Caine, Rampling, many others weigh in on the “Whiteness” of the Oscars

cain

Well, here’s Michael Caine throwing a little shade — or at least some perspective — on the whole #OscarsSoWhite/#whiteOscars/#boycottOscars dust up.

“You can’t vote for an actor because he’s black” is the pull-quote that folks are fixating on for maximum outrage. “Be patient” isn’t something to say when people are complaining about discrimination. “White privilege” will get tossed back in your face. But read the whole interview.

Speaking of older white actors getting blunt on the subject, Charlotte Rampling tosses “racism against whites” into her description of the boycott. Crucifixion by the black twitterverse to come.

But seriously. Dial it down, kids.

Will and Jada, Spike and whoever, and Idris are a bit ruffled. Because out of 20 possible acting nominations, black actors (British or American) got none.

Which happens. More often than just “occasionally.”

Benicio del Toro wasn’t recognized for “Sicario,” nobody from “Straight Outta Compton” scored a nomination, Idris Elba didn’t get a nomination for what was in essence a Netflix movie and Michael B. Jordan’s middling work in “Creed” was ignored. To say nothing of Spike’s unfairly passed-over “Chi-Raq.”

So the Academy is “racist,” so the arguments go.

The Oscars are voted on by an electorate, the 6000 or so members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s hard to insert “inclusion” into what is supposed to be a popularity or recognition of excellence contest among a population that large.

The Academy is almost certainly not demographically representative of the nation, or the current state of the film industry. The Academy recognized this, and if the Oscar boycott accomplished nothing else, then getting them to announce that they’re going to work at making the Academy itself more inclusive, kudos to the boycotters. Don Cheadle and I agree on this. A more representative Academy by 2020 is a good move.

But film critics, the honest ones, are having more trouble with this “whitest Oscars” thing for a variety of reasons. There weren’t any performances by black actors that the Academy’s omission makes one think “Racism.” Starting with the opinion that Jordan didn’t give a top five, top ten or top 15 performance among the leading men, or supporting men, of 2015.

Then there’s Idris Elba. Was the Academy ever going to thumb its nose at film exhibitors and give his Netflix “Beasts of No Nation” turn (Caine loved it, BTW) a nomination? No. He could have been in the top 10 or top 15, had he made a strictly theatrical movie.

Black women didn’t get a single decent Oscar worthy showcase this year, which is pathetic on Hollywood’s part. That’s the real outrage. More movies featuring more diverse casts are the real prize to have your eyes on, here. That will lead to more nominations.

I don’t think there was a stand-out acting turn in “Straight Outta Compton,” which could have landed a best picture nomination (only eight made the cut, out of ten possible openings). Did the older white voters of the Academy see it, or just reject it? I think there were 10-15 movies you could argue were better than this one. We wouldn’t be hearing this #OscarSoWhite thing if “Compton” had a best picture nomination. But this isn’t the vote-doctoring Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Nobody slipped it into the best pic mix.

“Compton” is an ensemble piece that wasn’t likely to land an acting nomination. Was it poorly campaigned as an Oscar contender? That’s quite possible.

This isn’t a “12 Years a Slave” or “The Help” year. The Academy showed up for those films. Nominations were offered, Oscars were awarded. Should “Ride Along 2” move to the top of next year’s inclusion list simply because it’s one the black audience lined up for?

The bigger, implied question is this. Should the Academy try to make Hollywood something that no other industry in the world actually is — racially representative? That’s the crux of Caine’s argument. And do we want quotas on our honors for excellence?

The world isn’t fair, or representative. Monocultures form in most any industry you can think of. And a monoculture tends to be blind to its de facto segregation. People cast, hire, recruit based on both merit and “types” of people they’re comfortable with — “their own kind.” Happens everywhere. And it needs addressing. But quotas for awards?

People toss tantrums about the movies, but how might the NBA, NFL or MLB look if that cut both ways? Education has used minimum and maximum quotas, over the decades, and irritated many with each extreme. Congress is achieving something like that racial balance through gerrymandering. Whiter than white conservative districts, “safe” black or Hispanic ones. How’s that working out?

Fox News would be less Aryan, NPR would sound less like B’nai B’rith Broadcasting. Quotas! Yes!

That’s the way to honor the exceptional. African Americans (sorry, Idris) make up 13.2% of the U.S. population. Latins, Asians, Muslims, Native Americans — all can be reduced to simple numbers, if quotas are what we’re shooting for. That means two nominations a year for this group, or one every other year for some other racial category.

 

A lot of performances were “snubbed.” Michael Shannon and Tim Guinee in “99 Homes,” Carey Mulligan in “Suffragette,” del Toro in Sicario,” Oscar Isaac in “Ex Machina,” Paul Dano in “Love & Mercy,” and so on. A lot of performances are snubbed every year. There are just five openings in every acting category. Learn the numbers, recognize the long odds facing every film, and every performance.

And then lobby to expand the Academy to make it more inclusive. That’s the bigger issue, and the real solution to a “problem” that feels more like Jada and Will whining over a top 25 performance in a problematic movie that was a long shot. He was far better in “Ali,” and less craven about why he took the role (“Oscar bait” always grates), back then.

 

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One Response to Caine, Rampling, many others weigh in on the “Whiteness” of the Oscars

  1. Keith says:

    There is so much I like about this piece. I’ll just say it – I think the #OscarsSoWhite movement is misguided. Focusing on the Oscars which doesn’t address the issue. As you said, the Academy can only vote for films they are given. Do we honestly want quotas over quality? Compton, Concussion, etc.? Those are the films Spike Lee and the Smith’s are up-in-arms about?

    And Creed…I definitely like it more than you. Same with Beasts (in particularly Elba’s performance). But was it a white-leaning Academy that kept them out of the nominee list? There is no proof of that. Sound cases can be made against both films and their featured performances.

    The real shame is in how short-sighted this ‘movement’ is. So many have their linear focus on the Academy Awards but not on the opportunities in Hollywood. So what kind of meaningful change can we expect? Oscar is pushed closer to quota voting and Hollywood continues along its merry path. That’s unfortunate.

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