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Friday, January 22, 2016

#OscarsSoWhite: Does The Academy Have A Race Problem? Part II

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was born in 2014 after the 2015 Oscar nominations were released. The Academy failed to nominate an actor or director of color which led many of us to ponder the state of this seemingly antiquated institution. I even chimed in on the issue wondering if The Academy had a race problem last year. Last year, I felt as if the lack of nominations for people was not the fault of The Academy, but basically the result of Hollywood’s latent racism. I didn’t feel as if it was The Academy’s fault that they weren’t able to nominate quality from people of color that wasn’t there (and frankly even if The Academy did nominate Selma, the larger lack of quality to choose from still remains).

However, that argument just doesn’t hold as much water today where, for the second year in a row, the Oscars are still so white. There most certainly is still a lack of opportunity for people of color to tell their stories, but there were plenty of deserving nominations for people of color at this year’s Oscars and plenty of ways to make the Oscar nominations more diverse while still honoring craft and talent. 

Before we get into those truly deserving of a nomination, we have two nominees that don’t necessarily deserve a nomination, but probably would have gotten one in the past on a level playing field- and that’s a Best Actor nomination for Will Smith in Concussion, and any nominations for the people of color in Straight Outta Compton. I haven’t seen Concussion, so I can’t personally judge how good Will Smith is in it or not, but in a weak Best Actor field where the only nominee that seems to deserve to be there is Leo, it’s hard to imagine Will effing Smith giving a performance like he seems to give in Concussion and NOT giving him an Oscar nomination. That being said, I haven’t heard that much outrage over his snub.

A film I have heard outrage about and a film that I have seen is Straight Outta Compton. I personally didn’t think Compton was all that great of a film, but a lot of other people and people I respect who disagree with me. The film also received nominations from AFI, the Broadcast Film Critics, National Board of Review, PGA, and the Screen Actors Guild. Further, as Kristopher Tapley pointed out on Twitter, it certainly feels like the type of film that should have gotten a nomination. 

To me, it has the same essence and tone of The Help. From the broadest of perspectives, the only difference in my mind between The Help and Straight Outta Compton is that one film has the struggle of the black plight seen through the eyes of a white person and the other has the struggle of the black plight seen through the eyes of those actually living with the struggle. It certainly doesn’t bode well for The Academy that The Help earned a Best Picture nomination and Straight Outta Compton did not.

That being said, I am not going to lose any sleep over those "snubs". However, the performance and the film that did deserve to be invited to the party, and the lack of nominations for each that I find deeply disturbing are Idris Elba's performance as the Commandant in Beasts of No Nation, and everyone associated (outside of Sly) with Creed. It's hard to watch Beasts of No Nation and Creed and not think of Oscar nominees.

Idris Elba is an incredible actor. He's most certainly "paid his due" (if you believe in that narrative) with roles in the Thor franchise, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Prometheus, and of course as Stringer Bell in The Wire. But Elba's past work aside, he's freaking fantastic in Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation as a leader of young boys fighting in war torn Africa. The Commandant is pure evil spewing propaganda to convince a group of boys who don't know any better to fight for him. However, that same charisma that he uses to hatemonger is also that same charisma that makes you get sucked into this performance and actually root for this character to succeed. It's an incredibly tricky job and Elba pulls it off beautifully. And the other nominating award bodies seemed to have thought so as well. Idris Elba earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination from The Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Screen Actors Guild, and Independent Spirit Awards, yet for some reason he wasn't able to earn one from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Outside of Idris Elba, it's hard to watch Creed and not think it deserves all of the nominations. Creed was of the best films of the year, Ryan Coogler did a helluva good directing it, and Michael B. Jordan is just excellent in it. Even nominees like Maryse Alberti (a Black female) who shot the film would have added much needed diversity to the entire nominees and old white cinematographers. It also doesn't help that she did a phenomenal job and the work itself should have earned her a nomination. 

Creed was even more impressive when you think of how effective it was with both hard core fans of the franchise and newbies like myself and my wife who have only seen one Rocky film between the two of us. It was incredibly well made, well acted, and pleased everybody. It baffles me that Creed received as few nominations as it did. 


It's easy to complain about a solution, but it's hard to come up with a solution. I appreciate The Academy recognizing a problem, but now they need to solve it. As Oscar historian and former Grantland writer has noted on Twitter, the solution is simple: offer more memberships to women and people of color to diversify the voting blocs. The more The Academy (and Hollywood studios) start to look like how America and the World looks like, the more we can solve the racial and gender biases that exist within these institutions. 

Further, once we diversify the movie industry, we can start to have our films actually reflect the culture that we live in. The Oscars are great because they create an indelible time capsule of us for future generations. It was would a damn shame if that time capsule ended up being the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag as opposed to letting the films stand on their own.



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