(This piece is my opinion and mine alone... please keep all comments and discussions civil, respectful & if you disagree that's cool...just be cool. about it..)
It's the time of year where Awards Season dominates the media landscape, new actors get thrust into the spotlight through surprise nominations or wins while veterans and well loved stars hope for that one last validation/moment to cap off their careers.
The "daddy" of the awards is of course the Oscars. This year however, there has been some very ugly controversy around them. Suddenly what is normally a relatively frothy event is a hot button topic, with controversy on an unprecedented scale surround the alleged lack of diversity in this years nominations.
Several actors have broken ranks and spoken out, notably Will Smith and his wife, Jada and Idris Elba. Mark Ruffalo, a white actor who IS nominated has also lent his support while Charlotte Rampling, a veteran British actress nominated this year has taken an opposing view.
It's a very ugly and unseemly situation, one that even the head of the Academy has been forced to acknowledge, alluding to "changes being needed..."
In this article, I'll be looking at why this has happened, and how changing the system could actually be a major mistake, not from the perspective of exclusion but from the perspective of devaluing the achievements of those who do win.
First of all, it is important to clarify what the Oscars actually are!
They are awards handed out by a private, restricted membership organisation (The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) made of nearly 6000 invited individuals from the world of movies. These are actors, directors, writers, even PR & stylists. You don't just get to vote in the Oscars, you are chosen to be part of the group.
Over the years, their annual awards ceremony has taken on the defacto role of being THE most important yardstick by which movies and those who make them are measured, the show itself is watched by millions worldwide and even betting markets on who will win contribute to making The Oscars Hollywood's one "Big Night" a year.
Glitz & Glamour
Every year there are shock nominations, wins the public don't like or agree with and movies and performances that are "snubbed". Some of the most famous, popular or successful performances have missed out on Oscar night, with that awkward clapping of the winner. Every year there are speeches that are memorable for their cringe-worthiness (Gwyneth Paltrow), their awkwardness (Tom Hank's inadvertent "outing" of his drama teacher) or warm and funny (Jack Palance doing one-armed pushups) that become part of Hollywood's narrative and history.
Every year there is also a debate led by those who feel that more minorities should be represented on those lists and be winning awards and there are also "it actors" who seem to be repeatedly nominated whatever work they produce.
Ultimately however, the Oscars are intended to be an honor awarded to the most elite actors, filmmakers and films. The best of a particular year, as voted for by those 6000 members.
Tantrums & Tiaras
At last years ceremony, Selma was hotly tipped yet didn't walk away with a trophy on the night. Birdman was named the surprise Best Picture while the only award the movie did win was for Best Original Song. Lead actor David Oyelowo was "snubbed" to many, yet the nominations for best actor was among the strongest fields in many years with Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton & eventual winner Eddie Redmayne producing performances worthy of nominations at least. Somebody had to lose out and on this occasion, it happened to be Oyelowo. It led to major backlash however, especially as Selma's director, Ava DuVernay also missed out.
The previous year however, had seen one of the most diverse fields yet, with 12 Years A Slave garnering awards for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress. Chiwetel Ejofor narrowly missed out on Best Actor while Barkhad Abdi lost out to Jared Leto's portrayal of a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club. These were not token nominations, the performances genuinely merited the praise received and their place in that line up. Any controversy over Leto's casting over a genuine Trans actress was quickly forgotten and to many the Oscars had turned the corner.
This year however, there was a mixture of dismay, shock and anger at the lists announced. Will Smith being the name most are associating with being "snubbed" for his performance in Concussion and Creed's Ryan Coogler & Michael B. Jordan being seemingly overlooked despite Sylvester Stallone being nominated.
Jada Pinkett-Smith was the first to break ranks and quickly a boycott became a real momentum building possibility. Some have criticized Pinkett-Smith, notably the former "Aunt Viv" actress Janet Hubert while others like Chris Rock, this years Host have shown support but not agreed to join a boycott.
Meanwhile Eddie Redmayne is nominated for playing a transgender woman in The Danish Girl and the seeming favorite for Best Actor, again, not an actual trans actress but in some way, diversity is there, just not on color lines this year.
What Went Wrong This Year?
