When the curtain rises on the 88th annual Oscar film awards next Sunday evening, February 28, tens of millions of TV viewers, along with attendees at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, will feel extra pangs of anxiety. For the focus this year is as much on race as it is on who will win. From the time of the announcement of the 20 acting nominations on January 14, racial grievance hustlers, from Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson to scheduled emcee Chris Rock (in photo), have hectored the Motion Picture Academy over the nominees being all white. This, they say, proves racism is rampant and that “reforms” are needed. Don’t believe them. Their facts are selective. And their goals are money and power at the expense of integrity of judgment.
The movie industry for the last couple of decades increasingly has been a target of hard Left identity politicians. Hispanic groups habitually demand that studios bankroll more films with Hispanics – with positive portrayals, of course. Gay and lesbian activists insist that studios depict their sexual cultures. One pressure group, GLAAD (formerly known as Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), in August 2013 launched its Studio Responsibility Index in order to calculate the “quantity, quality and diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in films released by six major motion picture studios.” Needless to say, GLAAD was not happy about the way things played out in 2012. Out of the 101 film releases by the major studios that year, complained the group, only 14 contained characters identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. And to cap it off: “There were no films containing transgendered characters.” Oh, the injustice of it all! Feminists have their own version of bean-counting. The annual Celluloid Ceiling survey, a project of San Diego State University, last month reported a slight “improvement” in female representation behind the camera over the previous year. Nine percent of directors of commercial releases in 2015 were women, up from 7 percent in 2014. Commenting on the report, Time magazine’s Eliana Dockterman admonished: “Women are routinely shut out of big opportunities in Hollywood, but a new study shows that their representation behind the camera increased slightly in 2015.” To them, Kathryn Bigelow’s victory six years ago for Best Director (The Hurt Locker) was merely a good start. These campaigns, steeped in identity politics, are self-perpetuating. All seek to monitor future “progress.” No backsliding should be allowed to occur.
This mentality is especially prevalent among black activists. A growing number, in and out of the film industry, insist that whites, who allegedly dominate the industry, have been giving creative blacks short shrift, especially come Oscar nomination time. They claim this is an injustice and that “racism” is the problem. This charge is at once unprovable and, in its own way, coercive. For it is the prerogative of any panel of judges, large or small, to apply criteria as they see fit. Moreover, the charge has a strong undercurrent of collective and individual self-aggrandizement. Anyone connected to the world of film knows that when it comes to awards, the Oscars are what really count; the People’s Choice, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and other ceremonies are sideshows, mere sneak previews of the main event. An Oscar nomination, and better still, an Oscar win, is the ultimate portal to movie career success. An actor’s brand name instantly becomes gold. Top Hollywood agents estimate that a victory translates into a 20 percent pay boost for their clients. The pictures themselves also benefit, with ticket sales jumping on average by about a third. This hike doesn’t even include the revenue boosts from DVD rentals and sales, video streaming, downloads and sale of broadcasting rights. And sometimes the rise in ticket sales can be spectacular. Take the winner for Best Picture of 2010, The King’s Speech. The movie originally was projected to generate a modest worldwide box office gross of $30 million. That was before it received 12 Oscar nominations. After that, the revised estimated gross exceeded $200 million. And after winning Best Picture – Colin Firth, the British actor who played King George VI, took home a golden statue, too – world box office shot up to $427 million. To make a long story short, there is serious money at stake. And blacks want a large chunk of it. From their standpoint, why should a stuffy British film about a white monarch with a bad stutter roll in the dough?
The affirmative action principle is spurious enough when applied to hiring, contracting or college admissions. But it is positively toxic when applied to nominations and awards for professional achievement. And unlike sports, where a Most Valuable Player award has tangible benchmarks – e.g., batting average, earned run average – an award in the performing arts is a matter of subjective judgment. There are no defining statistics that can serve as a guide. A judge takes into consideration, consciously and subconsciously, a range of factors. And when it comes to acting, a judge takes into account logistical difficulty as well as authenticity and range of emotion. That’s why difficult roles so often win the day. A year ago, for example, the award for Best Male Lead Actor went to the Englishman, Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. No doubt many judges felt that Redmayne, in playing Hawking, a quadriplegic, went beyond the call of duty. Among nominated lead actresses, Julianne Moore took home the Oscar for her role in Still Alice as a college professor with early Alzheimer’s. This, too, was a highly challenging role. Redmayne and Moore, like Colin Firth before them, in other words, won for reasons that in all likelihood had nothing to do with their being white.
