HalleBerry DenzelWashington AcademyAward 1500 crop

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 and boy­cotting the Os­cars trending on Twitter.

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 

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

 

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

 

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.)

 

Boycotting The Oscars: photo of actor Morgan Freeman on the set of 10 ITEMS OF LESS.

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. 

Boycotting The Oscars?

Ear­lier today I re­ceived my In­de­pen­dent Journal newsletter and it fea­tured an ar­ticle taking to task those brouhaha-ers 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.

 

Boycotting The Oscars: photo of Whoopi Goldberg in THE COLOR PURPLE.

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

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 the 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 …

 

Boycotting The Oscars: photo of actor Will Smith in HANCOCK.

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 an ed­i­to­rial com­ment. 

That said, Mr. Swan­berg’s (im­plied) refu­ta­tion of the boy­cotters’ po­si­tion and my (im­plied) refu­ta­tion of his 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

 

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FEATURED IMAGE: In 2002, Halle Berry re­ceived the Academy Award for Best Ac­tress in a Leading Role for her per­for­mance in Mon­ster’s Ball. Denzel Wash­ington won Best Actor award for Training Day. 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 the 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!

 

 

 

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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’.

I had to put MISTAKES WERE MADE(BUT NOT BY ME) back on my reDing list. I don’t know how it es­caped!

That’s anutter ting! I’ve gotta start jour­naling again.
Ya puts des bees in my bonnet!

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.