If you’ve been away from glowing screens for the past week, you should know that a media shitstorm has rolled through town since the Oscar nominations were announced. For the second year in a row, all the acting nominees were white and only one non-white director was given the nod. People got pissed at the lack of diversity and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending soon after. Then, Jada Pinkett-Smith, her much more famous and likeable husband Will and Spike Lee announced their intentions to boycott the ceremony. The Academy has since responded and has released a statement about the Board “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020” as well as reviewing their lifetime membership policies.
Much like most of the Academy voters, I haven’t seen half the films nominated. I’m going on basic critical consensus and “my mate said it was good” anecdotal evidence. Should Creed and Straight Outta Compton have got more nominations? Almost certainly. From what I’ve heard, both are equally as decent as some of the other contenders with more noms. You’d have thought the Academy would have realised that only nominating the white people involved in predominantly black films would raise eyebrows at the very least, if not a few torches and pitchforks. I can’t believe Beasts of No Nation got completely snubbed. Despite being a Netflix film, it played in LA cinemas making it eligible for consideration. It’s complete and actual bollocks (the non-inclusion that is, the film is great, if emotionally draining). I’m saving the actual film for a Blu-ray viewing, but I’m already pre-scandalised that Benicio Del Toro didn’t get a nod for his role in Sicario.
The issue isn’t black and white in all senses of the phrase. The whitewashed nominee list is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Unfortunately, it’s not one that the Academy booting a few dusty old farts out of their comfy lifetime board seats is going to fix. Diversity is a problem in media full stop. Women and people of all ethnic backgrounds, disabilities and sexualities need better representation. The Oscars are just a reflection of how things are at the moment. Most films are still stories about white dudes doing white dude things. That needs to change and the only sure way it will is by people and wallet power. The sole thing we can do this side of the screen is to continue to support the kind of films we want to see more of.
I’ve not cared about the Oscars for a long time. It’s been nice when someone or something I liked got the nod, but I haven’t given a thimbleful of spunk about the results for years now. I’ve mostly used the winners list as recommendations for what to see at some point and even then, when I’ve sat down to watch one, the record is patchy. Hopefully, the Academy’s new recruiting policies will send ripples through the industry. It won’t happen overnight, but admitting you have a problem is an important first step in fixing it.
Perhaps this added diversity will mean relevance once again. Maybe it’ll mean an end to bland, sort-of inspiring period dramas or films about how bloody brilliant cinema is being dead certs for Best Picture. The fact that there’s a “type” of film that usually wins the big awards is fucking embarrassing. The only thing that should unite them is quality.
Actually, whilst I’m on that subject of quality, let’s start to break down the dumb two-tier system between “serious” and “pop” movies when it comes to showing some award love. Last year, Vin Diesel said that Fast and Furious 7 was going to win Best Picture. That’s charmingly optimistic, but there’s no real reason why something as popular and crowd-pleasing as one of the F&F films couldn’t be considered if the quality was high enough. “Blockbuster” is not necessarily a synonym for something that’s artistically worthless. Guardians of the Galaxy was excellent and wouldn’t, in my awesome opinion, have been out of place amongst 2014’s Best Picture nominees, especially if it bumped American Hustle out. Guardians even had the superior Bradley Cooper performance.
Still- one step at a time for the Academy. They’ve only just discovered that there are other flavours besides vanilla out there.