Yesterday, tons of people gave their two cents on Chris Rock’s Oscars monologue. The monologue itself has been met with a range of emotions, from delight to disgust (you can read my opinion here). But it’s the jokes outside of the monologue that made people justifiably upset, especially since the jokes were a part of a night dedicated towards ending the diversity glass ceiling in Hollywood. Towards the end of the night, two tasteless jokes reared their ugly heads, and both made fun of Asians.
First, Sacha Baron Cohen, as his poser character Ali G., crudely compared the Minions to Asian men by using the phrase “little yellow people” and invoking sexual stereotyping.
Apparently, Baron Cohen was supposed to do his bit with Olivia Wilde straight, but he had his wife, actress Isla Fisher, sneak in his Ali G. costume. “The Oscars sat me down beforehand and said they didn’t want me to do anything out of order, they wanted me to actually just present it as myself,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain (as reported by the Guardian). “But luckily my wife put on the Ali G beard in the disabled toilets and I managed to get away with it.” In order to put the whole costume on while in the bathroom, they pretended Baron Cohen had food poisoning. According to what Baron Cohen said, Rock gave him “the thumbs up” to go ahead with the stunt after meeting with Rock to quickly pitch him his idea.
Second, when Rock opened the part of the show usually dedicated to introducing the accountants from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, he introduced three Asian kids. While the kids were cute, the joke wasn’t.
“As they clutched briefcases, they visually illustrated the stereotype that Asians are diligent workers who excel at math,” wrote the New York Times‘ Melena Ryzik. “‘If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids,’ Mr. Rock added, a punch line interpreted as a reference to child labor in Asia.”
These jokes were tone-deaf, seeing how the entire tone of the night was one berating Hollywood for its tone-deafness when it comes to black actors and actresses. At worst, the jokes showed how there are implicit biases even in intra-racial and intra-ethnic relations that need to be deleted. As pointed out in yesterday’s “5 of the Top Moments from the Oscars” post, it would have been great if Rock had discussed how all minorities are marginalized in Hollywood, since that is actually what #OscarsSoWhite is about. To quote #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign from her exclusive interview with JUST ADD COLOR:
I think it’s unnecessarily limiting and I think it’s unfortunate that they can’t get out of that box for themselves because I’m not in that box…It’s not clear to me why people think that is. I don’t know if it’s because I’m black and they can’t see past who I am and understand that I’m multifaceted, or if it’s just easier for them to think in binary terms. But that’s not what #OscarsSoWhite is about at all. Race is just one portion of it; it’s all marginalized communities, and within race, it’s not just black people; it’s definitely about Asian people. It ‘s definitely about Latinos and Latinas and Hispanics. It’s about everyone who should be represented on the screen.
As Rebecca Sun for The Hollywood Reporter points out, the Oscars welcomed Asian stars Byung-hun Lee, Priyanka Chopra, Dev Patel and other POC stars as presenters for many reasons (which can make up its own post), one of them being that they are also a part of the large demographic the Academy (and by extension, Hollywood itself) should represent more, a demo that obviously isn’t limited only to black people. While black actors and actresses don’t get cast as much as they should, Asian, Latino and Native actors and actresses get cast at an even smaller rate:
— The Asian Activists (@Asian_Activist) February 29, 2016
What’s equally as sad is that Rock had proven himself to be the right guy to take on Hollywood for its transgressions, both in his career and, by several accounts, earlier that night in his monologue.
“For most of the Oscars, Chris Rock proved himself once again to be a dynamic truth-teller abut systemic racism, managing not only to make pointed comedy out of #OscarsSoWhite but to keep it front and center long after his biting opening monologue. Then, about two-thirds through, he took a break to make an Asian joke,” wrote Lowen Liu for Slate. Jeff Yang wrote for Quartz about how he flipped in between the #JusticeforFlint event and coverage of the Oscars, ready to be entertained by Rock’s wit. “[W]hile I had decided to refrain from watching, the prospect of bringing the pain to a theater full of Hollywood’s most cream-colored creme de la creme was awfully tempting. And so, I cheated: I kept a tab open during his monologue and monitored the reactions of my friends to his blistering assault on the Academy Awards’ embarrassing whiteness,” he wrote. “…But my amusement was shortlived.”