Who are the supposedly dastardly people who make the decisions regarding Oscar nominees and winners? That would be the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Based at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, the Academy consists of about 6,000 voting members with some kind of connection to the film industry. More than 1,100 belong to the actors’ branch; i.e., the people who reward acting performances. AMPAS and its 51-member board of governors zealously guard member identities (unless, of course, the members self-identify) – and with good reason. For if the members became known to the general public, they could be subject to all manner of intimidation, blackmail or bribery to vote the “right” way. Independent judgment requires confidentiality. And independence is necessary because the competition is ferocious. Many are called, few are chosen. The demand for a golden statue in any category always exceeds the supply. Every year produces its share of “snubs.” That is a fact of life. Actor-director Clint Eastwood, as familiar with the workings of Hollywood as anyone, gave a commonsense response last month to the racial demagoguery surrounding the latest nominations. In an interview with TMZ, he remarked: “All I know is there are thousands of people in the Academy, and a lot of them – the majority of them – haven’t won Oscars.” Eastwood added: “A lot of people are crying, I guess.”
Black activists, by contrast, believe the Academy Awards should operate as a racial spoils system. If they’re not literally crying over the latest nominations, they’re certainly crying foul. It doesn’t matter to them that the short lists reflect a wide range of subjective criteria. As they see it, blacks in any given year are entitled to a certain share of the nominations. And since blacks, and other “people of color,” were absent among the nominees for the best lead and supporting acting performances for the past two years, these critics denounce the system as rigged in favor of whites. They’re not at all impressed by the fact that the current president of the Motion Picture Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is black and thinks like them. For them, any statistical disparities signaling “too few” blacks must be due to institutional bias. And since bias can’t be erased, the Academy members guilty of it – i.e., white ones – must be replaced.
The Oscar nominations for the year 2015, announced this past January 14, have provided shakedown artists with an ideal opportunity to jump-start their moral indignation under the guise of civil rights. Reverend Al Sharpton, ever the master of the trade, registered his disapproval. On January 25, Sharpton’s New York-based nonprofit group, National Action Network, issued a press release denouncing the lack of “diversity” in the nominations. NAN called for a summit meeting with AMPAS trustees and other film industry leaders to promote diversity. The statement, formally endorsed by the National Urban League and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, contained more than a hint of a threat:
Following an awards nomination process that saw the nomination of no actors of color and no women writers, the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences (sic) promises a greater push for diversity.
That was a year ago.
Therefore, it rings hollow when the Academy – for the second year in a row – promises a greater push for diversity to another all-white acting nomination slate.
A lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a complex issue without a simple solution. We are well aware the problem neither begins nor ends with awards nominations. But the overwhelmingly white, male, and older membership of the Academy dismally fails to reflect the vibrant creative filmmaking community. Award nominations translate into box-office success, and the potential for box-office success determines which projects are greenlighted.
If the Academy cannot break this vicious circle, it risks it own irrelevancy. According to the L.A. Times, the domestic and international television rights provide the academy with approximately $70 million annually. ABC, which holds the domestic rights, is expected to garner at least $80 million in advertising revenue this year. Furthermore, African-Americans attend the movies on average more often than whites, spending more than $1.1 billion annually on movie tickets.
It seems that the Academy’s board of trustees believes diversity is a problem that will resolve itself. The nominations show otherwise. We will be requesting a meeting with the Academy’s board members and other industry leaders where we will present a clear and specific blueprint for moving forward, and outline our plan to hold the Academy accountable.
All of this is overwrought nonsense. National Action Network simply refuses to accept the fact that the Academy doesn’t have racial quotas. In support of this statement, Sharpton and his allies are sponsoring anti-Oscar protest rallies in Los Angeles and six other major U.S. cities, plus a nationwide “tune-out” TV boycott.
It may be hard to believe, but Al Sharpton actually comes off slightly more conciliatory than that other titan of civil rights bullying, Jesse Jackson. With almost breathtaking idiocy, Jackson, in a February 1 guest op-ed for USA Today (“Hollywood, It’s Time to Flip the Script on Diversity”), accused the film industry of “apartheid”:
For the second year in a row, no actor or actress of color has been nominated for an Academy Award. That is a shameful streak. But the growing outcry over the whitewashing of the prestigious golden statue and the industry it celebrates is a sign of at least some progress….
