No The Oscars Aren’t Racist. Here’s Why

“There isn’t enough quality films with diverse casts in them.”

I was really enjoying myself the day the Oscar nominations came out.  There were some snubs that irked me of course, like Elizabeth Moss not getting a nom for Queen of Earth, and some inclusions that made me angry, like Jennifer Lawrence getting a nom for Joy.

To me it’s like the NFL Draft, I get really excited to see which films are going to be duking it out. However when all my excitement wore off, something ugly had come to the surface….

“#OscarsSoWhite.”

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My initial reaction was, “Ugh this again?” Last year, when not one person of color was nominated, it was a bit of a shock because I thought David Oyelowo had it in the bag for Selma.  Sadly, that film wasn’t ready in time to be seen by most of the Academy.

This year however, I started thinking about the 70 plus films I had seen that were released in 2015 and only a handful actors of color I saw gave a performance I would consider above a B. These performances included Benicio Del Toro in Sicario, Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Beyond the Lights, Samuel L. Jackson in Hateful Eight, and Will Smith in Concussion.

However, people not of color were not nominated too that I thought were worthy of a nom and that included Katherine Waterson for Queen of Earth and especially Jason Segel for his subtle and touching work in The End of the Tour.

As I looked through the nominees and the films I had watched last year I noticed an even bigger problem, in both indie and mainstream films.

There wasn’t enough quality films with diverse casts in them.

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When the most diverse cast of last year was in Furious 7, you know there’s something wrong at the studios.

And sadly, the strong conversation about diversity got turned into something ugly and sadly one sided. I understand where the people who are boycotting the Oscars are coming from, I just disagree.

All my life I have seen the Oscars as a beacon of hope for people of ethnicities and religion.  I still have the image of Halle Berry winning an Oscar for Monster’s Ball burned into my memory.  I didn’t know exactly what was happening, but I knew it was something truly important.

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This was becoming an era when studios, especially indie studios, were financing quality films with great and diverse actors and they were seeing it pay off in spades at the Oscars.  Although Crash gets a lot of hate nowadays, could you imagine a film like that being made with a cast of that magnitude in 2016? I can’t.

Now something interesting has happened.

A lot of actors of color are heading towards big budget extravaganzas, like Chiwetel Ejiofor in Doctor Strange and Oscar Isaac in Star Wars, and you have quality actors retreating to television for more creative freedom.  Which is understandable.

Big studios however, are sticking to what they think is a fool proof formula for critical acclaim and hopefully Oscars. Appeal to the older audiences.

To appeal to such an audience, you need mostly accomplished actors in costume dramas, which are mostly set in times of racial divide and focus on a white perspective, or emotional powerhouses, like Julianne Moore in Still Alice.

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I can vouch for this because when I worked at a movie theater, most of the older people would love Oscar season to see “quality” films like that.  One couple in particular loved The Imitation Game, which I throughly enjoyed, and that film is set entirely in a white perspective.

It’s almost a subconscious racial divide happening at the studios.  If they see projects like The Imitation Game, The Kings Speech, and The Big Short make 3 times it’s money back, they are going to produce more and more films like that.

And in that greediness, guess who gets left behind? People of color.

The Oscar noms are the outcome of what happens when not enough variety is available.  Behind the scenes of films, there’s a lot of people of color finally getting recognized, but somehow that’s not in the headlines.  What pains me though, is the last thing I want is to see someone getting a vote because of the color of their skin.

Which I feel like is what some of the people who are boycotting the Oscars want to happen.  That’s not the answer.

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We should hope that the studios can take more risk in projects that not only encourage diversity, but make it seem natural.  One of the riskiest films of last year was Tangerine.

I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I can say for certain it was one of the best examples of visionaries using a diverse and talented cast. I don’t see a film populated by trans actors occupying Warner Bros or Paramount anytime soon.

We know studios aren’t afraid to give people of color substantial roles in franchises anymore, but now it’s time they start seeing the bigger picture.  And when Will Smith gets his head out of his wife’s politics, hopefully he will see that too.

If you want the Oscars to reflect the diverse time we live in, we need to start encouraging the studios that it’s ok for them to put their money where our mouths are.  The Oscars So White hashtag isn’t working in my opinion and is causing a divide that’s getting bigger and sadly, letting people’s feelings get the best of them.

The Academy members can only do so much for what they are given and most of the time they vote for the best things that are given to them.  When those best things don’t involve diverse casts don’t yell at the Academy, yell at the people supplying the products.

Let’s hope in the incoming years, we see a shift in diversity instead of a shift into only voting for people because of the color of their skin.

 

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