Many actors, actresses, and even NBA star Jeremy Lin tweeted their disapproval and disappointment in the jokes.
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) February 29, 2016
— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) February 29, 2016
— Harry Shum Jr (@HarryShumJr) February 29, 2016
— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) February 29, 2016
So far, there’s been no word from Rock or his camp re: his Asian jokes.
This controversy has ignited conversation about the role minority activists should play. As Al Jazeera asks, “Should minorities advocate for one another?”
— AJ+ (@ajplus) March 1, 2016
As stated in the Oscars article Monday, if I was tasked with hosting the Oscars, I would have made sure to advocate for all minorities and oppressed people, because we’re all in this fight together. I wouldn’t have specifically only discussed the black acting pool, because the #OscarsSoWhite issue affects more than just the black acting pool. However, that’s how I’d do it. The question of if minorities should advocate for one another should be a resounding yes. The unspoken question, though, seems to be if Chris Rock should have been (at least on Oscar night) that particular minority activist who does advocate for others. As to what Rock feels about his own performance and how he should proceed in the future can be answered by Rock himself, but the disappointment the jabs at Asian stereotypes caused is something that will linger for a while and, hopefully (like all disappointment should) lead to increased action to make sure all people properly represented by the media (including jokes).
What did you think about the off-putting jokes? Give your opinions in the comments section!
1. Chris Rock made everyone uncomfortable, and rightly so.
For a full month, I was on the edge of my seat waiting on what Rock would have to say, and I wasn’t disappointed. Rock is known for going for the jugular, and during the Oscars, he not only went for the jugular, but he went for all the major arteries in Hollywood’s body with glee. He made fun of everything, including Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith just being mad because Will Smith wasn’t up for Concussion (remember how Pinkett Smith started the boycott talk?) and the Oscars itself, calling it the “White People’s Choice Awards.”
Rock was put in a very difficult position to post the awards show in the midst of controversy, but he seemed more than up to the task. Even with all of the insults and jabs he leveled at Hollywood and those in the audience, I have a feeling we saw Rock holding back. If he really wanted to make people mad with the truth, he’d know exactly how to do it. But coming on stage with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” playing in the background, telling a room full of the Hollywood elite that Hollywood is undoubtedly racist, showing a video of black people outside a Compton movie theater talking about film inequalities, and introducing Michael B. Jordan as someone who should have been nominated are all great ways to make people uncomfortable. What I wonder is how many of the “liberal” folks in the audience thought Rock wasn’t talking about them, despite him clearly saying he was addressing the “liberals” of Hollywood. That’s the unspoken joke of the night.
There were three moments in Rock’s time as host that made my jaw drop on the floor:
- During the Black History Moment taped segment with Angela Bassett, I could have sworn that the joke was setting up towards another elaborate jab at Will Smith. Maybe I was reading too much into the joke, but with the set up (and the choice of films, like Shark Tale), I was so sure a takedown of Smith’s career was coming, especially in light of what Rock had said about them in the monologue. The joke actually was making fun of Jack Black being in a lot of Will Smith movies, which led me to breathe out a sigh of relief.
- How did Rock and co. get Stacey Dash to play a part in her own takedown? Did she know what the joke was? Did she know she was the joke? In any event, I was floored. The Weeknd’s face told the story.
- The taped segment in which Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, and others showed how tough it is for black actors to get parts. The takedown of Joy was my particular favorite.
Could more have been said about all minorities who are marginalized in the industry? Certainly. There was only one guy all night who talked about how the Oscar should belong to everyone, and it was one of the guys outside of the Compton theater. Some folks were getting on Rock for not discussing the plight of all minorities in Hollywood. I’ll say that for myself, I recognized how I would have handled the situation, which is talk about how all people who are not part of white Hollywood are blocked out of all of Hollywood’s creative process, but I am not Chris Rock. Rock handled it from his perspective, and his perspective is just what he presented last night—the black American experience. Would it have been nice if a bone was thrown to everyone affected? Yes. The Native cast members of The Revenant, Byung-hun Lee, Sofia Vergara, and many of the other non-black POC presenters don’t have the same opportunities either, some less so. Could his monologue have wrongly cemented it in people’s minds that #OscarsSoWhite is only about black people? It most certainly could have. With that said, I still think Rock’s hosting duties accomplished what it needed to, which is to shame the Academy on its biggest night.