Today, some of the biggest names in show business – black and white – are speaking up and out about what amounts to Hollywood Apartheid. They are stars such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee and Danny DeVito, who recently told the Associated Press that “we’re living in a country that discriminates” and that the nomination process was an “example of the fact that even though some people have given great performances in movies, they weren’t even thought about.”
Jackson concluded his broadside this way:
By mid-century, America will be majority minority country. But it is already clear that diversity is good for business. Films with diverse casts…enjoyed the highest median global box-office receipts and the highest median return on investment.
Indeed, the movie that broke box office records around the world in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, stars a white woman and a black man.
Open your eyes, Hollywood. It’s time to flip the script.
Aside from the fact that there is nothing inevitable about America becoming a “majority minority” country (and if we wind up that way, one can thank laws and policies advocated by people like Jackson – talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!), the notion that The Force Awakens owes its box office success to a racially “diverse” cast is ludicrous. With or without any black actors, the movie would have pulled in its more than $2 billion (and counting) in global ticket sales. Earth to Jesse: This is a Star Wars movie. This franchise has been setting box office records for almost 40 years. There long have been blacks in these films anyway. The second (1980) and third (1983) movies of the original Star Wars trilogy co-starred a black, Billy Dee Williams, as “Lando Calrissian.” Another black, Samuel L. Jackson, co-starred as “Mace Windu” in the prequel trilogy of 1999-2005. And lest we forget, the black actor, James Earl Jones, did the voiceover for Darth Vader (also black, in a sense) during Episodes III-VI. Yes, the newest flick is box office gold. But that has far less to do with the casting of black British actor John Boyega as a co-lead than with the return of original trilogy white lead cast members Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, if in supporting roles. Or maybe Jesse Jackson actually believes that John Boyega is a bigger box office draw than Harrison Ford.
Opinions such as those of Sharpton and Jackson, unfortunately, have gone viral on certain social media sites, especially Twitter. By way of the hashtags “#OscarsSoWhite” and “#OscarsStillSoWhite,” social justice twits have transmitted innumerable messages over the last several weeks to express outrage over all 20 nominated actors being white. Here’s a tweet from a black, Matthew A. Cherry, via #OscarsSoWhite: “Don’t nominate any actors of color but include 5/11 people of color as presenters. Jig is sky high.” And some character known as “[email protected]” had this to say: “aaaaaaaand the Oscars are STILL racist. Welcome to 2016 everybody, people still somehow think this is okay.” All of these people either belong to, or heavily sympathize with, the reprehensible nationwide radical activist network, Black Lives Matter, profiled at length last month by National Legal and Policy Center.
If opportunistic black hustlers outside the film industry were the only people driving this power grab, the situation would be halfway manageable. Unfortunately, a number of “A-list” blacks inside the industry have joined them. Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith announced on Martin Luther King Day that they would be boycotting the Oscars (Lee later clarified his remarks, saying that he preferred that the movie industry institute the equivalent of the NFL’s Rooney Rule governing the search process for hiring coaches). Smith’s real-life husband, actor Will Smith, though not committing himself to a boycott, disingenuously played peacemaker. Last month he stated during a televised interview: “There is no us and them. I’m a member of the Academy. For me, it’s more about putting my hand up and reminding my community, the Hollywood community, that we have to lead. That diversity is America’s superpower. That’s what makes our country great.” This affectation of reasonableness ought to fool nobody. It is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do ultimatum directed at studio executives and the Academy – and “negotiations” had better go according to plan. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry said she was “heartbroken” over the lack of representation of blacks as of late. And this year’s Master of Ceremonies, actor-comedian Chris Rock, who hosted the event back in 2005, vowed in the aftermath of the latest nominations to rewrite his script. As his one-line zingers no doubt will take aim at the Academy, one hopes the seated whites in the audience won’t squirm. Better still they should not react at all.
