ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

Hollywood traditionally has the reputation of being a liberal, forward-thinking bastion in a world filled with affluent conservative billionaires, but in many ways that idea of the film industry — as a place filled with George Clooney-like left-wing firebrands — is deeply misleading. While few young actors, directors, and the like are likely to come out and declare a love of Donald Trump (or the Republican party in general), the movers and shakers behind the scenes tend to be older, richer... and more conservative.

Which, in large part, is simply a political position, and needn't adversely effect their ability to make entertaining and popular movies in any way. Problems arise, however, when society as a whole begins to recognize that something is a huge, fundamental problem, and those aforementioned movers and shakers fail to do anything about it.

Case in point:

There's a Huge Amount of Controversy Over This Year's Oscar Nominations

Specifically, a whole lot of people noticed that pretty much everyone nominated for a major award was white and (with the obvious exception of two of the acting categories) a man.

Idris Elba being overlooked for his sterling work in Beasts of No Nation was highlighted by many, but arguably the most striking example came with the terrific Creed. Sylvester Stallone received a Best Supporting Actor nomination (and is indeed tipped to win), while the film's director Ryan Coogler, and stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson (all African American) were snubbed for equally excellent work.

It was ultimately the overarching lack of representation, though — rather than any particular exclusions — that has prompted a furious backlash from across the cinematic community. Specifically:

Several Stars Are Planning to Boycott the Ceremony

Jada Pinkett Smith was one of the first to speak out, releasing the following video decrying the Academy's lack of representation, and revealing that she won't be attending the show or watching from home:

We must stand in our power!

We must stand in our power.

Posted by Jada Pinkett Smith on Monday, 18 January 2016

Acclaimed director Spike Lee also spoke out, arguing that the problem is an institutional one, and that "the truth is we ain't in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white.":

#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)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

Which, no matter what you think of the idea of a boycott, or of the extent to which the Oscars representation is a problem, is absolutely based in fact.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Is Astonishingly White and Male

As an LA Times study back in 2012 discovered, the Academy — the industry folks who actually get to vote for who wins an Oscar — is about as far from representative of the real world as it's possible to get without drawing the attention of civil rights activists. As the newspaper itself summarized:

Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male... Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%... Oscar voters have a median age of 62... People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership."

In other words, the Oscars are disproportionately voted for by older white men — lending credence to accusations of bias and discrimination. Even if we were to assume that no institutional racism were to exist, the sheer extremity of older white dudes' dominance would surely create a strong voting block for their contemporaries... older white dudes.

This, after all, isn't a problem for one specific minority group. This is a problem for everyone. For most of us, the chances of ever being in consideration for an Oscar nomination are perilously slight — but the chances of suffering from institutional bias and discrimination that have caused this problem are not. Unless you're a straight, white, male billionaire, odds are you're going to be actively discriminated against to some degree at some point. It's a heck of a lot less common if you're a straight white male, but the vested self-interest in fighting for equality is still there (along with it being, y'know, the right thing to do).

So, What's the Right Response, Then?

Well, that's very much up in air — and absolutely up for debate. Many will feel that the boycott suggested by Pinkett Smith and Lee is the right way to go — raising awareness and withdrawing tacit support offers a means to passively resist the lack of representation. Others will surely feel that the approach taken by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs — to suggest practical changes to the industry, including substantial adjustments to the makeup of the Oscars voting pool — is more likely to make a difference.

There are question marks over whether it's a fight that needs to be waged at an executive level or in the media, through positive discrimination or gradual argument, and via radical change or the incremental shifting of opinion. Whether those currently in positions of power have a role to play in that change is clearly in doubt — but so is the plausibility of those left out of those same power structures being able to do it alone.

In other words? I don't have an answer, and it's entirely possible that no one person does. Instead, it may well take a whole lot of smart, dedicated people a whole lot of time and effort to come up with something even vaguely approximating a viable solution to the problem.

In the short term, though, many may feel that there is little that they themselves can do. That may or may not be the case — and there's certainly an argument for both making our voices heard and taking direct action within our own lives — but if that is indeed how you feel, then thankfully Chris Rock and Don Cheadle have you covered with two pretty darned perfect responses to the controversy.

Because if in doubt, it's usually a pretty good idea to laugh, and smile... and then go out there and try to help to make the world a better place.

Which you can be damn sure is exactly what Rock and Cheadle will be doing.

What do you think, though?

via People


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