2. The tonal shifts of the Oscars.
Between Rock laying it on thick about Hollywood’s “sorority racist” mode of business and other presenters like Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman looking like they’d rather be anywhere else during certain points of the night, the rest of the presenters pretended to be cautious and/or unaware as they presented awards that, overall, only showed how white the Oscars actually are.
Even more uncomfortable were the additions of scores of non-white presenters. One reason I keep mentioning Jordan is that he should have been nominated. Heck, a lot of the presenters should have been nominated, like Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation. I say more presenters should have looked upset. In any event, the night was clearly an uncomfortable one for most people in attendance (and for most people in attendance, deservedly so).
3. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs doubles down on diversity, asks room to do the same
I did like Boone Isaacs’ speech about the Academy’s pledge to do better, and I especially liked that she asked others in the audience to do the same. The actors are routinely forgotten about facilitators in Hollywood’s game, but on some level, they share culpability for continuing Hollywood’s mode of business. They themselves could change how films are made just by refusing to take on certain roles. For instance, if an actor or actress gets a role to play a traditionally Asian or Mexican character, they could decide not to take it in the hopes that it’ll actually go to an actor or actress that properly fits the bill.
4. Lady Gaga reminded us that it really is on us.
I think the most powerful song of the night was definitely Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You” for the documentary The Hunting Ground. Gaga’s emotional performance, coupled with the on-stage appearances of many victims of sexual assault and rape, really drove home the point of V.P. Biden’s speech beforehand; it’s truly on us to stop others from becoming sexual assault victims.
5. Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets his Oscar!
Everyone, including the Best Actor nominees, stood up in applause for DiCaprio’s win. It was a win that has taken many years to earn, but he finally did it. He also gave us yet another great speech, in which he outlines how important it is for us to address climate change.
What did you think of the night? What were your favorite moments? Which moments didn’t you like? (Ali G. is on my list.) Write about it in the comments section!
EDIT: I did forget to mention the joke about the little Asian kid accountants. That joke really fell flat to me because 1) I didn’t get it and 2) what was the message, if there was one? In any case, it, along with Sacha Baron Cohen-as-Ali G’s joke comparing the Minions to Asian people were low points of the night.
There has been too much Oscars news lately! Well, complaining is wrong; there’s been just the right amount of Oscars news since it’s actually news affecting change. And in the past 24+ hours, there has been tons of movement (and tons of upset). Here’s what’s happened in four sections.
The big fact of the weekend is that the Oscars has changed its rules. In a sweeping historic move, the Academy has basically stuck it to the old white members in its ranks.
Needless to say, people aren’t happy about this, but that comes later in this article.
The support (and supportive critiques)
Many in the acting world and April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite have given their support (and in some cases, their constructive criticism) of the new changes.
“I’m very encouraged. I think that the changes that will be made will make a significant different,” Reign told the Los Angeles Times. I appreciate the fact that the vote was unanimous, which indicates to me that the academy is serious about making the organization momre inclusive and more diverse. I’ve spoken about my concern that some of the older academy members still have a vote even though they aren’t active in the film industry an that appears to be addressed. The fact that they will be proactively looking for more diverse members is [also] exciting.”
Ava DuVernay tweeted this:
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Shame is a helluva motivator.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
We’ve all felt shame even when we didn’t believe we were wrong. It’s the fact that EVERYONE ELSE thinks you’re wrong. Fix it mode kicks in.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Marginalized artists have advocated for Academy change for DECADES. Actual campaigns. Calls voiced FROM THE STAGE. Deaf ears. Clòsed minds.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Whether it’s shame, true feelings, or being dragged kicking + screaming, just get it done. Because the alternative isn’t pretty.