More party-line enabling has come from scores of journalists and bloggers brimming with moral self-righteousness. Tre’vell Anderson, a contact reporter with the Los Angeles Times, groused on the day of the nominations: “(T)he Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for this year’s coveted golden statue. For the second year in a row, not one nominee in the four major acting categories is a person of color. Furthermore, people of color are virtually absent from all the other categories as well.” Worse yet was an accompanying interview with a black woman, April Reign, a former attorney, the current managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com, and the creator of #OscarsSoWhite. Reign opined: “(T)here’s still the erasure of marginalized communities – not just with respect to the Academy but also in Hollywood overall. The Academy understandably can only do so much, and they do need to do more, but we also need to focus on the heads of the studios who make the decisions with respect to greenlighting films so that we see more people of color and more LGBTQ people and more people who are differently-abled up on the screen telling their stories as well.” Ms. Reign, or whatever her real name is, comes off as a self-parody of racial/gender radicalism. The duo of Rebecca Keegan and Steven Zeitchik, also contact reporters with the L.A. Times, similarly weighed in: “It’s another embarrassing Hollywood sequel: For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated an all-white group of acting nominees.” Actually, Keegan and Zeitchik ought to be embarrassed for writing such drivel.
Even more irritating are the “prestige” critics who peddle this baloney. In the aftermath of the nomination announcements this January, for example, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, Wesley Morris and A.O. Scott – Dargis and Scott (each white) are film critics; Morris (black) is at-large culture critic – held a recorded three-way conversation published by the Times under the title, “Oscars So White? Or Oscars So Dumb? Discuss.” The participants did discuss – badly. And Ms. Dargis, for one, had no problem rendering a guilty verdict:
I love that so many people are enraged at this year’s whiteout – anyone who yells at the Academy is a friend of mine – but I wish that this anger was being expressed 365 days a year and not when the nominations are announced. As Tony (A.O. Scott) suggested, it’s worth repeating again and again (and again!): The primary reason the Oscars are so white this year and most years is that the movie industry is overwhelmingly white. That’s infuriating, but that’s not shocking, and it sure isn’t news. And if that bothers people, then they need to start complaining loudly and perhaps even begin voting with their dollars. By, say, supporting movies with minorities and women. Because the only way the industry will change is if people give them hell.
Reflect upon this contemptible display of vulgar Leftism for a moment. Ms. Dargis is suggesting that discerning filmgoers of all races have a moral duty to buy tickets to see more black- and female-oriented films, and by implication, fewer “white” and “male” ones. The comments by Wesley Morris and A.O. Scott were little or no better. Apparently, this is what passes for balance at the New York Times.
At the Washington Post, the song was the same. Lead movie critic Ann Hornaday, a white, lamented in the January 31 Sunday edition: “In snubbing individual films and performances from 2015, and in recognizing a plurality of movies dominated by one ethnicity and gender, the message from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was clear: When it comes to narratives we accept as universal – as representing the world we all supposedly live in – the organization’s comfort zone, like its membership, is overwhelmingly white and male.” If there were a special journalism award given out for smugness and cliché stuffed into a single sentence, Ms. Hornaday would be an instant candidate. Her words invite a few questions, such as: Why must we assume that white males are unqualified to judge black-themed films? Since when does “white” qualify as an ethnic group? Why should we assume that nominating a white actor for an Oscar translates into a deliberate “snub” of nonwhites? In the same edition, her colleague, Stephanie Merry, also white, writing from the Sundance Film Festival in Utah to gush over a new biopic about 1831 Virginia slave rebellion leader Nat Turner (whose commercial distribution rights Fox Searchlight Pictures promptly snapped up for $17.5 million), got in this dig: “The timing couldn’t be better, as the Oscars and Hollywood as a whole have been taken to task for their diversity problem in recent years.”
Then there was Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, arguably the worst film critic ever to write for a major periodical. Travers, his patented snarky, shallow, cartoonish prose in full bloom, threw his annual anti-Oscar hissy fit in the magazine’s February 11 issue:
The Academy of Old Farts and Outdated Sciences holds the option of nominating 10 movies for Best Picture, but it chose only eight, leaving out work crafted by People of Color (Straight Outta Compton), directed by women (Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl), and starring Transgender actors (Tangerine). OK, Compton did get nominated for best screenplay, but it’s written by two white people. WTF! Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are calling for a boycott of the February 28th Oscar ceremony against the nearly 6,000 Academy voting members (who are 94 percent white). Not one of the 20 acting nominees is a minority. The same thing happened last year when David Oyelowo, so brilliant as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, was among the snubbed, along with director Ava Duvernay. No disrespect to the new crop of nominees, but we should be looking for winners among the best of the best, not the best of the rest.
Travers, who also is white, has been writing for Rolling Stone since 1989. His retirement can’t come soon enough.
