Editorial: Opies, Not Oscars, In 2016 - PopcornReel.com


Monday, January 18, 2016

The Unbearable Whiteness Of Oscar, Centuries Long

Paint it white? The Academy has a centuries-long blindness to nominating let alone awarding Oscars to Black actors, directors and filmmakers of color in general.

Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Monday, January 18, 2016

Should we just call them The Opies not The Oscars?

White Gold, Black Scold?

What would Martin Luther King Jr. have thought of the Oscars?  The Academy?  The organization's 99.9% white nominees year after year with the rarest of exceptions? 

I'd expect Dr. King would be far too busy with the more urgent business of justice, voting rights, poor people, unionizing and appealing to moral conscience in an unjust America.

On the other hand I suspect he'd take a moment to speak out resonantly against the Academy's continuous, reflexive white-washing and shameful, wholesale exclusion of Black filmmakers, producers and actors -- and filmmakers of color in general. 

The Academy paid respect to Dr. King's death in 1968.  The ceremony was called off for the only time in its 88-year history, postponed for several days to pay tribute to the legendary activist and human rights leader.

Today that same Academy, which awarded Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1940 and Sidney Poitier an Oscar in 1964, seasonally sends the idea of a global participatory audience (as well as a view of a diverse, universal moviegoing world) back to the 1950s.

Or back to 2016.

It is decades past time for The Academy to consider a world that doesn't look solely like what the vast majority of its members see in the mirror each day. 

Last week the body of about 6,000 mostly white and male members over 60 excluded Black actors and filmmakers from its annual nominations yet again.  No Idris Elba.  (Too "street" for Oscar, I guess.  No Will Smith.  He supposedly isn't a good enough international box office draw.) 

And there's definitely no Black woman of any kind in The Academy view either. 

Television now prospers with Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington, while the world's most august film industry awards body spits in their eyes. 

Even MTV, all but defunct now, finally came around after pressure to play Black artists in the 1980s and 1990s.

Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee, recipients of honorary Oscars, Nov. 14, 2015

The Academy, on the other hand, remains stubbornly intransigent in its racist and homogeneous bent.  It is the 21st century.  The demographic realities of America are changing.  Black, Latino and Asian people will be the majority of America in the next 20 to 30 years.  This probably doesn't matter to the Academy's older, whiter membership. 

The Academy has as its president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who in actuality is under siege.  She is at the very epicenter, in my view, of a war, a racial war, if you will, in The Academy.  Ms. Isaacs is the only Black person to be president of The Academy.  I give her a lot of credit.  She is trying.  She cannot turn the tide alone.  She needs help.  Some of it from us.  From the outside.

We're barely lucky if we can get a Black host of what has long been the most tedious and overly-long telecast that live television has to offer. 

To put things in perspective: the GOP has more Black nominees for president this year than the Academy has Black acting, directing, costuming or music nominees. 

Next month the nominees luncheon picture will look even whiter than it did in 2015.  Two Black people populated that photo.  One of them was Oprah.

Hooray for Hollywood.  That so-called progressive, liberal bastion. 

When it comes to nominating Blacks for Oscar could you call The Academy The Hateful 6000?

If this glaring exclusionary practice is not about racist tendencies, latent or blatant, then what else could it possibly be about?  Surely white Academy members at large know that white actors and directors and screenwriters aren't all that exist in the world?

White blindness?  Or white supremacy?  Or white Oscar?  Or is that last question redundant?

Are Academy members putting the curse on Black nominees after the historic win by Steve McQueen and "12 Years A Slave" in 2014?  Or is it merely "as you were" and business as usual for blatant, wholesale race exclusion and omission?

To say that the zero scale of Black nominees each year is racist is just the tip of the iceberg.  Some will say, "what do you expect?"  I will reply: a whole lot better than this.

Some will say, "they don't have vote for anyone Black if they don't want to."  I will reply: the world of cinema isn't only white, nor is America, nor 45% of the moviegoing public.  And you should take your blinders and bigotry off before you vote.

Think about this: a Black president of the United States existed before a Black president of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences did.

White supremacy in part dictates that there is only one world view - a white world view - one that maintains its survival by ensuring its own power and control over other races by subjugating them through all means including institutionally.  Such supremacy is also held principally via the overwhelming prevalence and hyper-dominance of institutions of higher learning, entertainment, politics, finance, business, journalism, film boardroom executives and studio heads.  All of which are exclusively white.  That control is upheld through the majorities numerical advantage over any persons of color, while also sending messages about their supposed inferiority.

White supremacy is the arena that The Academy Awards (and lots of film critics circle awards) sits in.  It's in that space that its very own worldview gets transmitted, and exported globally, instantaneously, year in, year out.

