Are these the whitest Oscar nominations ever? Or just the most recent Academy Award whiteout? For the second year in a row, the nominations failed to recognize any minority actors. Movies about black lives like “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” did receive recognition, but their nominations were for either white writers (“Compton”) or a white performer (Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”). The black directors of each movie along with their nonwhite actors were shut out.
This year’s nominations led Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith to announce on Martin Luther King’s Birthday that they would not be attending the ceremony. On Monday, the Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, promised a review of recruitment efforts, saying, “This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes.”
Like many, The New York Times’ chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, and the critic at large Wesley Morris were not surprised by the nominations. Here are excerpts from their conversation:
A. O. SCOTTLast year, Vin Diesel boldly predicted that “Furious 7” would win the Academy Award for best picture, “unless Oscars don’t want to be relevant, ever.” It may be that the irrelevance of the Oscars is, as the saying goes, more of a feature than a bug. The Academy looks after what the literary scholar James English calls “the economy of prestige” while franchises like the “Furious” movies look after the economy of actual money. Given the global, multicultural nature of the modern movie audience, this means that more commercial movies are very often more diverse.
The shocking — or maybe not so shocking — whiteness of this year’s field of nominees exposes not only the myopia of the nominating body but also the deep structural biases of the industry that feeds it. The Oscars have, since the century began, done a reasonably good job of recognizing black talent, belatedly making up for decades of neglect. “12 Years a Slave” won best picture. Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker and Mo’Nique all collected statuettes for acting, as Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”) and John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) did for screenwriting. But somehow (and I hope we can shed some light on exactly how), these victories, in the larger context of Hollywood racial politics, can smack of tokenism rather than real change. Spike Lee’s lifetime achievement award feels like belated and inadequate compensation for a career’s worth of slights. At the movies, we may be in the age of “Chi-Raq” and “Straight Outta Compton,” but the Academy is still setting the table for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
MANOHLA DARGIS I love that so many people are enraged at this year’s whiteout — anyone who yells at the Academy is a friend of mine — but I wish that this anger was being expressed 365 days a year and not when the nominations are announced. As Tony suggested, it’s worth repeating again and again (and again!): The primary reason the Oscars are so white this year and most years is that the movie industry is overwhelmingly white. That’s infuriating, but that’s not shocking, and it sure isn’t news. And if that bothers people, then they need to start complaining loudly and perhaps even begin voting with their dollars. By, say, supporting movies with minorities and women. Because the only way the industry will change is if people give them hell.
WESLEY MORRISThis is all true. That’s what was so hypnotizing about The Los Angeles Times’ putting photos of the 25 acting and directing nominees on its amazing and necessarily harsh Friday cover: the incongruity. Under the indicting circumstances, some of the photos actually look like mug shots (especially Alejandro G. Iñárritu — and he’s “innocent”!) I stared in fascination for a long time, and then I laughed. You know how you can repeat a word until it starts to warp into nonsense? That’s what happened to me looking at the assembly of all of those photos: What am I even staring at anymore? #OscarSoDumb.
I mean, half of me really doesn’t care. There’s obviously a serious problem with regard to race, sexuality and gender in Hollywood. But it doesn’t begin or end with the 6,000 or so members of the Academy. The Oscars aren’t full-time jobs. To hear some voters talking about this time of year, it sounds like tax season or exam time. One problem is what the wider industry isn’t making. We’re mad at the Academy, but after Idris Elbaplaying that African warlord in “Beasts of No Nation,” Samuel L. Jackson in “The Hateful Eight,” “Creed,” and assorted aspects of “Straight Outta Compton,” which, for what it’s worth, I liked for about the first 40 minutes, what black people or “black films” did the Academy really miss?
In the case of both “Creed” and “Compton,” I just don’t think the campaigns were there for these movies. Just as I don’t think they were there for “Selma” the previous year. And as nauseating as that sort of thing can be, that’s how these things work: positioning, narratives, spinning, hype, overexposure, wanton whoring. So some of this is a matter of there not being enough movies in the pool. Some of it is the studios’ misunderstanding the worth of the movies they have. It strains credibility that “Creed” wouldn’t be a film the Academy would go for. But I also don’t think any voter wants to be told that he or she has to vote for a predominantly black film or: racism!
Manohla, wouldn’t you say that’s what happened in the last year and the year before? The audiences paid to see women, films with mostly black actors and racially diverse casts, and paid often: “The Force Awakens,” “Inside Out,” “Furious 7,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Spy,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Trainwreck,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Cinderella,” “Creed,” “Get Hard,” “Sisters,” that second “Divergent” movie and the last “Hunger Games.” There’s demonstrable proof that North America wants to see itself — more of itself — in its entertainment. And the Academy — which is working to add more women, young people and color to its ranks — should want to see more of its ideal self at the Oscars.
