#OscarsSoWhite is not what I thought we would discuss come January 2016, in the home stretch of another award season (one in dire need of some talking points this year, that’s for sure). Leading up to this inaugural post, I considered other topics – topics not so completely overdone, overanalyzed and over-exaggerated. But, alas, here on 25 January 2016, I find myself about to address an issue that has infuriated me into caring about its existence. This may not be headed the way you were hoping. If so, Welcome to Topline.
This will be my first and final word on the matter (probably not, as my previous moral commitments have included avoiding anything at all affiliated with Shonda Rhimes – until this: “Shonda Rhimes Will Produce a Romeo and Juliet Sequel for ABC”). No hate, just not a fan – except of sequels to Shakespearean tragedies where the leads and most main characters are dead! Shonda Rhimes is an interesting place to start.
A female, African-American mega television producer who has used her abilities and success to create new opportunities for ALL races, genders, orientations and what have you (even if those opportunities are on Scandal – again, no hate, just not my taste). She was honored Sunday evening (24 January) at the PGA Awards with the Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television. In her acceptance speech, she was blunt: “I deserve this.” Followed by: “There was no blazing and no trails…It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is.” Mic. Dropped.
There was no direct mention of the ongoing “diversification” process currently throttling Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Co., but rather, a clear statement that Shonda Rhimes has established herself, stood her ground time and again and learned to work the system to her advantage. Meanwhile, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, have recently decided upon an alternate route – the race card. The pair recently fueled a proposed boycott of the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony in the name of diversity in film, or lack thereof, a cause neither has publicly or emphatically endorsed – until now.
Aside from the one true victim in this scenario (Leonardo DiCaprio, your victory will be…complicated), the film industry as a whole is looking a tad weary. Last Thursday (21 January), AMPAS called an emergency meeting to make sweeping changes to membership and voting policy – term limits! new voters! – changes that have caused older members to cry ageism. This is how avalanches start people, if nobody hears the rumbling yet.
Spike Lee, George Clooney and the Pinkett-Smiths see this hopefully as it is – a grand gesture. I have also heard rumor Cheryl Boone Isaacs will be meeting with David Oyelowo to apologize for his lack of a nomination last year for Selma. Michael Keaton, just save us all the time now, and overnight the damn statue to the Oyelowo household.
So much of this issue is tied into one word: “deserve.” What do you deserve? Nothing – you deserve nothing. The world owes you nothing. Even you Shonda Rhimes, you multi-hyphenate, Thursday-loving braggadocio. Nobody deserves an award, nobody deserves a leading role, nobody deserves an opportunity. This is Hollywood, if everyone gets what they deserve…well, you see where I would be going with that. Charlotte Rampling, Ice Cube, Michael Caine – have each made comments insisting that, quite possibly, the real issue is that we are even having this discussion in the first place – before they were all told to go stand in the corner.
When Ace Ventura showed up at the Golden Globes, he deadpanned: “’It would finally be true, and I could stop this terrible search, for what I know ultimately won’t fulfill me.” Now, this sentence is going to hurt. I probably will not sleep for a week after writing these words. Movie awards do not matter. Sweet baby Jesus, forgive me! I digress. These are awards obsessively followed by people with no discernible social lives (not everybody look toward me at once) and the people who might actually win one, and their agents.
They are entertainment. This is entertainment. And maybe, had the media frenzy wreaking of PR and sour grapes, a Chateau du Try Again Next Year, been a fully reverent effort by many key minority players in the industry, the discourse would be tolerable. However, this is not an effort by ALL races, genders, orientations and what have you. This is leaders in the African-American community diminishing their work by indicating that the only way they can be taken seriously in their field, is to cry foul whenever their peers do not feed into their agenda.
When I read the Oscar nomination list on a fateful Thursday morning, I did not even notice a lack of colored faces. I noticed the odds. And odds told me that what I saw on the page made sense. Out of 305 films that contended for a slot, this is how most prognosticators and myself saw the outcome. Straight Outta Compton was snubbed. So was Inside Out and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fellow 2015 blockbuster successes. Creed and Michael B. Jordan were snubbed. Creed, a film most notable for not being a train wreck, and Jordan, most notable for starring in a train wreck (Fantastic Four – enough said). And Idris Elba – a noteworthy performance in Beasts of No Nation that goes unrecognized not because of race, but plain old industry politics (Netflix – enough said).
The eight films now nominated for Best Picture and the twenty actors now contending for four prizes were the “best.” Obviously, nothing with Oscar is sincerely the best, but the “best” – a collective of Top 10 lists, critic reviews, shameless glad handing and plain old dumb luck. The odds said it would be this way. And in this industry, the only way to stand out, is to work the odds. Producers like Shonda Rhymes and Ice Cube are working the odds. AMPAS is working the odds. In fact, the only individuals doing nothing to turn the tables are those familiar faces happy to start a fight, and walk away.
I want to see Will Smith and Overbook Entertainment releasing films created by and starring diverse casts in 2016, films that do not include the words “sun” and “tomorrow” in melodic tandem. I want to see acclaimed directors like Spike Lee using their know-how and connections to push theirs and their peers films into the mainstream. Has anybody seen Chi-Raq? And I want to see actors like Idris Elba, Corey Hawkins and David Oyelowo offended by the notion that their work is defined by demanding validation, rather than earning it. All those who feel oppressed by an industry slowly working its way toward new cultural heights, learn from this moment. It does nothing to stand up and half-heartedly make demands. It is a revolution to stand up, assess the situation and take charge. Change the odds.