What if advertisers grew a conscience - they'll *never* do so in service to the Almighty Dollar I cynically suggest - and back out of advertising on the Oscars the way many sponsors threatened to pull out of the Super Bowl a year or two ago in Arizona due to legislation that would have adversely affected the gay population?

What if for once, businesses steadfastly, in service of the "Dream" that the mainstream media annually missrepresents Dr. King with, declared they would not advertise for The Oscars the way they did when The Masters had banned women from participating in its events?  What if?

I know that Jada Pinkett Smith raised excellent questions about the Oscars and others have talked about boycotts.  I don't think that not watching the Academy Awards works.  That's just me.  I will watch on February 28.  Chris Rock will be my sole reason for doing so. 

Those who choose to boycott The Academy have my full support.  I watched with disgust last year as host Neil Patrick "Heineken Gone Guy" Harris epitomized the Academy's collective mentality.  You have the right to not watch The Oscars as you have the right not to read these words.  Little effect on The Academy will be had either way.  It is advertisers that people must put pressure on.  That is the key.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Howard Sochurek/LIFE

I urge people to watch The NAACP Image Awards on February 5 at 9pm Eastern on TV One in the U.S.  It is a fulsome representation of the Black experience and entertainment community, rewarded and awarded in full.  There have been more than a few white winners, too.  People have more fun at the NAACP Image Awards.  People are ever so tense at The Academy Awards.

One thing that white Academy members must do is challenge each other to rise above their own racial blindness and blind spots.  Will that ever happen?

Even on the few occasions when Black winners of Oscar arise, at times they are sometimes segregated from other award winners on the night.  The Academy did this with Spike Lee (and with white award recipients Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds) at the Governors Awards in November 2015.  All three received honorary Oscars.  "It should be an official one," Samuel L. Jackson remarked on the auteur's Oscar, as Mr. Lee made his way to the stage. 

"We need some flavor up in here!", Mr. Lee would go on to say, referring to the nearly all-white membership of The Academy and by extension its appalling lack of Black and Brown official Sunday night telecast Oscar winners.  The numbers do not lie. 

Mr. Lee was not afforded the live, primetime global February Sunday night spotlight that all 18 minutes of his November comments deserved.  (During Black History Month 2016, no less.  Tongue in cheek.  Kidding on the square.)  You can watch the looks in some parts of the audience at some of the very famous white stars as Spike Lee speaks.  One or two look nervous.  That is sad to me.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Concussion".  She's done great work in "Belle", "Beyond The Lights" and more. 
Her "Concussion" co-star Will Smith was not nominated last week.   Sony

Spike Lee drove the economic points home during his acceptance speech.  Forcing the Teamsters to hire Black truck drivers or having the Fruit Of Islam do so on "Malcolm X".  The Teamsters responded to Mr. Lee's demand the very next day. 

That is the point that we must drive home with The Academy.  Putting pressure on advertisers is the key.  That - is the mission. 

In an era of those white fanboys who express racist sentiments about having a "Black stormtrooper" in a film or Black characters in "The Hunger Games", it isn't just the The Academy that remains a huge problem.  It is more importantly centuries-long institutionalized racism and white supremacy at large that is the biggest threat  to all in America.  Again, it is in this arena, amid all of this hostility, violence inflicted upon Blacks, and the inability for still far too many whites (and a few Blacks) to talk openly and honestly about race and racism and enslavement of Blacks by whites -- where this glaring and annual Academy injustice resides.  There is context.  This is the context.  The full context.

The Academy Awards are tainted.  To use a legal term of art in the law: The Oscars are fruit of the poisonous tree.  You could throw out much of the rotten lot of almost 90 years if you wanted to.  (And who remembers some of the winning performances, anyway?)  The Oscars are most certainly not a full appraisal of the wide, diverse array of talent that Black America (and Brown America and Asian America) has to offer.  Remember the emails of Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin?

"Aloha", anyone?  With whites playing Asian characters?

Aaron Sorkin didn't know of any major Asian film stars?  His sentiment is representative of the majority of Academy members at large.  Less than 10% of The Academy membership is Black or of any other color.

The situation for nominees who are Black is the same situation that Negro League players faced: the Major League Baseball players shunned them at virtually every turn.  You could asterisk every single year where there's no meaningful representation of Black nominees.  Or any nominees of color in general. 

I'm not even suggesting that a Black performer must win every year.  But to have no Black nominees at all on an almost yearly basis for nearly 90 years of your existence is to willfully ignore the world beyond your hateful, arrogant and ugly nose.

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