DARGIS You’re right, Wesley, moviegoers are voting with their dollars, as it were. But the movies that you listed, from “The Force Awakens” to “Fury Road,” are the kind of big-studio releases that have been historically dismissed as popcorn fare. These days critics, perhaps especially those weaned on postmodern theory, are less beholden to certain ideas about the divide between high art and mass art, but clearly a lot of folks in the Academy haven’t gotten that message. And the major studios — which I honestly don’t think care about the Oscars any more than we do — tend to mimic this divide, as we know. They roll out the blockbusters in the summer and their prestige items in the fall. Little gold statues and glowing reviews are nice, sure, but box-office domination is the name of the industry game.
Also, I think it’s important to say that more and more people are calling the industry out, as when people went after the makers of the forthcoming “Gods of Egypt” for casting a bunch of white surfer-dude types as ancient Egyptians. But this kind of protest tends to be drowned out by the culture of consensus that has turned too many mainstream media types into industry lap dogs. Wesley, you mentioned spinning and whoring, so let’s go there: Some of the other people who need to criticize the industry, seriously and rigorously, are those in the entertainment media. A lot of what now passes as entertainment news is generated by those who have surrendered any pretense of disinterestedness and autonomy for access; it is apparently tough to criticize the hand that’s feeding you 15 minutes with Leo.
SCOTTYes yes yes. It’s always possible to pass the buck upward and outward. The Academy’s blunder reflects the structural biases of the movie industry, which in turn reflects deeply embedded racism in the society at large. And no institution is immune. For the news media to call out Hollywood’s lack of diversity is a bit like the pot calling the kettle ... um, yeah, never mind. But you know what I mean, right? Sorry if I offended anyone!
But I don’t want to let the Academy and its members off the hook. Or rather, I want to broaden the indictment beyond the specific complaints that they ignored Mr. Elba, “Creed,” “Straight Outta Compton” and Will Smith’s excellent Nigerian accent in “Concussion.” It’s not as if the 6,000 Academy members exercised the singular intention to ignore those contenders. The nominations are a numbers game, and in each case you can offer a nonracial explanation for the oversight. Other movies and actors just had a few more votes. “Beasts of No Nation” came from Netflix, which is a scary interloper in the hidebound, turf-protective world of the studios. The violence may have put off some voters. “Creed” did not get much of a campaign from Warner Bros., which may have figured that the seventh movie in a 40-year-old franchise with a mixed track record wasn’t exactly Oscar bait. “Concussion” is terrible. “Straight Outta Compton” …
I think it’s when you get to that one that race sneaks back into the picture. The Academy, in its function as the culture industry’s upholder of the ideology of Quality, has for a long time been open to African-American talent and even eager to promote and reward it. But at the same time, it has been consistently blind, indifferent and hostile to African-American culture, or at least to certain popular manifestations of blackness at the moment of their greatest impact elsewhere. A Ray Charles biopic in 2005 is unlikely to cause any Academy member the slightest discomfort. An N.W.A biopic in 2015 is another story. “Million Dollar Baby” and “Rocky” are both excellent boxing pictures and worthy best picture winners that breathed fresh life into perhaps the most cliché-ridden genre in all of cinema.
“Creed” belongs in their company, but I think some of its particular virtues flew under the Academy’s radar, much as the glories of “Beyond the Lights” (2014) did. In addition to being a fight movie, “Creed” is a quiet, sweet love story about two people who happen to be young, gifted and black. It’s also suffused with hip-hop and Philadelphia street culture, but in a way that feels entirely organic. It’s not a film that is pointedly “about” race or class or any particular social problem. It’s not sending a message or teaching a lesson. It’s about the lives, feelings and aspirations of its characters.
Which, if those characters are not white, is apparently not enough. American cinema — more than television or pop music or literature — still prefers to treat black people as symbols, problems and members of a “niche” audience.
MORRISFinger snaps, finger snaps, finger snaps.
So this brings us to the racism-of-math vs. math-of-taste portion of our conversation. For something like “Straight Outta Compton” to have been close to a best picture spot, enough voters would have had to think that a movie about the outfit that did “[expletive] tha Police” was the best one they saw last year. No matter how many Jennifer Hudsons and Jennifer Lawrences join the Academy, the numbers aren’t in the favor of a movie like that, not the way the voting works now, not with the field that can now include as many as 10 movies. It might have ranked somewhere on 1,000 ballots, just obviously not at the very top of the 300 or so necessary to make it rain eight balls for Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the gang.
The year 2010 was the first that the field went back to including more than five best-picture nominees, and that was a reaction to the omission of “The Dark Knight” from the best-picture list in 2009. That was perceived at the time to be a cataclysm. And what happened in 2010 was a pretty astounding range of movies (of varying excellence, but still!): “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up,” “Up in the Air,” all up for best picture.
