…But the last resort, a product of the entertainment environment.
Let me explain:
There were practically no “Oscar worthy” films of the last year. Be honest. Now, we all know that when one refers to a work of cinema as “Oscar worthy” there’s a certain [usually negative] connotation that comes along with said description: stuffy, unpopular/nobody’s seen it, British actors telling American epic odysseys, boring, bio-pics, boring bio-pics, slave narratives/ “great white hero” storylines- see The Blind Side. How often have you thought to yourself, were these best picture nominees even released nation-wide? I don’t remember it in my movie theater… In an age where action, super hero movies are increasingly grossing higher earnings on a more consistent basis of any genre of film, The Academy Awards have not reflected the likes of main-stream American audiences in quite some time. Sorry, Vin Diesel– the Fast and Furious Franchise will never be nominated, let alone win Best Picture.
I say that to say this, if the general American audience aren’t reflected in this award show, then why – I repeat –
WHY would Black people, actually any artist of color expect to be reflected in this nomination process, let alone reflected respectively?
So, since #oscarssowhite ‘s most outspoken combatants were Blacks in Hollywood, let’s break down the most talked about Black films some in the public believe should’ve seen an Academy Award nomination or win, shall we?
Straight Outta Compton
As excellent as this film turned out to be, and as much cross-over praise the actors and director received for their work, I for one was hard pressed in imagining a world where Straight Outta Compton and Bridge of Spies or Room would compete against one another; I couldn’t imagine the pale, male panel thinking of that film as the same caliber as the other mentioned film. This is hypothetically speaking and I’m not condoning this is hypothetically right or wrong of a comparison of nominees, but based on past winners, the direct reflection of the panel’s likes and respect, a story about NWA, niggas with attitude if you needed a reminder, just doesn’t fit.
Sigh… Will Smith I used to like you; I can’t remember where you went wrong with me but you did and that’s done. Personal bias aside, Concussion just wasn’t that great. It was lack luster all-around telling a story (though true) nobody wanted to hear with a TURRIBLE African accent NOBODY wanted to hear. One could tell by the promo tours and press junkets he embarked on trying to hype the film, although once a box office king turned actor plagued by a string of flops, Mr. Smith really thought this was his chance to shine again. Unfortunately, I site this as Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s main concerns over #OscarssoWhite. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the couple was nowhere near as vocal about diversity issues last season when the hashtag originally began trending sparking the conversation we’ve yet to resolve. That’s right- Mr. Smith thought he deserved a nomination. He is butt hurt and that’s all. Let’s not forget, he and wifey do own a production company, Aunt Viv’ didn’t lie…
Speaking of butt hurt… Do I respect Spike Lee? Yes. Do I always like and or agree with his work, rarely: no better example than ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata turned Chicago gang culture at the exploitation of women and their willingness such as Chi-Raq. I wanted this film to work, I really did. I was rooting for it. But it fell short. Tackling the modernization of any Greek theatre is a long shot; turning said Greek theatre about women withholding sex to stop war and adapting it to modern day Chicago, IL gang wars was risky, risque, and nothing short of fearless. However, casting Nick Cannon as the lead of this modern take was the very first wrong; I just couldn’t take him seriously among a series of other faulty plot lines, and controversial feminist versus sexualization /fetish of Black women debates and dissertations I read following this awful viewing. Lee, like Smith, thought his work was more profound and innovative than the execution actually was and wanted an Academy Award nomination, thus his involvement in the Oscars boycott. Period.
Beast of No Nation
The only actually “Oscar Worthy” performance and film contender by classic expectations of what the phrase “Oscar worthy” deems [see above for generalized description]. Idris Elba is one of my favorite actors and I’ve never seen any work of his that was anything short of stellar. However, I do believe in another very true Academy award fashion, Idris Elba will be one of those actors who receive an Academy Award in “due time” – maybe not for his best work but when he’s sat through enough nights of nominated but not winning and The Academy really no longer has a choice bu to finally acknowledge his brilliance; Leo DiCaprio, your time has come and I’m so happy for you.
So where do we go from here?
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard dozens of actors and directors of the Black, White, Yellow, Purple variation and everything in-between weigh in on #OscarssoWhite. I for one am not looking towards figure-head Cheryl Boone’s leadership, The Academy’s first and only Black female president. Queens Helen Mirren and Viola Davis have given my favorite responses on the matters of diversity:
“The issue we need to be looking at is what happens to the film before it gets to the Oscars,” she said. “What kind of films are made. And the way in which they are cast. And the scripts. And go all the way back to the writing of the scripts. It’s those things that are much more influential ultimately than who stands with an Oscar.” – Helen Mirren
“The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system…” She then asked, “The films that are being made – are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role?” – Viola Davis
Viola is right- diversity should not be and “is not a trending topic.” Instead, I challenge people of color, myself included to create their own art, their own films, write our stories, what we think is happy, sad, scary, thrilling, absurd, mundane, romantic and more. History has shown us and continues to show us that we cannot wait for others to do anything for us, so why not control how we’re portrayed and start writing, producing, directing, filming, starring in what WE want to see ourselves reflected as. Then and only then will we see a change in the industry. Casting agents at auditions aren’t going to take “risks” on us.
This year at Sundance Film Festival Nate Parker’s directorial and acting debut, a film he wrote and produced himself, The Birth of a Nation sold for the highest bid in festival history, $17.5 Million- sre to get Oscar buzz this time next year. I commend him immensely for taking control of a narrative important to him, and yet still, I long for the day when there is not a comparison of characters between White and non-White actors who win Academy Awards and other accolades: The Black winners have played drug dealers, addicted mothers, slaves and maids in comparison to their peers who’ve won as astronauts and scientists, doctors and lawyers, solid bread-winning mothers and variety of complex, interesting, REAL characters with varied lives. I look forward to Parker’s next work to see the subject matter and what he can or chooses to do with it…
#Oscarssowhite is NOT just about Black people: Latin, Asian and women actors, directors, producers, designers and more are wildly underrepresented as entities, not to mention the intersectionality of these groups of people. It’s up to us minorities only to change this. Our blame and anger is misplaced- it doesn’t start with The Academy, it should end with us.