Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Hollywood Babble On & On #1260: Why The Oscars Are So White...

With the Oscar nominations out comes the traditional complaining about how weirdly unfair the nominations seem to be.

For the second year in a row all of the acting nominees are white, marking the return of the #OscarSoWhite and #OscarsSoWhite hashtags on twitter as well as threats of boycotts from several prominent black entertainers.
They do have a case. Several African American actors like Michael B. Jordan, and Samuel L. Jackson, and the cast of Straight Outta Compton have put out performances that critics and audiences have considered Oscar worthy. Also the African American directors F. Gary Gray and Ryan Coogler were snubbed even though their films, Straight Outta Compton and Creed, had excellent box office, reviews, and Oscar buzz.
So, why all the snubbing?
Do the Academy members meet around a big table and declare a moratorium on African Americans getting nominations?
Are the individual Academy members so riddled with hate for non-white people they can't bring themselves to nominate African-Americans?
The answer to both questions is: No.
The cause isn't hatred.
The cause is blindness.
You see the Academy members are predominantly older (average age 67), predominantly white, and predominantly politically liberal. 
They are the generation that came of age in the 1950s and 1960s and they see literally EVERYTHING through that lens.
Which brings us to the reasons why Creed and Straight Outta Compton were mostly snubbed: They didn't look like "black films" to the Academy voters.
For someone in the very rarified demographic of an Academy Voter Straight Outta Compton and Creed look radically different from the way everyone else saw them. To an Academy Voter Straight Outta Compton was just a showbiz biopic about a kind of music they don't like, but don't dare admit to not liking, for fear someone will call them racist. 

They also saw Creed as just a sports movie and a comeback vehicle for a previous nominee who has been below their precious radar since the first time he played his signature character.
No one in Compton or Creed are brutalized slaves in the pre-Civil War South, or led Civil Rights marches in the 1960s, or ended up on death row because of a racist justice system manned by white men with heavy southern accents. If they were, then they'd all be up for Oscars, because to Academy voters those are Oscar worthy African-American movies. Instead, the movies featured African-Americans using talent and hard work to succeed in America, and, to various degrees, doing just that.
No martyrs, no Oscar nominations because the Academy just cannot accept them as telling a "sincere" or "real" African-American story, because they lay outside their narrow field of vision.
There is a way to use the Academy's narrow vision to get nominations and awards.
Bryan Cranston was nominated for playing blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo, a film whose sole purpose was to get Cranston an Oscar nomination and to do that, it followed a carefully structured formula. 
It was a story about Hollywood, and Academy voters love navel gazing.
It has a martyr, Dalton Trumbo, albeit a Hollywood kind of martyr, who was blacklisted for his politics. For those who don't know, blacklisting meant that he was forced to write screenplays for less money under pseudonyms.
It has a politically acceptable villain, chiefly right-wing American politicians who didn't care for Trumbo's love of the Stalin regime.
It's a perfect white man's Oscar bait film, and it could be performed entirely in gibberish with falsetto voices by a cast wearing clown make-up, it would still get at least one nomination.
Now you're probably sitting in front of your computer or tablet, furrowing your brow and thinking "What about Will Smith in Concussion?"
If the Academy thinks like me, they probably looked at the trailer for Concussion and thought: "Denzel Washington or Idris Elba would have knocked that out of the park. Will Smith just seems too fluffy, to 'movie star' to pull it off." Then they'd see what else was on.

Those are my theories, what are yours?


  1. Whatever the Academy's deal is, it's a major shame.

    You hit on some good points. The last big *black movie* winner was 12 Years A Slave. A harrowing, well-made film, but obviously a dire and tragic situation for the black characters. Creed and Straight Outta Compton depict successful black characters who rise against adversity in relatively modern times (and also in classical Hollywood form, narrative-wise), and somehow those films get snubbed.

  2. What about "Precious" a few years back? That was a different kind of "black" movie that didn't follow the civil rights template but still got lots of nominations and won a few acting awards. Maybe the dignity-of-the-downtrodden theme was close enough to those themes -- I'm not sure-- but still, it's far from the scrappy showbiz biopic of "Straight Outta Compton". I kind of agree with the purported Academy tunnelvision on "Creed" it's such a hackneyed story and bunch of characters by this point that no matter how well it's done, it could hardly get a fresh look or much support.

    Also: Trumbo in gibberish, in falsetto voices, by a cast wearing clown makeup? I'd actually pay to see that. As opposed to the actual version, which I have no interest in seeing and which I imagine is like two hours of fingernails on a chalkboard. I see that less as Hollywood navel-gazing and more as a particularly odious example of Hollywood leftist political preaching. An honest-to-god "card-carrying" communist, Stalinist, held up as a martyr? Please. But you are right- audiences hate those, and this is obviously a special-purpose-vehicle for an Oscar nom. Great insight.

    1. Precious was misery-porn and featured an abused and downtrodden African American lead, which gave the Academy a martyr to hang their Oscar on.