Monday, February 1, 2016

On My Mind: White Oscars, Black Blogger, & Links!


I am just like you.

From time to time I find myself in situations where I feel like I should say something, even if it isn’t required of me. What’s more is you think I should say something. Case in point: you and I are in the breakroom at work together when you set your bowl of soup on the table. You turn away to retrieve your drink from the fridge. During these few seconds I see a fly do a three-and-a-half somersault off the lip of your bowl directly into whatever deliciousness you have prepared for yourself by nuking it in that over-worked fire hazard known as the company microwave. As flies tend to do when submerged by scalding hot broth and/or a variety of meats and grains, he dies within the small eternity it took you to return to the table. I just can’t let that ride. I mean, I could, and have myself a laugh. It’s not like I’m mandated by law to inform you that an insect went Greg Louganis into your food, but common decency dictates I should. What would you think of me if I didn’t? More importantly, what would I think of me?

Truthfully, if we’re talking something as trivial as a fly in your soup, I could have that laugh watching you crunch into some nature and not lose a moment’s sleep. If we were talking about something more serious like, say, the situation in Flint, Michigan, then I should absolutely say something. For those unaware, back in 2014 Flint mayor Dayne Walling approved the switch its water source from the treated Detroit Water and Sewage water to the untreated Flint River for financial reasons. A year later, Flint switched back, but the damage was already done. The harder water quickly corroded pipes which contaminated it and left it undrinkable. Predictably, people started turning up sick. Mr. Walling, no longer the mayor, and a slew of other Michigan officials have been named in class-action lawsuits and the problem is still ongoing. The water is still undrinkable, yet residents are still paying for it, if you can wrap your head around that one. Even though it’s not required of me and will likely have no impact on the future of Flint, Michigan, I should say something. That something is that Mr. Walling and a number of those officials shouldn’t just be sued, but prosecuted for criminal endangerment of their own constituency and/or customers.


Something must also be said about the armed militia who occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. They did so in protest after a pair of ranchers, Dwight Hammond and his son Steve, were convicted of arson on federal land. The group, calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and led by a man named Ammon Bundy, also demanded the federal government cede ownership of the refuge and did television interviews warning that they are more than willing to get engaged in armed conflict with law enforcement that becomes involved. Interestingly enough, the Hammonds never asked for these people’s “help” and publicly denounced them once it was given. Apparently, this was an unimportant detail to the CCF as they continued with their occupation of the refuge. Of course, it was not important to Bundy. He has said he only led this little protest because he received a divine message to do so. It ended on January 26, 2016, just a week ago, with five of the groups arrested, a few wounded (including Bundy), and one dead. The deceased is a man by the name of LaVoy Finicum. He was shot while reportedly reaching for a loaded gun in his pocket. This doesn’t sound all that dissimilar to the jihadists we constantly hear about. Therefore, my something to say comes in the form of questions. Why have I not heard the word ‘terrorist’ more often in reference to these people? Is it because they’re not Muslims? Is it because they are Americans? Or maybe it’s simply because they are white. All of these are valid questions to ask and points to raise. To say they are not is to completely ignore and/or excuse the fact that in the vernacular of the national media here in the United States the words Islamic, Muslim, and terrorist are used interchangeably except in such cases where Muslims go out of their way to prove they aren’t terrorists. It also ignores the very definition of the word terrorist. However, you did not come here to talk about these things.


You came to talk about something far less serious, yet it has nonetheless gotten us all worked up. I’m talking about the fly in our collective and proverbial soup - #OscarsSoWhite.

For those living under a rock, the social media hashtag was born of frustration caused by the fact that last year, none of the twenty Academy Award nominations for acting went to a person of color, nor was director Ava DuVernay nominated for her work on the film Selma. #OscarsSoWhite resurfaced this year when all of the acting nominations again went to Caucasian performers. The controversy transcended all of our smartphones, tablets, and laptops when actress Jada Pinkett Smith called for a boycott of the Oscars. Her husband, actor Will Smith, joined her cause. Director and lightning rod Spike Lee also announced plans to skip the ceremony for the same reason. From there, seemingly every black actor who ever appeared in anything had a microphone shoved in his/her face and asked what they thought about all this. A few whites had the same experience. In an instant, the whole world was talking about #OscarsSoWhite.

Except me.

I was sitting at the table watching as this fly landed on the rim of our bowl. A couple of times I tried shooing it away, but it kept returning. Eventually, it took that clumsily executed dive into our soup, earning low scores from the judges for the gigantic splash it made as it broke the liquid surface. Unlike others of its ilk, it didn’t die in the smoldering concoction. It began swimming laps, backstroking just so I could see its smiling face as it maneuvered around its own personal pool.