Why did Smith not get nominated? Concussion has flaws as a movie, no doubt his performance is great, however the story doesn't mention other major players in the story, notably Chris Nowinski, a former WWE star, forced to retire in his twenties after a concussion, who founded the Sports Legacy Institute and is generally credited as being more influential than Bennet Olamu.
The story was arguably changed to make it a vehicle for Smith and THAT rather than racism is likely been a factor in not receiving a nomination. The danger of "true life tales" is that they don't make great awards movies unless they are searingly accurate. Jamie Foxx won because he became Ray Charles, warts and all, Chadwick Boseman missed out as James Brown because the movie took some liberties with Brown's life.
By making the movie all about Will's character, at the expense of telling the real story, the filmmakers themselves made it possible for the movie to not win or be nominated. Of course this will be frustrating for Will Smith as his performance IS strong, but the movie itself is flawed and with this years field being again one of the strongest yet, it's the difference maker.
Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are slightly different, it is easy to argue that Coogler has been hard done by in not receiving a nomination for Creed, either as Best Picture or for Best Director. One thing the Oscars DO love are "comeback stories" and this year there are two that have sunk Creed's chances as a picture. The first is George Miller and Mad Max: Fury Road, a surprise nomination for many over Creed and Coogler.
Why did it happen? When it comes down to it, Miller created something genuinely new and exciting in terms of movie-making from it's structure to it's design and visuals, Fury Road is a masterpiece, it's the kind of movie that the Oscars are designed for. Popcorn movies rarely do well in the Oscars, but Fury Road was able to be both a blockbuster AND an Art film at the same time. It has a VERY strong chance of garnering both Best Picture and Best Director for Miller on that basis.
Creed is a fantastic movie and while not Coogler's debut, it is a career making second picture for him. He isn't going anywhere and that may have seen some in the Academy vote elsewhere this year. What may have hurt him is that, while Creed is smart and streetwise, there is much borrowed from John Avildsen's original Rocky, which itself won Best Picture. It also did for J.J. Abrams and Star Wars' chances this year, they are fine and amazing comebacks, but they are not as original and different to their predecessors as Fury Road.
Creed is very much a team effort of a movie, but Sly's performance and stamp is in many ways the true heart of the movie and what makes it stand out. Stallone is nominated on true merit, just as he was in '77 for Rocky's screenplay but he missed out on an acting award. Now it's very likely he'll get it. It'd be hard for anyone to argue with it being the "feelgood" moment of this years awards, or that Stallone doesn't deserve it. Michael B. Jordan is the odd man out, being referenced as someone who deserves a nomination for his performance as Adonis Creed.
This happened before in 1977 with Rocky as well, that movie saw Burgess Meredith AND Burt Young both nominated for their roles as Mickey and Paulie but no nomination for Carl Weathers, whose performance was equally strong and worthy. Back then you could argue race would have been more of an issue, yet Diana Ross had already been nominated for Lady Sings The Blues in that recent history so it was not an impossibility. Meredith was nominated for the second year running, arguably Rocky was seen as his "swansong" and Young's performance clearly merited being there.
Someone had to miss out and it was Weathers, ultimately his career was defined by playing Apollo Creed but on balance Burt Young also suffered the same fate. Could Weathers have moved on to other material with that nomination, possibly but ultimately the right call was probably made.
Jordan is now in that position, he probably should have, but this time he has to let Sly have "his moment" just as Weathers had to let the others in '76. Jordan however has already shown a diverse acting range that will allow him to move on and he will likely win an Oscar one day for the right role... Just not for Adonis Creed.
Beast Of No Nation is a fantastic movie and Idris Elba could feel very hard done by. Ultimately however, it is a Netflix movie, not a studio movie that was released onto Netflix early. The Academy may not have been ABLE to consider it for that reason as it could technically class as an Emmy eligible movie.
So there are possible reasons other than racism that these movies and performances didn't get a nomination and these should be assumed prior to any discriminatory thoughts, but what if there is a boycott, what can the Academy actually do? and should they do it?
As it stands, Will Smith not going to the Oscars isn't the end of the world, but it's bad publicity. Will going public in the way he has makes the issue hot button, but arguably he could have done more by attending and dropping a pipebomb on the fabled red carpet.
Ruffalo being in favor is a slightly more difficult issue for both he and the Academy. Marlon Brando famously boycotted when winning for The Godfather, sending a Native American lady to receive his award. It is possible that Mark could still decide not to attend, however he would also know doing so would negatively impact Spotlight's chances and thus hurt everyone who worked on it and those who the movie are about. So it's likely he'll attend and if he should manage to win, use his speech to make his point.
