January 25, 2016

OscarsSoWhite – The Clif Notes Version

Since the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were released, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has been going around. It’s prompted calls for boycotts from Jada Pinkett-Smith, and many A-Listers have been weighing in with their own opinions. And I’ve had a lot of IRL conversations with people who really don’t seem to know what the issue is.

Boycotting the Oscars isn’t about ensuring that a # of nominees are POC (People of Color), by saying that so many POC need to be nominated every year.

Michael Caine seemed to be under this impression, as he suggested that you couldn’t just nominate someone because they were black – but what #OscarsSoWhite is about is recognizing that there are quality performances by POC that are overlooked. And that most of the Academy’s main demographic right now (older white men) aren’t going to consider those movies as contenders. (Case in point, Creed was recognized for Sylvester Stallone’s role in it – but was ignored for any other category, despite having a very strong supporting female role.)

So what is it about? It’s about calling attention to the disparity – both in the few recognized roles for POC and to the overall makeup of the Academy. And it seems that the Academy has recognized that they can help with that – vowing to find more women and people of color.

In the end, Hollywood has to start telling more stories that feature women and people of color, especially the ones they gear towards Awards season. They need to hire more women and POC behind the camera – producers, directors, writers, tech. Not just hire them, but give them the shot to make bigger budget films. And they need to start with mentoring college students so that they know they have a place in Hollywood without having to break through a glass ceiling each time.

So many people in Hollywood mentor people who are like them. So if the majority of people involved in the filmmaking process are white men, it just means you keep bringing in new generations of white men – shutting out fresh points of view.

What about those arguments that if you diversify the Academy awards then you should diversify the BET awards or NAACP? Those are just plain ridiculous. BET Awards were founded because African-Americans weren’t being recognized in mainstream awards shows. So unless you personally plan on fixing diversity issues in Hollywood, you can just step away from the BET Awards and the ALMAs (those are the awards for Latinos).

How can you help fix it? Hollywood has come to the conclusion that people can see themselves through a white male protagonist. If you support movies with women and people of color as leads, this can help them see that there is a market for more. But in general, unless you’re in Hollywood, the only way that YOU can make waves is to be loud. Be critical. If it’s a franchise/show/product you like and you think they’re slipping where diversity should be (see: my criticisms about season 1 of Agent Carter and the lack of minorities in NYC), speak up. Compliment it, but be honest about what they can improve on. Being silent or inactive means that things don’t change. (I love Marvel’s movies. That said, I haven’t been silent about how few women or POC are in the movies)

TL;DR version: Nobody is suggesting they nominate a quota of minorities. Or that people get nominated just because they’re a minority, ignoring the quality of their work. More people just want Hollywood to realize that you can make money off a movie that isn’t starring a white person. That white isn’t the default in real life, so it shouldn’t be the default in Hollywood. And that we all win when you allow more people to share their points of view.

Also, white celebrities really should run their statements past their PR people. Kristen Stewart chimed in saying that people should stop complaining and “do something.” Because the ongoing discussion is “BORING”. While she acknowledges it’s hard to get a project made, it’s frustrating to see that she doesn’t seem to realize it’s even harder for other people than it is for her. Or that while doing something is important, you can complain and get something accomplished.

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