from “New study puts numbers to the lack of “minority” representation in film.” It further states, “Just over three-quarters of all speaking characters are white (76.3%). These trends are relatively stable, as little deviation is observed across the five-year sample.”

7   There could be several reasons for this that are not directly systemic racism, such as percentage of black actor/actress wannabes perceiving Hollywood as systemically racist and don’t bother pursuing a career there.

8   Hell’s Belles, did Swanberg even do his research?

9   The definitions for red herring and straw man are from Wikipedia; click on over to either for more information on these logical or informal fallacies

10  In most of the photos that I found, Ms Berry’s mouth is agape!

 

Oscar_Alfre

Regular readers of Neal Umphred Dot Com know my proclivity for tagging a photo of a gorgeous woman onto the end of an essay—whether it fits the essay’s content or not. Here it’s Alfre Woodard, who has been one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood for decades. Her sole nomination by the Academy was as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for 1984’s Cross Creek. Fortunately, she has also been nominated for and won a host of other related awards.



10 Replies to “boycotting the oscars for the “right” reasons”

  1. 1. Man, I’m speechless…momentarily!

    As a movie buff mine self, but also as an iconoclastic, opinionated individualist, I agree that stayin’ outada brouhaha makes good sense!

    2. I commend you on your research and thoughtful commentary! When the f**k do you find the time to do so many essays so well? Heyna?!?

    Just Sayin’. Just Askin’.

    1. 1. White folks like us need to stay outta the brouhaha because we’re white. The Academy has already announced that it is taking steps to rectify the situation of a board that is 94% white. Quotes below from their statement followed by my modest commentary:

      “In a unanimous vote Thursday night (1/21), the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences approved a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse. The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.

      2020 is too long a wait. Immediately implement a Tenth Man Rule committee to always reconsider the body’s nominations for inclusion of “minorities” plus those genres the voters are biased against (science fiction, fantasy, etc.).

      “Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade.”

      Hah! Understandable as a grandfather-like clause but Hah! Tenth Man Rule again.

      “At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.”

      The rest of their public statement says nothing:

      https://www.oscars.org/news/academy-takes-historic-action-increase-diversity

      2. While my main time is saved for waiting foot and mouth on Berni, my spare time is spent providing reading material for people who would otherwise be reading escapist literature. (Too much coffee is also to blame.)

      PS: Speaking of blame, did you know that rightwinguhs are still justifying the treasonous outting of Valerie Plame by Robert Novak by claiming she wasn’t this or that. This completely ignores the possible (probable? intended?) damage of Novak’s action and focuses on things that none of them can ever know!

      I have just started rereading MISTAKES WERE MADE (BUT NOT BY ME) and the fact that we can never (NEVER!) change these people unless they wanna be changed is finally (FINALLY!) sinking in.

        1. Do not skip a word, regardless of how obvious or redundant it may seem. Then a year later, read it again. I am getting more this time because I have applied some of what I learned the first time and it calmed some of my need to “teach” the unwashed messes.

          This second read is pretty much ELIMINATING that need—at least regarding conversations whether puss-to-puss or Facebooking.

          You canna teach those that dinna care about learning, heyna?

          I will just write instead . . .

    2. Hey John, I love James Woods the actor—one of my faves of the past 20 years. But James Woods the “normal guy” is the perfect example of why white people should stay outta this.

      Here is his tweet that is getting a lot of attention: “The motion picture Academy announced separate bathroom facilities today: one for Members and one for Old White People.”

      http://www.ijreview.com/2016/01/523858-actor-james-woods-has-a-zinger-for-everyone-involved-in-the-oscars-controversy/?utm_source=email&utm_campaign=afternoon-newsletter&utm_medium=owned

  2. Grace and Paul sang it so well, so many years ago. “Don’t ever change people, even if you can.” Pardon if I misquoted.

    Five years is far to long! The Tenth Man Rule rules.

    1. Interesting, the Independent Journal has done a few follow-up pieces on the brouhaha, mostly time-wasting boolschidt, but they did one quoting Dustin Hoffman about the bigger issue of ingrained racism:

      “In our country, there’s a subliminal racism, and it’s been there … The end of the Civil War didn’t change that, it’s only been 200 hundred years, this is just an example of it. Other than black entertainers being nominated, there’s a bigger problem with young black individuals being killed on our streets by police. That’s a bigger problem.”

      I am surprised that that issue was even addressed by the IJ let alone in a positive context.

      http://www.ijreview.com/2016/01/520609-dustin-hoffman-makes-a-bold-accusation-about-racism-and-the-white-oscars/?utm_source=email&utm_campaign=afternoon-newsletter&utm_medium=owned

  3. Grate Grommett in Heaven knows there has been a helluvalot of commentary on the Oscar situation, much of it just that—commentary.

    Opinion. (Humbug!)

    And I can’t keep up with it all here; nor would I want to. But I liked this one as it’s a concrete, workable suggestion:

    “Spike Lee suggested that the studios adopt a version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which obliges executives to interview minority candidates for senior positions before hiring for that job.

    ‘What can studios do to be more inclusive?’ asked an Oscar-nominated writer-director who spoke under the condition of anonymity. ‘Hiring more women and people of color in the executive ranks is a start. They would bring in a different kind of talent into the system.’

    Voluntary steps are ways for studios to be proactive about inclusion. They would not be punitive, as are mandates or quotas.”

    From “To Make the Oscars More Diverse, Let’s Adopt Football’s Rooney Rule” by Carrie Rickey (Truthdig, January 29, 2016).

    http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/to_make_the_oscars_more_diverse_lets_adopt_footballs_rooney_rule_20160129

Comments, suggestions, additions, and arguments welcome!