If other major stars started to back the boycott and not attend, then it can get awkward. The red carpet, glitz and glamour can be dented if some of the bigger names purposely don't go. But the awards would survive.
The danger however is then how the Academy moves forward.
One proposal has been a "Rooney Rule" similar to the NFL, where every category must have a minority nomination. This is a very dangerous path to take for several reasons. Which minority must then be included? or must ALL of them be included? Because it can't just be Black/African American representation, it means there has to be Asian American, LGBT nominations. It would lead to shortlists of 10+ films every year to accommodate and thus devaluing the award ceremony and it's value. The reason an Oscar is so important is it IS a tight field based on merit, a "Rooney rule" would lead to tokenism by the back door.
There is a big danger if that "representation" is prescribed, that the achievement of winning will not be the same as those who won before it came in. If Jordan wins because a black actor HAD to be considered, it might mean less that Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whittaker or Sidney Poitier's who won it on genuine merit.
There would always be that nagging doubt that a win was political rather than truly earned and would make the achievement less valuable in the eyes of the public and the industry. Denzel Washington won because Alonzo Harris was a career best performance and he beat out Will Smith as Ali.
This is what Will Smith and the others want more of, their performances being considered the best and them duking it out for those honors with the other heavyweights. It means however sometimes, the others, the white actors might do better or capture the imagination of the voters more... just as every year great performances get missed out. You could say Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Domnhall Gleeson, Colin Trevorrow, JJ Abrams all have an equal right to be annoyed at missing out this year for their work. Leonardo Di Caprio has waited years for an Oscar and arguably been snubbed several times, yet he doesn't propose a boycott.
Now it's likely the Academy will be forced into some kind of change, not cos it NEEDS to be made... but cos it'll solve the political row and they'll be seen to be more inclusive.
Be it the rule already mentioned, or opening up the membership in some way to more minorities, it's going to happen.
If Will isn't a member of the Academy, he probably will be soon though I'm not sure he should be. Someone like Denzel, or Forrest Whittaker could help advise them far better than the guy who has made it such a political issue. Let's face it, this could just be sour grapes (it's possible people, not a fact) that Will is now signed up to the type of movies he won't get nominations with for the next few years and he maybe won't get another crack if he has retirement plans.
Charlotte Rampling is arguably the best example of how overthinking the Oscar process can go horribly wrong. She is an aging actress, in a Hollywood system where older actresses are seemingly just as discriminated against, nominated for an Oscar. She pointed out the flaw in the Boycott supporters argument and was immediately derided as racist, to the point that her own chances are now probably gone. That's more messed up than any perceived snub to Ryan Coogler or Will Smith.
Ultimately, equality for all has always been the goal, which means all get judged on their merit. The Academy isn't perfect, but it's not doing a terrible job either. Want to blame people? Blame the studios who don't make more opportunities for minority actors to make those winning performances, blame the corporations who purposely leave a female character out of merchandising because "they know what sells". The Academy judges what is there, it doesn't make it... this year was a hell of a year for movies, it's a shame that no black or trans or asian actor got a nomination, but there is no way it's a conspiracy against them. Equality means we all have the chance to succeed, and to fail and sometimes those from a minority won't win or get nominated, trying to manufacture a way to ensure they do isn't going to help the cause, it's going to set it back further than ever.
Changes they can make, is clarifying the Netflix situation - if Elba didn't qualify then they can make sure it doesn't happen again... but if that's the case, he can't be pissed off cos he wasn't eligible. They can make the criteria more transparent, let the public see what is voted on if not the actual votes... that might open some eyes. They can help fund minority actors and filmmakers through a fund, to increase the numbers and hopefully the chances of them getting recognised. All of these are as valid as prescribing representation and far less damaging to the concept of The Oscars.
More diversity in the Oscars is a great thing and needed, but that starts with the Hollywood system making changes, rather than an artificial mechanism to ensure it.
People like Ruffalo, Smith and the like are right to raise it, but this isn't the right way to change it.
Like I said at the start, this is all my opinion. Please feel free to leave respectful, thought out comments... if you want to flame, go elsewhere cos you're part of this problem, not part of the solution.