Here I am, black movie blogger, one who should be rushing to voice an opinion. If you are a fairly frequent reader of mine then you cannot be blamed for assuming my pen would dance across numerous blue lines performing the choreography of my emotional response. Yes, I’m a dinosaur who still spills ink – in cursive, no less. While this is not a blog defined by race or gender, I have made it a place where I can comfortably discuss both from time to time as I see fit. Shocking no one, I see fit.


That I was going to speak on the #OscarsSoWhite was easy to discern. What’s more complicated is where I stand on it. I don’t think boycotting the Oscars is the right call. However, I’m not willing to completely dismiss the strategy out of hand. I don’t know Jada Pinkett Smith personally. I’ve never even met her. That said, I ‘ve been familiar with her for close to thirty years, ever since she first showed up on the sitcom A Different World. She has always struck me as an intelligent woman near my own age with a sense of history, particularly African-American history. I have no doubt she was drawing on the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement in this country as spearheaded by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when she decided a boycott was needed. Despite sound reasoning, she picked the wrong target. It’s already been said many times, even by some of you reading this. The Academy Awards are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. They are the runny nose, not the actual cold. Boycotting them is the equivalent of blowing that runny nose. It may stop running for a minute or two, but you still have the cold.

The actual problem is Hollywood as a whole. If you haven’t heard by now, there is a dearth of roles in studio backed projects for the following people: anyone who cannot be reasonably presumed to be a straight white male. No matter what particular subset outside of that group your favorite actor belongs to he/she is part of a group that has been making great strides in recent years. Still, the disparity between their group and THAT group is glaring. I am in full agreement that something has, will, and should still be done about this. However, boycotting the Oscars is shortsighted and runs the risk of being ineffective for one reason: it will not negatively impact Hollywood’s bottom line. Dr. King’s first and most famous boycott, The Montgomery Bus Boycott was successful largely because that’s exactly what it did to the city of Montgomery, Alabama. Yes, the powers that be were drawn to the light partially because of King’s Ghandi-inspired tactics and philosophies. Another part of it is they were tired of losing money.


Whatever may come of protesting the Oscars has already started happening. Academy membership will become more diverse which should lead to a more diverse set of nominees on a yearly basis. Overall, this is great, but there are problems with it. We’re increasing the chance that someone will receive a nomination simply because they are a person of color. That’s not progress. That’s tokenism regardless of who is doing the nominating. We’re also putting the cart before the horse. In other words, why bother fixing the nominations process when the field on which one needs to play in order to even be considered is in such disrepair?

Common sense dictates that recognition during awards season will come after the desired level of inclusion is reached, not the other way around. Lacking common sense, we can look to sports for a fairly clear parallel. The clear line of demarcation is April 15, 1947, the date of Jackie Robinson’s very first Major League Baseball game. If you don’t know why that’s important there are more than enough books, magazines articles, websites, documentaries, and narrative feature films to help you figure it out, so I’ll not explain it here. The point is after that date, as the number of people of color playing professional sports grew exponentially so, too, did the amount of awards we were winning. Before complaining about Oscar nominations we should make sure that enough of us are afforded an honest opportunity to play the type of roles in the type of films that are typically rewarded, aside from those depicting the plight of a downtrodden people.


For a person such as myself who understands the power of protest and has a firm grasp on what it has done to positively alter the course of history, the logical plan would be to come up with something that will bring the big studios to their knees. The tricky part is figuring out what that may be. Our constant outcries are effecting a gradual change. The thing about gradual changes is any area of life is that what feels swift to the establishment is far too slow for everyone else. We’re looking for that one thing that will drastically change Hollywood in one fell swoop. That thing probably doesn’t exist. I don’t think a full-blown boycott is feasible. For starters, no one is legislatively denied movies or forced to sit in certain seats when they see them. Box offices gladly accept every cent any of us is willing to spend to show us all the same movie from the seat of our choice on a first come, first serve basis. Nor does it help our cause that we have become a society inundated with films. We unwind with them. We plan nights around them. We blog, tweet, podcast, YouTube, and Facebook about them. We wait with baited breath on news about them. And we can’t escape them. The average person in 2016 has easy access to more films than any average person in the history of the medium. Right now, I can pick any film I want from tens of thousands of movies that were released at any point from the early twentieth century to yesterday and watch it tonight. Even more detrimental to the cause is that as much as we love movies, we all assign a certain frivolity to them. We may be up in arms over the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards nominations in particular, and Hollywood in general, but it doesn’t raise our ire enough for us to make a concerted effort to stop the Hollywood machine. Does it need to be slowed and, if possible, brought to a screeching halt? Maybe, if that’s what it will take to truly level the industry’s playing field for everyone. Can it be done? Probably not. Regardless of the lack of a singular game-changer, the progress made in just the last decade gives me hope.

