Oscars 2015. A white-out? It’s complicated.

Butterfly McQueen, 1st black Oscar winner, at age 79.

Butterfly McQueen, 1st black Oscar winner, at age 79.

I enjoy a good movie. I am not a  fanatic. I don’t go to Oscar parties, and my concern with fashion on the red carpet is on par with my interest in the train wrecks that are the Kardashians, the Duggars, and Kate plus her moppets.

I grew up, in an integrated neighborhood, in the era of MLK. As a kid, my friends came in all colors. Today, I’m no different. As a result, I was flummoxed that Selma was ignored in so many categories. The Selma March was a seminal moment in US history, and the notion that the actors in this film were not-Oscar worthy made me think.

Is this racism? Do I search for “white privilege moments?” Is this season just an anomaly?

In the years since the Civil Rights movement, blacks have, slowly but steadily, made in-roads into the mainstream of Hollywood. In the last few years, the Academy has been color-blind as black-themed, black-acted films have been rewarded. Yet, Hollywood truly is built on the insider-est of insider traditions. We tend to hang out with, and do business with, people like ourselves. As Chris Rock said, “Those Hollywood white folks, they just keep hiring more white folks.”(Click here for Rock’s take on Hollywood-long but worth the read.)

The Academy is 94% white. The median age is 63. Men dominate-77% (L.A.Times) That’s a lot of old white guys making the decisions about who gets to stroll the red carpet and answer the breathless question “Who are you wearing tonight?”

Perhaps this year is an anomaly:
Maybe this was just such a strong year for films that there just wasn’t room to recognize the contributions of black people to the industry this year. Not to slight the Best Actor nominees this year, but was David Oyelowo’s performance as Rev. Martin Luther King in “Selma” — the one element of the movie no one seemed to find fault with — not worthy to be included among them? And aside from “Selma,” was Chadwick Boseman’s performance as James Brown in “Get On Up” a lesser achievement than those of the white actors nominated for biopic roles this year? Did Gugu Mbatha-Raw not deserve consideration for her starring roles in “Belle” or “Beyond the Lights”? Was Chris Rock’s screenplay for “Top Five” not worthy of inclusion? Did cinematographer Bradford Young, who shot both “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year,” not deserve a nod? Did not one black person do Oscar-worthy work this year? (Movie-fone, The Black Shut-out)

Is there some sort of blatant racism? I strongly doubt it. Is it the sort of institutional racism that until recently, dominated American business and higher education? Quite possibly.

And there, for me, is the problem. I don’t like the idea of mandatory diversity. I like the  idea that we, as good people, bring an issue to light, and we ask good sense and decency to solve the problem. I am also enough of a realist to understand that good sense is frequently in short supply. After all, the president of AMPA&S is a black woman. We see where that has gotten them this year.

Academy president Boone Isaacs spoke to that issue. “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

The idea that black-themed films are not significant economic players is specious as well. Selma has received great reviews, by the press and fan-driven sites, and has done solid box office. Twelve Years a Slave did well at the box office. The Help was a blockbuster. It’s not, strangely enough, always about the money.

It is about validation. Spike Lee’s 1989 Do the Right Thing was one of the great films to come out in the 1980s. I still quote it to students, friends, and the athletes I coach. Spike told the Daily Beast:

“nobody is talking about motherf—in’ ‘Driving Miss Daisy.’ (Driving won Best Picture in 1989) That film is not being taught in film schools all around the world like ‘Do the Right Thing’ is. You can’t go to awards like the Oscars or the Grammys for validation. The validation is if your work still stands 25 years later.”

The Academy Awards.  2015. Enjoy the show, everyone. But give it a think amidst the pomp and glitz.

What do you think; is it racism, just one of those years, or a combination?

The BIG PICTURE #DadsRT question: How do you talk to your children about racism?

Visit the Dads Roundtable Facebook page to share your thoughts. Thanks.

For further reading:

2014 Hollywood Diversity Report- The Ralph Bunche Center at UCLA

Unmasking the Academy – L.A.Times

Black Oscar nominees and winners

Slider image via Daily Surge



The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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