Academy Awards

By: S. Davis

When the gold statues are awarded on Sunday I won’t be watching. It isn’t for the obvious reason considering the amazing brown skin I have. Award shows do nothing for me, personally, and I find them boring. I used to watch the MTV Movie/Video Music Awards back in the day but that was only to see the beautiful women.

I’ve done my best to stay away from talking about the Academy Awards because it’s pointless to rage against a system that doesn’t even acknowledge their flaws. Think about it: If there wasn’t a loud outcry this year would they really have given a single thought to making changes to their selection body? No. That’s one of the problems. Last night an advertisement ran for the show and the first person featured was Lupita Nyong’o clutching her gold trinket. I laughed so hard that I spit yogurt all over my bed. The advertising department really had that in their back pocket I see; splendid timing indeed.

The uproar against the predominantly (old) white men’s club that comprises the selection committee pulls focus from the real problem – well, for minorities – which is the studios. Unless STUDIOS like Warner Brothers, Universal, Sony, Fox, etc; hire or promote people of color to positions of power nothing will change. The studios hold the power that get movies on the screen; don’t pay attention to production companies, trust me it will lead you down a path of frustration.

Recent movies with traditional backing from studios featuring non-white lead actors were Creed, Beasts of No Nation (which still had to premiere on Netflix), Straight Outta Compton and maybe Dope. I say maybe on Dope because it was passed around to about five-to-eight production companies before Open Road Films took charge of the domestic distribution while powerhouse Sony took the distribution rights internationally. Is that a huge crop of movies to choose from? There may be more that I’m missing but I think that list is most of them. Change must happen at the studio level which cannot be overlooked.

Oddly enough something that has been quietly swept under the rug was the lack of response from Caucasian actors. Over the last few years we’ve heard actors complain about equal pay between male and female leads, the lack of roles for older female actors (I find the term “actress” bothersome), war in other countries, famine, charity, etc. Yet when this issue was all over the front pages well-established white actors zipped their lips and avoided the subject. George Clooney was one that spoke to the lack of diversity, as did Danny DeVito, Sam Neill, Quentin Tarantino and Michael Moore. There may have been others but there weren’t a lot of actors coming out publicly to voice their concerns.

Diversity in the business will not happen without white actors contributing their influence. It won’t. The Civil Rights Act didn’t pass in this country just based on the sheer number of minorities taking up the fight; people of all colors helped contribute and that’s going to apply here.

I don’t doubt that some actors I like – who happen to be Caucasian – have no qualms with the status quo because they directly benefit from it. Why rock the boat, right? I thought, “Damn I wonder how some of them feel about the diversity issue in Hollywood.” Then I saw Matt Damon on Project Greenlight and that further highlighted the prevailing mentality in the business. He’s since apologized but his thoughts, I’m sure, are shared among the decision makers at the power studios. Google it unless you live under the soil and have no clue what I’m talking about here.

When actors of color do get their time in the light, it’s worth noting the performances that put them in the good graces of the Academy. Do you remember the role that Denzel Washington had to play to get his statue for best (lead) actor? What about Halle Berry’s on the same night? See a pattern of some kind? Are you familiar with the character Taraji P. Henson was given a Golden Globe for? Hollywood, hmm…

You know what’s going to happen in the next year or two? An overreaction, a rush to placate actors in barely passable films to make everyone smile and say that opportunity exists for actors everywhere. There are going to be some average movies in the next couple of years led by minorities – and there will be a deluge of nominations for performances that are going to be “meh” at best. I have this feeling it’s going to happen soon.

What will that solve? I bet white actors will speak up then or will they? Jennifer Lawrence complained – rightfully so – about the millions she wasn’t receiving in regards to some of her male costars for the same amount of work. However she’s getting the opportunity and the pay; where’s the advocate for her female colleagues of color like Nia Long, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Gabrielle Union and others?

Hollywood is an old white boys club. That’s not racist, insensitive or disrespectful…it’s true. There are far more important matters that need attention on this planet of ours but I do find this to be an example of how much this country hasn’t changed. Remember the uproar when the first trailer premiered for The Force Awakens? It was loud, and fueled with racist vitriol against the skin tone of a storm trooper in a franchise where aliens talk, robots and humans communicate and those same aliens and humans wield powers that make them gods.

Progress? Please. That was just a fictional world people lost their minds over.

Christian Bale got the nomination that I feel Steve Carell should’ve garnered. Idris Elba’s performance in Beasts of No Nation is definitely worthy of nomination but he couldn’t get one of the ten slots for men. He was as good as any actor that got the “Academy Award Nominee” stamp.

I can’t say Hollywood or the Academy is racist because I don’t believe that in its totality. What I can say unequivocally is that the people in charge are very comfortable with the way things have always been. This isn’t about gold prizes. The lack of inclusion is industry wide and it’s larger than one night. The #ocsarssowhite campaign should be renamed #hollywoodsowhite. Personally I have dreams of being on that stage and giving an acceptance speech in a few years. If that comes to reality I hope it’s because I was so damn good that I couldn’t be ignored and not a way to assuage the mistakes of the business to make opportunity seem equal across racial lines.

Where will Chris Rock steer his monologue? Will he walk out there and eviscerate the industry or will he play it safe? I’ll check it out on the internet either way because Rock is the best at what he does. Personally, I want him to make everyone in attendance squirm in their seats and sweat out their designer clothing before he playfully eases the tension in the room.

There were good performances this year but there are others that will not receive their due credit on Hollywood’s biggest evening. They weren’t deemed worthy of a nomination. Why is that?


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