#OscarsSoWhite also gives me hope. It’s not because I agree with everything people have said pertaining to it, but because it has us talking. Even though I think we’ve started out on the wrong end of the problem I believe we can get to where we need to be because at least the conversation has started in a substantial way. On a more personal level, you and I both feel better about me. I’d like to think it’s because I’ve given you some undeniably great solution, but I haven’t. What I have done may prove to be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it’s nothing less than what we both expected of me. I saw the fly in our soup and I said something about it.




As stated earlier, a number of you have also said something about it. Please click at least a few of the links below to get some more insight on the matter.


28 comments:

  1. For me, this Oscarsowhite bullshit is nothing more than Jada being all pissed off because her man didn't get nominated for a mediocre film. All I hear about that film is Will saying "Tell the tooth".

    As for what is happening in Flint, that is really fucked up. The look at the water from Flint.... who would drink that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Possibly.

      I wouldn't drink it, that's for sure.

      Delete
  2. I love your 2 cents!!! actually..those twitwads in Oregon do have a name.. they are plain & simple - domestic terrorists and should be dealt with as such.. Will they? nah..cuz there good ol boys.. same with the biker gangs that just went to full on war with each other in Denver.. I'm still waiting for the 1st man who isn't white to use the 'open carry' law for themselves.. some times everything just scares me in that perspective.. but oddly enough the Oscars don't scare me...as much.. :) For the simple reason of this.. People can scream & shout & blame the Academy all they want.. by the time it gets to that point it's really too late. As someone who read the breakdowns & scripts for years while representing the actors, so many miss the fact that they need to start at the beginning..with great stories & great roles for all diversified characters. and the thing is..Will, Jada and Spike all know this..also...to boycott is kinda slamming your peers for their work.. like saying they shouldnt have been nominated..which I just don't think is cool either.. So that's my 2 cents.. might not be as poignant as yours though..but I try. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Somehow the Denver biker thing has slipped by me. I will be reading up on that today.

      Yes, starting at the beginning with the stories themselves would be a much better strategy. Great point about the boycott slighting the work of their peers. If nothing else, this certainly overshadows it.

      Delete
  3. Here in Australia there's been almost zero coverage of the Oregon terrorists.

    There's also been little word on Flintwatergate.

    But the Oscars whiteness has bothered me for a while. You already know my thoughts, so I won't reiterate them here, but as a white dude from Australia I have had very little - none, really - actual experience with racism in my life. Not having had any doesn't invalidate my opinion, though, even if my opinion is inherently biased in some form or another. I agree with Peggy above - Will and Jada and the foot stomping birgade are really just pissing into the wind in Hollywood, because all these films have been years in the works, often longer in some cases. As I said in my own OpEd piece, racial inequality is endemic in American society on a scale much broader than the Oscars can possibly quell; the number of black actors over the last 20 years has, as a percentage at least, equalled the ratio of the black:white population in America anyway.

    My hope is, like you, that regardless of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and the momentum it'll gain right up until the night itself, a broader conversation about inclusivity and diversity within the American community - and around the globe, let's be honest - takes place and really does kick off a societal change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't imagine there would be much coverage of those things in Australia. Then again, I have no idea how much American news stories are covered that don't at least have something to do with the world outside our borders.

      If this does put us on the right track then it will have all been worthwhile. I hope that's what it proves to be.

      Delete
  4. Great, heartfelt post Dell. And I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments

    As for that thing about the water, that is insane! Ugh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks.

      Yeah, Flint is a mess, right now.

      Delete
  5. That opening paragraph may be the greatest thing I've read in a LONG time.

    I've been SOOOOOO wary of stepping into the #OscarsSoWhite quagmire, not just because it's nearly impossible to come out of it looking good, but because as a white man who happens to be gay, the things I have to say are even more likely to sound petulant and awkward and hateful than some of the things coming out of the mouths of Academy members in the Hollywood Reporter recently (UGH have you read any of those letters? Some have been downright SCARY). But suffice it to say, I believe you are correct in saying that the Oscars are merely a symptom of the larger problem of Hollywood. #HollywoodSoWhite, but ALSO, #HollywoodSoMale AND #HollywoodSoStraight.