The outrage generated by black social media activists and their enablers in high places is misplaced. The case against the “racist” Oscars, when subject to scrutiny, collapses under the weight of its absurdity. The following are several compelling reasons not to take seriously its accusations:
An awards ceremony is not an affirmative action program. This point alone should suffice as a rebuttal to anti-white activists. Though elaborated upon earlier, it bears repeating: Race should not be a factor in evaluating artistic merit. The idea that a list of nominees should reflect the overall racial (or sexual) balance of the film industry, let alone America or the world, is preposterous. There is only one valid criterion for including someone on a short list, whatever the category: excellence. Subjecting awards to a quota, whether implicit or explicit, demeans achievement. There is no reason why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should operate on an affirmative action quota system. A large range of unquantifiable perceptions and emotions come into play in deciding who to nominate. There is no way to prove that a given selection was motivated by “bias” for or against a particular race. If blacks want guarantees of Oscars, they should hold their own ceremonies. Problem solved.
Any given year produces its share of “snubs.” The demand for an award always outstrips the supply. Potentially deserving performances in any category will number in the dozens. The job of the Motion Picture Academy is to narrow down the field of candidates to a short list and then select a winner. The acting nominations for 2015 are justified. There is no need for the Academy to apologize. Let us ask our Social Justice Warriors: Which whites would you bump from the acting category lists to make room for nonwhites? Would you deny Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) the chance to be Best Lead Actor (in Redmayne’s case, for the second straight year)? Would you kick Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) off the short list for Best Lead Actress? I have seen virtually all of these movies. The nominees deserve to be nominated. That a certain proportion of white actors and actresses should be denied the opportunity to win an Oscar solely because of their race is outrageous. Yet that’s what race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, not to mention hack film critics like Ann Hornaday and Peter Travers, are implying.
Black actors have scored plenty of Oscar nominations, and victories, in recent years. The people who affect moral outrage over the “all-white” nominations of the last two years appear to have a short-term memory. Blacks have scored plenty of nominations, and victories, during these past 15 years. The pivotal year was 2002. The Best Lead Actor and Best Lead Actress awards for calendar year 2001, respectively, went to Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball). The mascara-stained acceptance speech by the mulatto Berry was a model of black payback melodrama. Now let’s have a look at how some black men have fared since. In 2005, Jamie Foxx won Best Lead Actor as Ray Charles in the previous year’s Ray, while Morgan Freeman took home the golden statue for Best Supporting Actor in Million Dollar Baby. Two years later, Forest Whitaker won Best Lead Actor for playing the vile Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. As for nominations not resulting in victory, black actors Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Terrence Howard, Will Smith (twice) and Denzel Washington (twice) made the exalted short list during this time frame. On the female side, Gabourney Sidibe (Precious) and Viola Davis (The Help) each have been nominated for Best Lead Actress. Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Viola Davis (Doubt), Mo’Nique (Precious), Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Lupita Lyong’o (12 Years a Slave) each won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. So where is the “discrimination?” Blacks are only one-eighth of the U.S. population (and even less in other Western countries), yet their nominations and victories fairly match statistical expectations. Indeed, in the category of Best Supporting Actress, they far exceed them.
If racially-motivated snubbing is going on, it could be that whites, not blacks, are getting shortchanged. One film, Training Day (2001), stands out. This was the movie that won Denzel Washington his Oscar for Best Lead Actor. It depicted a tutor-pupil relationship between two cops patrolling the mean streets of Los Angeles. Directed by a black, Antoine Fuqua, and scripted by a white, David Ayer (who would go on to write and/or direct the LAPD-based dramas Dark Blue, Street Kings and End of Watch), Training Day was a hit with critics and audiences. In capsule, Denzel Washington’s character mentored a novice, played by Ethan Hawke. Both characters were central to the storyline and received equal screen time. Washington and Hawke each received an Oscar nomination. But in Washington’s case, it was for Best Lead Actor; in Hawke’s case, it was for Best Supporting Actor. Washington won for his role as a tough but corrupt veteran cop, doomed by his entanglement with the Russian mob. He was very convincing. But so was Hawke. The larger issue is: Why was Hawke considered a “supporting” actor rather than a lead like Washington? Was it was because he was white? One can speculate all one wants. Yet it is fair to suggest that Denzel Washington, an outspoken advocate of a higher profile for blacks in film, had some say in the matter.