Now I can’t prove this, but I think that might be the most honest reflection of the Academy’s taste and priorities that also includes a vision of a possible industry future: movies about women; movies directed by women (about women, about men!); movies about racism; movies about genocide (in 3-D!); one cartoon about an elderly widower in a hot-air balloon; another (in live action) about exterminating the Third Reich; a sci-fi allegory about apartheid; a movie about black people that wasn’t actually about racism; the Coens! There were demands but not for all of that. Important stuff and garbage.
What a bounty. And to think it came about because the world was mad that the Oscars dissed a comic-book movie. The question is: Could the range happen again now that the system seems thoroughly rigged for campaigns, and this time be even more diverse?
DARGIS Oh, I never thought “Straight Outta Compton” had a real shot for a best picture nod, even with the Academy’s recent — and laudable — attempts to diversify its membership. There’s just too much cussing, for starters, and the average age of the 94 percent white membership is 62 (as of 2012). And I’m guessing that when these dudes (77 percent) were teenagers, they were listening to the Beach Boys (nothing wrong with that!), whereas a new Academy member like Ava DuVernay knew exactly who Dr. Dre and N.W.A were when she was growing up around Compton. My point being that the lived, embodied experiences of the membership greatly matter and that sometimes even the most well-intentioned white people just don’t see the racism and sexism in front of them.
So, I’m not sure that the bounty of 2010 is an honest reflection, as you put it Wesley, of the Academy’s taste and priorities. A lot of variables go into every nomination round, including box-office and auteur branding, which may largely explain why James Cameron’s “Avatar” made the cut, though pleasure shouldn’t be discounted. My guess is that the inclusion of titles like “District 9,” a genre movie about race, was primarily a function of the membership scrambling to answer the criticism over “The Dark Knight.” Now, though, it’s back to a certain old-fashioned idea of Quality, hence all those pale, pretty faces — Eddie Redmayne, seriously? — and a great animated movie like “Inside Out” downgraded to the best animated feature rather than being allowed to vie as best picture.
As to your question, Wesley, could the range of 2010 be replicated — could it be improved on? Yes and yes again. But much depends on who gets a meeting and who doesn’t; what gets the greenlight and what doesn’t; what’s in the pipeline, and what is still struggling to be made for no reason other than the fact that the person struggling is black or Latino or Asian or a woman of any color and the person who could have said yes instead said no. A lot of this is about who’s cutting the checks, running the companies, calling the shots. Mostly, as we know, those people are white men, and while I have no complaint against them as a class of people (some of my best friends are white guys), none of this will change until they actively help bring about the necessary change or until the country’s demographics force them out. Because while we’ll probably be writing this same story next year, change is coming.
SCOTT I think we have come just about full circle, to Mr. Diesel’s irrefutable observation about the Oscars’ lack of relevance. Every once in a while — whether out of honesty, coincidence or a bizarre outbreak of good taste — those pasty old members make a choice that reflects both the state of the art and the reality of the culture. Mostly, though, they manage to stage an elaborate pseudo-event and to bamboozle millions of people into paying attention. The next morning, we all complain about how boring it was. The morning after that we forget it all until the next year, when the show finds new ways to disappoint us. In a way, the scandal of this year’s nominees confirms what too few of us in our profession are willing to admit: that the Oscars don’t matter except insofar as they provide answers to future trivia questions. They are a distraction from the real pleasures and challenges of moviegoing and -making.
This year, at least, the contradictions will be heightened. Spike Lee will get his lifetime achievement award. Chris Rock will be the host. Many of the presenters will be minorities. Integrally close to none of the winners will be. There will be awkward remarks and uncomfortable smiles. The intensity of the discomfort might be a hopeful sign.
MORRIS I love me some intense discomfort and hate the solemn hijacking of a sacredly frivolous ritual. I’m with Manohla that change is coming. We can already quantify that, even when all the data says that change is slooooooow. Whether 2010 was an oasis, a mirage or a blip that’s explicable from any number of industry angles, it felt like a vision. Also: it was a fun class of movies that sold a fun, complex story about the people who make our movies. And one thing to ask about those people, particularly the old, white men of the Academy is what kind of nonwhite people they nominate: how many presidents, doctors and citizens versus butlers, maids, and slaves? Not many, sad to say. I’m hopeful but sober. And what keeps me a little of both are conversations like the one Matt Damon had with the producer Effie Brown on “Project Greenlight,” in which a white man explained so-called diversity to a black woman. The exchange has been much dissected, and I don’t think there are any more swords for him to fall on. The entire episode is fascinating, both for what was said among the show’s participants and for the window into how our movies do and don’t get made. Setting aside the dreary result, the scandal seemed to plant a seed for progress. Mr. Damon and Ms. Brown have sincerely explained and defended their respective positions. Nonetheless, Ms. Brown is not a nominee this year (and never has been), and Mr. Damon is — for playing a white man stuck on Mars.
Postado por http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/movies/oscars-so-white-or-oscars-so-dumb-discuss.html?_r=0