    But I'm not going to lie: There is a tiny little voice in the back of my head that keeps speaking up, saying, "...but the past two years have been really competitive at the Oscars, and there are lots of eminently reasonable explanations for the lack of Black-led films not making it in that have absolutely nothing to do with race." But the more I think about it, the more those explanations are very possibly built on a foundation (however subliminal) of racism. In many ways, it's a vicious circle, and it's going to need something explosive to break it: Something black-led is going to have to be a MASSIVE critical AND commercial hit of a size too big for AMPAS to ignore. But EVEN THEN, Hollywood so often learns the wrong lesson from these "one-offs", so Lord only knows what it will actually take to make any change. I actually have very little faith that anything will change anytime soon in Hollywood. The only thing we can do is vote with our wallets: Go see black/female/gay-led films. The almighty dollar is really the only thing Hollywood listens to, so we have to make it speak as loud as it can.

    /soapbox

    Anyway, great article. And now, back to my place on the sidelines, where I've quite enjoyed getting to watch this insane dialogue play out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for such a great compliment. I really appreciate that.

      I have not seen the letters in THR. I will check those out tonight.

      I can make cases for and against a number of minority led films so I understand your point.

      And voting with our wallet might be all we can do, but good luck getting enough of us to do it.

      Delete
  6. This is a very well put-together and insightful post. Great job! I was toying around with a post about this but I never feel like I know enough or am politically correct enough to post about race or politics in film. Plus know you've said everything I planned to say so there isn't much need. I think the most important question about this whole movement is: are we angry because there are no black actors or are we angry because there are no deserving black actors. I hope it's the latter because - speaking from experience - being included in something because of your race is as offensive as being excluded from it. I think we need to work towards a point where the Oscars do what they're supposed to and that's recognise wonderful filmmaking. Diversifying the Academy is a great way to do this but, as you said, that's just treating the symptom. I think we need a myriad of roles to become available for not only black actors but also directors, writers, producers. The whole industry needs to diversify.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why are we angry? That's a great question to ask. I think it's because "we" feel there were deserving black actors who were not nominated. I think that's a valid reason, but needs a more cohesive and focused effort on a target other than Oscar.

      Delete
  7. I didn't hear about that incident in Oregon, but I see what you mean. A lot of people seem to forget that terrorism had been around for centuries before 9/11, and that it wasn't invented by Osama Bin Laden. He might be the best known today, but it's far from a Middle Eastern practice. I guess a lot of Americans aren't taught about the October Crisis in 1970, where a radical group seeking to "liberate" Quebec began placing bombs and kidnapping high-level politicians. It got so bad Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had to resort to invoking the war measures act, which authorized martial law in Quebec. Most people who lived through it will tell you it was a frightening time, and I don't know of any who would object to calling those non-Middle Eastern individuals terrorists. For that matter, even looking at it from the right angle you could make an argument that George Washington was a terrorist, and that it was terrorist methods that allowed America to be freed from England in the first place. It's ridiculous that people who use terrorist methods are only considered terrorists if they're from the Middle East.

    As for the Oscars, I haven't been keeping up with them as much this year. A lot of it has to do with me just being jaded by previous years, and my growing distrust of the Academy's judgement (though until now my main focus has been more on their obvious genre bias), but I have heard about this #OscarsSoWhite movement. Of course this is nothing new. So far as I'm aware the Academy has always been predominantly white, and that is something that should be addressed. I remember about two years ago now, Fisti hosted a "recastathon" where he addressed this issue, and pointed out the curious detail that nearly all the few black actors that have won, such as Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind) and Lupita Nyong'o (Twelve Years a Slave) did so for movies that dealt with racism. In other words, black actors only seem to be nominated for playing roles that could only be played by a black actor.

    Now, as you pointed out, the Academy is just one of many sides of it. Part of what we should be doing as well is working on diversifying Hollywood in general, which means that the heterosexual white male should not dominate. There should be more films which feature strong non-caucasions, just as there should be for women and homosexuals. On top of that, we'd need to get rid of bias in casting; in other words, if a person's race isn't integral to the plot, it probably shouldn't be a factor in casting. Making films about racism is all well and good but maybe there should also be more films where that isn't significant. Deja Vu quickly comes to mind as a great example: the main character could easily have been played by a white actor without changing anything in the script; yet Tony Scott decided to cast Denzel Washington, and he fit the role quite nicely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I personally had no idea about The October Incident. I will be doing a little reading on that. It sounds crazy. Yes to your point about terrorism being around forever. As far as America goes, it's Revolution can certainly be framed in that light. As the old saying goes, one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.