The anti-Oscar campaign is part of a larger campaign to extend affirmative action to awards in television, music and other creative media. Anyone who thinks that black identity activists are focused only on film is seriously naïve. These shakedown artists want to weave their brand of “diversity” into every nook and cranny of American cultural life, including recognition in all performing arts. As blacks have been nominated for plenty of awards – and often have won – in the Emmys (television), the Grammys (recorded music) and the Tonys (stage), they don’t see much of need to raise a ruckus. The Grammy awards have separate categories of rap and rhythm & blues, long dominated by blacks. And Primetime Emmy awards, far more prestigious than the Daytime Emmys, went to several black females at last September’s ceremonies: Viola Davis, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (How to Get Away with Murder); Uzo Aduba, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Orange Is the New Black); and Regina King, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (American Crime). Many other black performers received nominations, though did not win. Blacks in the street noticed. The hashtag “#blackgirlmagic” alone gathered more than 7,000 tweets. In a real sense, black activists view the Oscars as the final frontier, the last bastion of white-held territory to conquer.
The people who run the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, beginning with AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, should be making these arguments. Yet they are doing the very opposite. About the latest Oscar nomination kerfuffle, Isaacs had this to say: “I really was disappointed. What is important is that this entire conversation of diversity is here and that we are talking about it. And I think we will not just talk because people will say, ‘Well don’t just talk. You gotta do. Talking gets to the doing, and we are going to do.” Unfortunately, the Academy already is addressing the “do” part. On Friday, January 22, the organization announced its pledge to double membership for women and minorities by 2020 through an aggressive plan that includes stripping many older members (translation: older white members) of voting privileges. The Board of Governors had approved the proposal the previous night. Under the new regulations, each new member’s voting status will lapse after 10 years of film inactivity. And a member will receive lifetime voting rights after serving three 10-year terms after winning or being nominated for an Oscar. The Academy is currently 87 percent white. Apparently, some people think that figure is way too high. The selection of Chris Rock as this year’s emcee is emblematic of the industry’s genuflection before black demands. Not that last year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, a white, was anything to write home about. He managed to get in a snide, and unfunny, joke about the Oscars’ allegedly anti-black bias.
Some well-known film people, to their credit, have spoken out against this capitulation, if only tentatively. Clint Eastwood, as noted earlier, delivered a rebuke. So has the great English actor Michael Caine, over the years nominated for an Oscar six times, winning twice. In an interview with the BBC, he said that he would not vote for a black actor solely on the basis of race. “There are loads of black actors,” Caine remarked. “I think in the end you can’t vote for an actor (just) because he’s black. You can’t say: I’m going to vote for him, he’s not very good but he’s black, (so) I’ll vote for him.” Acclaimed British actress Charlotte Rampling also pushed back. At one point during an interview with France’s Europe 1 radio, Rampling, who is a member of the Academy and who has won several Cesars (the French equivalent of our Oscars), stated: “Sometimes maybe black actors didn’t deserve to make the shortlist.” She also opposed the idea of quotas. “We live now in countries where anyway people are more or less accepted,” she said. “There are always problems: ‘He’s less handsome’ or ‘He’s too black’ or ‘He’s too white.’ There will always, always be someone who will say, “oh, you’re too…’ What are we going to do? We’re going to classify all that to create thousands of little minorities everywhere?” While Rampling since has backed away somewhat from her point (Hint: She’s up for an Oscar this year), one can be grateful for her having made it. American actress Angie Dickinson, who stands to lose her vote under the new eligibility rules, put it best: “This is not the way to go about things. My message to the Academy was just this: I, Angie, voter, wrote them: I vote for performance, not race.” It’s good that these actors have spoken out. But all are well up in their years. It would be nice also to see young actors speak out. Given that they have long careers ahead of them, however, they are likely to keep mum. In the acting profession, everyone needs work.
The controversy over the alleged exclusion of nonwhite actors from Oscar nominations is needless. It owes its existence to the confidence of protestors that the film industry will succumb to their demands, not unlike the manner in which corporations from Home Depot to Toyota succumb to the demands of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The Motion Picture Academy already has begun to surrender. Despite the preening moral theater in celebration of “diversity,” the anti-Oscar campaign is about promoting black triumphalism. Its supporters would have the public believe that Oscar nominations are entitlements. Such a claim carries no weight. Indeed, it falls flat even on its own terms. If host Chris Rock warms things up next Sunday evening by aiming a barrage of racially-tinged jokes at the seated whites, he deserves boos, not laughs.