Why #OscarsSoWhite is a White Problem that Will Never Be Solved
Ever since #OscarsSoWhite started trending again, the cries to boycott the ceremony has become too loud to ignore. The Academy has been forced to rethink its stringent rules and come up with ways to assuage naysayers while also seemingly trying to rework the blueprint to accommodate more members that don’t fit the stereotypical older white male.
This has driven media outlets to work overtime in order to keep the mileage that can be reaped from this hot button topic from running out anytime soon.
Some of the pieces that are dished out hourly stray away from the offensive lines and even though they tend to be effortlessly generic — there is still a lesson to be learned for those of you who have no real knowledge about the politics of racism.
For those of us who live the reality of being rejected solely based on our ethnicity — we indulge cautiously and with a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment.
Here we go again with the wonderment from white people who can’t fathom why black people keep complaining about not being treated fairly when “everybody” has access to the same tools that are required for success.
But there are enough empathizers who are relentless in their quest to prove through tweets, retweets, likes and comments that they are aware of their privilege and don’t support any level of bigotry that makes a person of color feel unworthy or unrewarded.
As a writer who happens to be a black woman — you can imagine that I have had quite a bit to share regarding my thoughts on race, feminism, and sexism. I am faced with the challenge of validating my capabilities despite the three strikes against me. But besides that, I naturally feel compelled to make it my mission to thwart anything that I deem nonsensical — regardless of the source.
I have already called out one prominent industry trade — Variety — for the blatantly and purposely ill-conceived article that went viral almost immediately because the subject matter was carelessly attached to that overused and overwrought D-word.
Basically, Twilight actress, Kristen Stewart was cast as the villain who mocks the cries of minorities who feel excluded from the business of Hollywood. The phrase that was marketed to slam her — “Do Something” only helped to heighten the sense of urgency surrounding her statement.
Hours later and after Stewart had been dragged down the muddy terrain of social media — Variety lazily acknowledged their mistake and blamed the fiasco on a “mislabeled video”.
Needless to say after watching the proper version — it was clear that edits were made to give the impression that the actress was speaking about “diversity” when she was really challenging the validity of gender inequality.
Now, I am back to aim my frustrations at The Hollywood Reporter — another industry staple that I actually respect and read every morning without fail.
I took them to task a couple of months ago when one of their authors did an extensive write up — detailing the reasons why no actress of color was invited to participate in their yearly Actress Roundtable series. My rebuttal was filled with the names and accomplishments of the black actresses that should’ve been included.
This time — I am responding to a piece that appeared on Thursday titled: #OscarsSoWhite: Why Black Films Have to Be About MLK and White Movies Can Be About a Mop Inventor. It was written by Marc Bernardin.
Almost immediately, the article takes a very loopy and insulting turn as evident in the sub-title — “Where is the black ‘Revenant’? Or the Latino ‘The Kids Are All Right’? Or the Asian ‘Black Swan’? THR’s Marc Bernardin wonders why those movies don’t get made.
Well, Mr. Bernardin, today is your lucky day! You won’t ever have to work that shift again. As someone who lives and breathes the industry, it is remarkable to me that you don’t have an adequate grasp on how things work behind the scenes.
For there to be any insinuation that there are virtually no black movies that reflect the basic joy or trials of life’s experiences is a tragically inaccurate declaration and proves why the present state of affairs is still a critical predicament.
The author cites films like Silver Linings Playbook, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, The Kids Are All Right, starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, and Blue Jasmine starring Cate Blanchett as examples of films that successfully caught the attention of the Academy despite their “vastly different” themes.
But, here’s the thing — those movies have a cast dripping with star quality and marketability. Again, we are talking about an establishment that would rather cast the likes of Christian Bale and Gerard Butler (who happens to be one of the worst actors in Hollywood) to play Egyptian gods than go for established actors of Egyptian descent. I wrote about that too.
