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

 

HalleBerry DenzelWashington AcademyAward 1000

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.

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