      The Academy has a lot of biases going, genre bias included. I fondly remember that recastathon. And I have to do a little bit of double-checking, but among black winners, I think only Denzel Washington's win for Training Day qualifies as a role that didn't have to be played by a black person.

      I am in complete agreement with that last paragraph, too.

      Delete
  8. To me, Lee and the Smiths are not so much misguided as they are hypocritical. Yes, it's been two years with no non-white nominees in the acting categories. However, it's been THIRTEEN years since any performer of Asian ethnicity has been nominated in those four categories. There have been 24 African-ethnicity acting nominees in the same time period. Where were the Lee/Smith boycotts for those snubbed Asian performers the last 10 years?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Extremely valid point. I will only say that people in general don't tend to get up in arms until it directly affects them. Therefore, I don't know if they're truly hypocritical or just normal human beings. Now, if they fail to recognize the need for diversity among all races going forward while still campaigning strictly for black actors then I would label them with the H word.

      Delete
    2. I agree on how humans react to things impacting them. And to that point I have only ever seen the nominations referred to as "non-white", "lacking diversity", or "no minorities". I've never seen any of them referring to them as "no African-American nominees".

      And for what it's worth, when I first started seeing the talk about all of this I could quickly think of recent black and Hispanic nominees, but I honestly couldn't think of a single Asian nominee since Haing S. Nor won back in the early 1980s for The Killing Fields. I ended up having to look it up. (For the record, Ken Watanabe was nominated in 2003 for Best Supporting Actor for The Last Samurai.)

      Delete
    3. That's a long time. I think the point stull stands that we must first address the issue from the studio side of things. It's a shame how few Asians get to lead Hollywood movies. The bigger shame is that they are more restricted by stereotypes than arguably any other group of people while also being used interchangeably across the various races.

      Delete
  9. Nice post Dell! You know how I feel about the Hollywood issue! Thank you for the link! I'm glad you created a post on this issue.

    Yes, the Flint debacle is so terrible. I really do hope that someone goes to jail over that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Your post is so wonderful, which I've already told you, but that's why I made sure yours was the first link.

      Flint...sigh.

      Delete
  10. As you and I previously, briefly, discussed in the comments of my review of Creed, we are pretty much exactly eye-to-eye on this issue. I pretty much said this same thing: "The Academy Awards are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself." And I too agree that, while an Oscar boycott is not the right thing, I do like the conversation it has started. Good stuff, man!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I appreciate the fact that you always discuss issues in an articulate, thoughtful way. I'm a troglodyte who still owns a typewriter, and I have never warmed up to the modern habit of "discussing" complicated issues through buzzwords and hashtags. *LOL*

    I am in complete agreement with your discussion of Oscars So White. This boycott is essentially missing the point, but it's gotten people talking about the bigger issue. So I support that. I truly hope this discussion will be more than just a trending headline, here one minute and gone the next. Time will tell.

    I hate to think that the reason the Oregon occupiers weren't dubbed "terrorists" is because they're white non-Muslims. But, yes, that is exactly the reason. I've forgotten who who famously tweeted that if Muslims had occupied a chicken coop it would have been a much bigger deal. But, sadly, it's the truth. And would law enforcement and the media have reacted differently if they happened to be black guys? We'll never know. The fact that I'm even asking the question makes it clear how far we have to go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It's been years since I've even seen a typewriter. Pretty sure my kids have never seen one that wasn't in a museum. If I showed them one they'd laugh. If I told them they had to do their next paper on it, they'd have a heart attack.

      Getting people talking is probably the greatest value #OscarsSoWhite has. In that way, it might be the catalyst for a better Hollywood. Let's cross our fingers on that.

      You hit the nail on the head. The fact we even have to ask says so much.

      Delete
  12. A-MEN!

    I'm glad you said something, Dell. I know we've talked about it, and I found your comment on my piece very insightful, but it's nice to see you lay it all out there.

    ReplyDelete
  13. A very articulate post. I can see the benefits of highlighting the issue, but like others have said above I do think the any black actors nominated next year may well be seen as tokenism which would be a real shame.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is certainly that risk, but I think it depends on the performance(s) nominated. If it's along the lines of what Idris Elba did in Beasts of No Nation I don't think anyone would have a problem with it.

      Delete