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) January 22, 2016
Don Cheadle said during a Sundance interview that the changes are stage one in a much-needed process. “I think it is a step in the right direction, a needed step,” he said, according to Deadline. “But people really have to have access to the stories they want to tell. So what we really need is people in positions to greenlight those stories, not a hunk of metal.” (I’m assuming the “hunk of metal” Cheadle is referring to is the Oscar itself.)
Oscar nominated director Alejandro Iñárritu said during the PGA Breakfast that the new steps the Academy is taking is a start, but change needs to happen outside of the Academy and with the industry itself.
“I think the things the Academy has just made is a great step, but the Academy really is at the end of the chain,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Iñárritu also said, “Hopefully, active change, positive cahnge, they can start at the beginning of the chain. The complexity of the demographics of this country should be reflected not only at the end of the chain.” He also added that “cinema is the mirror where we can all see ourselves.”
Screenwriter/director/producer Jonathan Demme issued an op-ed for Deadline saying that the Academy needs to change the current nominations to reflect the diversity that was a part of the 2015 film year. He provides the example of Tangerine and how the Academy clearly ignored it. To quote him:
“Superb in every aspect and featuring dazzling, heroic performances by fantastic LGBTQ actors in leading roles, Tangerine had no campaign, but someone managed to send out screeners. The film was shot—brilliantly–on i-phones (!!!!!). This hugely entrtainiing and ground-breaking film brings fresh meaning to the “outstanding achievement” verbiage that defines the point of the Oscars. Did enough Academy voters—overwhelmingly older, white males—watch the Tangerine screener to give it a shot at nomination? Does our membership gravitate—maybe more or less exclusively—to white stories, white actors, white filmmakers? It sure feels that way, doesn’t it?”
These comments aren’t necessarily a reaction to the Academy’s changes, but Viola Davis’ comments during Elle’s 6th Annual Women in Television Dinner said the members of the Academy should ask themselves some questions about the industry.
“How many black films are being produced every year?” she said, according to BET. “How are they being distributed? The films that are being made—are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?”
Davis also touched on the pay discrepancy, which is even worse for actresses of color than it is for white actresses. “You could probably line up all the A-list black actresses out there [and] they probably don’t make what one A-list white woman makes in one film. That’s the problem. You can change thee Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”
Malik Yoba wrote this on Instagram, stating that being included in Hollywood shouldn’t be viewed as “a birthright”:
Only in NY will this happen. Such an interesting time we’re living in. The more things change the more things stay the same. A function of living inauthentically and disconnected from the eternal truth that God is love and we were all made in His image. From atheist to believers one thing is certain, everybody wants to feel loved, honored, included, acknowledged and feel the support of their peers. Working in a business that doesn’t always see the big picture is a challenge but being included is not a given or a birthright. All we can do as individuals is continue to honor our gifts and work toward building our own pathways to get our stories out to the masses. None of this is easy and every little bit counts including the protestations. Happy Friday Fam!! It’s a great day to be alive as we take nothing from granted ?? #truth #honor #oscars #hollywood #america #actor #blessing #pop #popculture
A photo posted by malikyoba (@malikyoba) on
Marlon Wayans, on the other hand provides a perspective that could be argued as missing the point. During an Essence Live appearance for his latest film, Fifty Shades of Black, Wayans said that while the discussion about diversity in Hollywood is important, showing up to support minority films is even more important.
“How about we all show up and we support these movies? A lot of times we complain but yet we sit in our seat opening weekend and we don’t support our films,” he told Essence. “Everybody out there, come support because Hollywood is not about black and white. Hollywood is about gree. So why don’t we support our own, make sure we make the green because as long as you make thee green, we can make more movies and then we won’t have these discussions.”
(Some would say that Wayans’ point dodges the actual issue at hand; it’s not about people not supporting minority films, because people did and have been supporting minority films—Straight Outta Compton doesn’t get to number one at the box office and stay there through just critical support. The real issue is getting the films that the people love awarded for their achievements.)
