Oscar Controversy 2016

This year, like most years, there is controversy around the Oscar ceremony and the nominations. This year like last year the Academy has been accused of failing to show much diversity of race or ethnic origin in its list of nominees and has also failed to recognize the contributions of women to film other than the obvious Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories. The criticism from the black community has been particularly harsh and pointed this time to the point of attacking those who were nominated but I was impressed with the reaction of this year’s host, Chris Rock who tweeted he would be hosting “the white BET awards”. This gets the point across without insulting those who have been nominated or the existing members of the Academy who vote on the nominees. It sticks it to them by being funny and spot on.

A look at the membership of the Academy shows them to be largely older white men and this unfortunately looks like a description of the Tea Party membership. I think however that to paint these two groups with the same brush is completely inappropriate. The other aspect of the criticism this year that is disturbing is the implicit and sometimes explicit criticism of the quality of the nominated films and artists. It is completely appropriate to question the lack of diversity but to then say that films that were nominated were undeserving is something completely different. Those who feel that Compton or Concussion or Beasts of No Nation deserved a nod ahead of the films nominated are expressing a critical and aesthetic judgement that can be argued both ways.

There has also been more tempered reaction from black artists who point to the fact that the issue is complex and lies with other factors. There is a need for more films that give meaningful and diverse roles. This is being done more and more as illustrated by the recent Star Wars film in which the lead protagonist is a woman and her closest ally is black. Although Stallone got the nomination for Creed when his co-star Michael B. Jordan was also deserving and went un-nominated also illustrates the point as does The Hateful Eight and other films. Stallone was nominated likely because of his history and length of service to film. Beasts of No Nation is a great film but made for TV, Hollywood’s increasingly important competition, so may well have suffered for that. Furthermore, it needs to be stated that the nominated films and actors are not undeserving themselves despite their skin tone. The view I tend to support is that this is a complex issue and that greater diversity in the industry itself will allow for great diversity in the award ceremony.

Increasing diversity however must be addressed actively and not simply left to develop on its own. The Academy has pledged to increase the diversity of its membership but that will take time, meanwhile it will be important for the current members to enter into this discussion and be encouraged to recognize the contributions of everyone, black, female, latino etc. The other point that needs to be made is that recognition of diversity through awards also opens the door to diversity in the industry and encourages participation by everyone. It can only be good. In the meantime, the decision of Spike Lee to boycott the show and not even watch is unhelpful and asking Chris Rock to pull out of hosting is not the solution. Rock has agreed to continue despite pressure to pull out. His tweet suggests to me that there is no one better to do the job. He will not pull his punches I hope and will be intelligent in doing so. I look forward to the show and particularly to Rock’s contribution.

Quincy Jones, a long time Hollywood musician and composer, has been asked to make a presentation this year. He has said he will ask for time to address the diversity issue and will withdraw as a presenter if he is denied his request. I think it would be in the best interests of the Academy and the show if he is given his time. It can only help to address this issue. I think it is great that no one is asking for quotas but rather opens the door to full diversity and the recognition that awards like the Oscars that exist to promote the industry need to be fully inclusive.

Spike Lee on announcing his boycott praised Rock for continuing and said he could think of no one better take on the role this year particularly. Funny then that he would choose not to watch or participate in support of his friend. Participation and labelling of the issue is the solution, dropping out or dumping on your colleagues who were nominated is not the way to go.

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