The Boycott Fallacy…
Imagine, if following the announcement of the starting lineups of this years NBA All-Star game, the wife of a border line All-Star, who didn’t make the cut, put out a call to boycott the All-Star Weekend because not a single white athlete had been selected to the either starting lineups. Further reasoning that there simply wasn’t a fair representation of diversity within the announced lineups.
Now, being the rational person that you are, if such a statement were hypothetically made, you’d simply point out how it completely ignores the reality of the situation. How given the racial fabric of the league, the probability of a White athlete being selected to either starting lineup is low and conversely the probability of no White athlete being selected to either starting lineup is in fact both high and reasonable. The numbers simply aren’t in their favour.
Yet I can’t help but feel the same sort of tone deaf stance is being taken in the calls to boycott the Oscars.
Now I’m not saying there is or isn’t institutional prejudice at play when discussing the Academy or the wider entertainment industry at large. But before we address that it’s clear that we have to at least get past the basic numbers in play.
So, Black people account for 13% of the American population. Rounding down for ease, we’ll say approximately 1 in 10 Americans is Black.
Applying that number and the fact that there are only 5 nomination slots per category means that to actually be properly represented Black people should receive 0.5 nominations per category.
A complete lack of Black nominations is actually reasonable. Nay it seems it would be a probable likelihood, as opposed to an institutionally constructed conspiracy. That is to say they don’t need to be prejudice, the numbers are already working against us! It’s actually more impressive that there are ever any Black nominations — let alone that we’ve ever won!
Upon hearing of the breaking controversy my first question was what are the criteria for the nominations? Did the Black Films, Film-makers and Actors meet those criteria? But looking through the rules for the selection process is a reminder that the nominations are near enough equivalent to fan voting for the All-Star starting lineups. So one assumes the process would also be prey to similar idiosyncrasies and biases — as any voting system is. In addition to that the voters are essentially picking from a list of 10 eligible candidates in each category. There just aren’t going to consistently be enough qualifying Black Films, Filmmakers and Actors, who also move the voters in their favour over the rest of the field enough to secure a nomination, let alone a win.
So the question becomes that in enacting a boycott who are you saying was undeserving of their nomination? Who deserved a nomination but didn’t receive it because they were Black? Who did not deserve their nomination but received it because they were White? Who received their nomination solely so that the White man could keep his foot on the Black man’s neck?
Recklessly distilling the situation down to race diminishes all parties involved. It diminishes the work of those nominated, it diminishes the work of those not nominated and worst of all it diminishes the struggle of those facing situations of grievous racial prejudice. It’s like crying rape because someone didn’t want to have sex with you, that is the gravity of the recklessness employed in this situation, because calling for a boycott at this point in the process, is merely highjacking a vulnerable narrative to serve an ulterior purpose.
A lack of nominations does not indicate a lack of consideration.
The Academy should know this and that should have been their statement, if any was to be made.
The ironic thing is that in this situation it is us who are only seeing colour! It’s more likely that Straight Out of Compton (Best Original Screenplay) and Creed (Actor In A Supporting Role) received their nominations in less competitive categories because they were truly being considered across the board. Rather than as a result of a mass conspiracy on the part of the Academy and its voters to only reward the White components of Black projects.
But hold on! In addition to the prior mentioned nominations for Black Projects. This years nominations saw The Weeknd nominated for Best Original Song, Alejandro González Iñárritu nominated for Best Director, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees’ ‘Amy’ nominated for Best Documentary, amongst other minority nominations in further categories. Why do these not count? Are we only talking Black or are we talking about representation as is being claimed. Because as we pore over the evidence there is no lack of consideration on the part of the Academy. The diversity is there if one cares to look beyond the surface. But there is, in this debate, a disregarding of minority nominations in other categories towards the furthering of a different agenda and that is, in and of itself highly egregious.
The clear and present danger of enacting a boycott under these conditions is that we are essentially asking for the bar to be lowered. Rather than looking at the nominations and saying ‘We made some good films, we had some great moments, now how do we do better?’ We have instead reached for the low hanging fruit of collective outrage. Maybe fruit is the wrong analogy, it’s more like fast food, slowing us down and dulling our senses because it’s easier than preparing a healthy home cooked meal of introspection and self improvement. It’s easier than asking how do we elevate ourselves even higher? This is what the conversation should be, because that sentiment is how we honour the spirit of resilience conferred upon us by our history. It is how we uphold the legacy of excellence left by those who blazed the trails before us.
Look at it this way, Leonardo DiCaprio still hasn’t won an Oscar yet and he’s been white for years! That is the reality and degree of difficulty faced in the endeavour. So in the case of this years nominations snub, it is not a question of institutional prejudice but more likely a matter of statistics.