Some other things of note are some highly interesting and necessary articles about the racist underside of the Oscars and the industry at large. Entertainment Weekly has teased their magazine interview with Sacheen Littlefeather, the woman who stood on stage and delivered Marlon Brando’s message to the Academy in 1973 when he boycotted on behalf of Native Americans. NBC Latino provides a list of Latino films that could easily be nominated for an Oscar. Mashable also has an article addressing how Latino, Asian, and Native American actors are hardly nominated for an Oscar. (This also goes into why the industry needs to be changed; currently, the industry itself doesn’t greenlight enough films telling Latino, Native American and Asian stories, and when there are Latino, Native or Asian characters in films, they are sometimes played by white or “beige” actors, such as Emma Stone in Aloha and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, while Benedict Wong is stuck with playing what could be racist stereotype—Doctor Strange’s manservant/sidekick.)
|Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the inaugural issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!|
The outrage to #OscarsSoWhite took a while to whip up, but it came, especially after the Academy changed its rules. Friday alone saw Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine and Julie Delphy saying annoying, tone-deaf and, in Rampling and Delphy’s cases, extremely racist things.
Rampling, who is nominated for an Oscar for her role in 45 Years, said the Oscars controversy was “racist to whites.”
“One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” she said to French radio station Europe 1, according to The Guardian. She also said in response to a question about if the Academy should have quotas, “Why classify people? These days everyone is more or less accepted…People will always say: ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white’…someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that]…But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”
She later walked back her statement after a vicious roasting on Twitter. According to USA Today, the statement, which was given to CBS News, states, “I regret that my comments could have been misinterprted. I simply meant to say that in an ideal world every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration.” The apology-PR damage control also stated, “Diversity in our industry is an important issue that needs to be addressed. I am highly encouraged by the changes announced today by the academy to diversify its membership.”
Michael Caine said that black actors should “be patient,” a statement that was in response to the fear of the Academy using quotas, but it’s also a statement that could be uncomfortably interpreted as telling minorities to wait their turn. As he told Radio 4 according to the Independent, “There’s loads of black actors. In the end you can’t vote for an actor because he’s black. You can’t say ‘I’m going to vote for him, he’s not very good, but he’s black, I’ll vote for him…Of course [nominations and wins] will come. It took me years to get an Oscar, years.”
Julie Delpy also put in her two cents, saying that it’s harder to be a woman in showbusiness than it is a black person. “Sometimes, I wish I were African-American because people don’t bash them afterwards,” she said to The Wrap. Her statement widely ignores the fact that 1) black women are also women, which illustrates why people should have intersectional feminism and 2) that all women of color including black women have it easier in Hollywood, when women of color have historically had it much harder in terms of finding roles, pay equal to their white female counterparts, and the respect white actresses receive on a daily basis.
The real fire came when the Academy released their new rules, leading many in Hollywood, mostly those members among the older set, to release angry statements. You can read many of their statements at The Hollywood Reporter (and again), The Los Angeles Times, and Deadline, but most of them (including those who were smart enough to remain anonymous for fear of backlash) include feelings of resentment at what they feel is the Academy’s implication that their age makes them unable to judge talent as well as the implication that their voting strategies have been biased (or as many have said, “racist.”)
While the angry members are the most vocal right now, there are quite a few members who are glad of the changes, including those who are of the older set. These members recognize that there’s a clear bias at work when most of the Academy is made of old white men. 72-year-old actor Robert Walden summed it up perfectly when emailing his response to the Times. “I can tell you now that if the voters had actually viewed ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ the situation might have been different. But because of the subject matter, or presumed understanding of what the films were about, I’d venture half the members did not see thoe films. …I feel a significant segment of the older members might assume that certain films don’t appeal or ‘speak’ to them. That they speak to a ‘niche’ and not to us all.”
There’s going to be tons of Oscar talk for the weeks leading up to Feb. 28, the night the Oscars airs (still hosted by Chris Rock, thank goodness; get your popcorn ready for viewing some uncomfortable faces in the audience). But I have read enough to give some takeaways, and these takeaways are going to be just the same now as they will be in the future.