So, clearly, in show business the ultimate goal is to make a shit load of money and studio execs are irreversibly convinced that only Caucasian actors can make that happen. That explains why Jennifer Lawrence, a white and very talented actress is working her butt off and making the job of casting directors very easy.
It is also the reason why it is so much easier for films about the human experience with a mostly white cast get made with very little fuss. They have the security of top billing stars to guarantee that at the very least — it won’t be a flop and when you toss the three most revered white actresses in the mix — you can almost bet that the Academy will have an orgasmic reaction.
That brings us to the issue of black films and and why the only types that get phenomenal recognition have to be “homework movies” — the ones that are steeped in historical references and force the audience to assume a somber or stoic temperament. Examples that the author cited include, Selma, 12 Years a Slave, Malcolm X, and The Help.
Those movies performed well at the box office which isn’t surprising because white people typically enjoy watching films that depict the black experience in a cringe-worthy way. And the old white guys who have the power to decide what gets in or stays out also tend to give their stamp of approval to those types of offerings.
But the truth of the matter is that there are plenty of black films that showcase characters that are relatable to the human disposition as opposed to being dramatized history lessons. But the fundamental problem here is that not enough people give those films the support they need to garner that much-needed buzz. And more than that — the funding just isn’t there.
I am assuming that the author of this piece is aware of the raging process involved when it comes to getting a movie made. Actor Don Cheadle who is currently at Sundance shopping around his Mile Davies biopic — Miles Ahead admitted that the only way he was able to get the movie made was to attach a “name” to the project.
That person ended up being Scottish actor Ewan McGregor. We can all agree that McGregor is a talented actor— but he isn’t necessarily box office material. Yet, his addition was all it took to realize Cheadle’s dreams of directing the movie of his career.
That gives you an indication of the monstrous challenge of selling a film with a mostly black cast that is just about — life. The author does briefly reference that fact, “If you are African-American, you literally have to change the world before there’s ever going to be a film based on your life. And if you’re a filmmaker trying to push a film that’s about a fictional African-American who just, you know, has a story to tell, forget it”.
When I read that I breathed a little sight of relief. At least he isn’t as clueless as I feared he may be.
But then further down, towards the end of the piece — I became breathless with ire as the following sentence hit me, “A boycott of the Oscars won’t solve the issue at hand. The only way to get better representation for people of color, come awards season, is to make more movies by, with and about people of color”.
Huh? Did we not establish the fact that making more films that feature people of color both behind and in front of the camera isn’t the formula to solve the equation? The problem lies in funding and distribution and the failure of studio execs to receive these films whole-heartedly and without bias.
My issue with Mr. Bernardin’s piece is that it is woefully misleading in its quest to insinuate that if more black films are made, there will be more for the Academy to work with which will undoubtedly ensure the imminent death of #OscarsSoWhite.
That is an inaccurate conclusion to make especially when more production companies that are committed to producing black films are cropping up in order to help alleviate what is almost surely a never-ending battle. And even then — those films only get limited exposure based on the star power of the cast which in most cases doesn’t exist.
Perhaps, the author should have made the effort to consult with African-American filmmakers who are doing the very thing he suggests — to get a pure understanding of why more black films by black people starring black people won’t necessarily make the kind of impact he is proposing.
He can still do it as a follow up. But in the meantime, it is pertinent to not minimize the struggle of black filmmakers who are up against a treacherous climb to the top when it comes to getting the work done.
Yes, more black elites in the industry could do more to support their community instead of resigning to their self-serving mantra (Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith come to mind) but Selma director Ava DuVernay is already using her amassed resources to help minimize the stubborn symptoms of inequality through her production company — Array.
There has to be sensitivity around this topic and an undiluted realization of the stark reality that seems pretty obvious but for some reason isn’t.
The Hollywood handbook has never and will never apply to people of color who dare to venture and survive in the wild.
And, that Hollywood Reporter is your lesson of the year.