The older members who are upset (including, in an ironic twist, Tab Hunter, who is for all intents and purposes the first outed gay actor of the 1950s and 1960s) are upset for very human, very selfish reasons. Their view is that the Academy sees them as not just old, but antiquated and out of touch with the times. To a certain degree, the Academy’s view is just that; they are too out of touch and too set in their ways to see past what they think is and isn’t art worthy of being nominated. That’s a problem, and that problem doesn’t just occur with Hollywood; it occurs in many other segments of life in which an older body is trying to impose old rules on a younger, more agile, more integrated set of individuals. America, to be frank, was founded because of an older “parent” trying to rule a younger country who wanted to fail or succeed by their own terms. Just like with the War for Independence, the Academy and its sympathizers are now rebelling against some of the older set who are comfortable having things just as they were. There’s a historical analog to this too: the South wanted things to stay the same because many white southerners were comfortable with Jim Crow and other segregationist tactics because they served their interests. When stuff started changing, they started rebelling against the tides of change. They ultimately lost that fight, for the most part, and the Old Guard at the Academy’s going to lose their fight as well.
Perhaps, some of the old members who feel like they’ve lost their way will find another way to assert what remains of their power, but it’ll never be like how it was before. Hollywood itself won’t be the same after this controversy, because now the onus will not just be on the Academy to provide a facade for diversity; it’ll be up to everyone who runs anything dealing with entertainment. In order for there to be films to nominate, there have to be more films featuring non-white, non-male stories getting greenlit. There has to be more of a reliance on the now and less of a reliance on, as some members intimated, an “I’m not racist” card just because they might have participated in the Civil Rights Movement in some way.
This gets to my last point: Right before writing this, I read this tweet:
So many ppl speak on racism w/o having ever studied it. They are far more concerned w not being called racist than actually fighting racism.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 24, 2016
I think that’s true for many things, and it’s definitely true for this. Everyone who has had their feelings hurt by #OscarsSoWhite is quick to say “I’m not a racist.” The Academy’s changes aren’t fearful for some just because it’s change; the changes are being met with fear because some of these people know that there’s more they could have done to prevent this nominations fiasco in the first place. Like what Walden said, if half of the members who didn’t view Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation actually watched the films instead of writing them off as niche, then the nominations card would look completely different. Basically, I personally think many of the ones crying foul are actually crying out because of their guilt. Who wants to own up to the fact that they might have had a damaging, insidious bias in their voting when they thought they were voting strictly on talent?
Some folks in the Academy are, if going by their statements (especially the anonymous ones) harbor clear racist sentiments. Others are ill-informed and don’t even understand the implications of what they’re saying. Others are still holding onto the good (or guilt-easing actions) they did in the ’60s to justify “voting on talent” today. But there are others up and down in the Academy who believe these changes are good for the organization and that, sadly, they are necessary. I think so, too. These changes shouldn’t have had to be implemented, but Hollywood is nothing but a reflection of society. If we all want a seat at the table–the Academy, Hollywood or otherwise–then the table has to be retrofitted or completely remodeled to accommodate. Cheryl Boone Isaacs has taken the first step towards a remodel, and now the rest of Hollywood has to follow suit. Create more films for all minorities, not just black people. We need more LGBT stories, more Asian stories, more Middle Eastern stories, more Native American stories, and more biracial/multiracial stories. We need stories of all types, including those I might have missed mentioned here.
Rampling asked why there need to be labels; little does she know that it’s the society she participates in that created those labels. If we had more stories of all types, and if those stories were valued on the same level playing field, then the negative, segregationist thinking that comes with these labels, would go away and the labels would just be mere descriptors, not assessments of a person’s entire being.
Last week, the Oscar nominations came out, and people were livid. A week later, people have gone from just “livid” to “activated by anger.” Injecting my personal opinion for a moment: I’d say being activated by anger is a much more effective state of being rather than just being outraged. Now that folks have become fueled by their disappointment, it seems like it’s finally become inevitable that the Oscars must change (mostly because they’re being forced to change). Here’s what’s happening so far.
•Spike Lee, Michael Moore and Jada Pinkett Smith are boycotting the Oscars. Lee put out a statement on Instagram:
#OscarsSoWhite… Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let’s Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can’t Act?! WTF!! It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont’d)
And Pinkett Smith put out a video suggesting that POC actors create their own form of recognition outside of the Oscars. (Also: yes, I know about Janet Hubert’s—aka Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—video “discussing” Pinkett Smith. No, I’m not talking about it; I’d recommend going to Awesomely Luvvie for a hilarious play-by-play of the video).
Snoop Dogg backed up Pinkett Smith’s call to boycott, saying in a very succinct way, “Fuck the Oscars, fuck the Grammys,” saying how the “old slavery bullshit-ass awards show” model and the Hollywood industry takes minority culture without acknowledging where the culture came from.
Moore told The Wrap that he’s “happy” to join the boycott, saying, “I thought about this all day, and I don’t plan to go to the show, I don’t plan to watch it and I don’t plan to go to an Oscar party. And I say that as a proud member of the Academy, as someone who still sits on the executive board [of the Documentary Branch], as someone who knows full well that [AMPAS president] Cheryl [Boone Isaacs] and [CEO] Dawn Hudson are doing their best to fix the situation.” He also said that having no diverse nominations two years in a row is “crazy,” and that “if it will help to lend my name to what Spike and Jada are doing, I’m hoping to be a symbolic participant in this [boycott].”
Al Sharpton is also calling for a boycott, so the situation right now is fluid, probably right up until the Oscars this February.
• Numerous stars are speaking out against the Oscars’ all-white nominations, including Straight Outta Compton producer Will Packer, who said to his Academy colleagues “WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period.”
George Clooney told Today, “I think African Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough.” He also talked about how women and Hispanics aren’t getting recognized enough in the industry as well. “I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is: How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?”
Don Cheadle joked that the only job he’d be able to have at the Oscars is parking cars:
— Don Cheadle (@IamDonCheadle) January 17, 2016
and David Oyelowo has sounded off on the Oscars, saying during an evening honoring Boone Isaacs, “This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation,” he said at the King Legacy Awards. “The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” he said. He spoke about meeting with Boone Isaacs after Selma, discussing what went wrong during last year’s nominations (as you might remember, Selma was also at the center of nomination snubbing controversy). “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” He, like everyone who has commented on this, expressed support for Boone Isaacs and the hope that she continues the work needed to get the problem fixed.
• Boone Isaacs herself issued a longer statement after her initial comments about the Oscar nominations. The comments, below, feature an intense expression of getting the ball rolling even faster.
A statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pic.twitter.com/Nqhgc7sbqG
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 19, 2016
Overall, the focus has been primarily on black actors and filmmakers being recognized, but let’s not forget all of the other minorities (race, gender, sexual orientation) that haven’t been acknowledged in film for so long, if ever. For instance, The Revenant features First Nations actors, but the film itself isn’t primarily following the story of a First Nations person; it’s following Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, there hasn’t been a single American film featuring an Asian lead or Asian cast nominated, ditto for American-made Hispanic and Spanish films. Also don’t forget that films like Tangerine, which features trans women of color, didn’t get a nod, while an establishment film like Carol and The Danish Girl did, even though the latter two films do represent otherwise overlooked stories.
In short, the Academy has to learn that a human being doesn’t just fit into one mold. Stories that are recognized need to show humanity in all its complexity; a trans woman or man of color wants to see themselves on screen just like an Asian woman who is also a lesbian or a black straight man who is also part Native American. There are so many intersections in a person’s life, and it makes too much sense that the film and TV industry represent that and recognize that for its achievement. TV has made great strides this year, and diverse TV of all kinds were given well-deserved accolades. It’s time film get on the same pioneering path TV has been traversing, and if they don’t want their bottom line to dwindle, they’d better do it soon.
The throughline of the conversations this time around is that minorities don’t have to give our money to the film industry if we don’t want to; we can take our talents and dollars and reinvest in us, just as Pinkett Smith said in her video. That idea was the throughline of Ryan Coogler and #BLACKOUT’s #MLKNOW event. A tool of revolution is an economic boycott, and if push comes to shove, things just might come to that if Hollywood’s not careful.
This Friday is going to be one of the biggest social justice weekends for movies. Why? Because, as the Universe would have it, Hollywood is ironically playing host to the best and worst of Hollywood’s tendencies when it comes to minorities in films.