Friday, January 16, 2015


So, the fact that the Oscar nominees acting categories had all white faces, and the director category had all white male faces, has a lot of my friends, and plenty of others, in the movie business upset. Now, my personal experience in Hollywood was downright stupidity when it came to diversity. I remember shooting a scene for a TV movie I was in on Hollywood Boulevard back in the 1980s and all the extras for the scene were what they call "white" while the actual street pedestrians they were holding back on the sidewalk until they got the shot, contained only a handful of "white" people with the rest spread around all the other shades of skin and physically designated ethnicities. I mean L.A. not that long after became a majority minority city (that's the kind of phrase that only makes sense in "America").

And studies have shown that the Academy needs to diversify as it has some ridiculously high percentage of white males (though I know "non-white" friends who work in films who have never applied for various reasons including feeling it's a closed club so why bother). So to find the Academy nominating a slate of white faces isn't surprising, but to blame it on racism is going a bit too far for my taste. Maybe that factored into some people's voting, but the fact is SELMA was nominated in the Best Picture category and it was written and directed by a black woman and has a mostly black cast, so how does that fact fit with the accusation that the nominations are lily white?

I understand the anger that the picture was nominated but the director and her star weren't, but that happens often now because there are more picture nominations allowed than in the director category, so some directors of best picture nominees have to be left out. Now I have friends, especially women directors, who believe many of the male directors nominated aren't as good as the director of SELMA, so they're raging about the situation righteously, and I understand and totally agree that the Academy hasn't given women directors a fair shake for most of its history.

But, the way I hear it, the producers of SELMA didn't send DVDs of the film to Academy members early (though they would have received them I assume eventually) so my guess is a lot of the older members didn't get to see it soon enough if at all, and by then the director was on the defensive for altering the facts a bit to heighten the drama (having LBJ opposing MLK at a time when he was actually collaborating with and supporting MLK's efforts and goals) and her explanation in interviews for that is that she's the artist and interpreting this story from her perspective and others can now do their own interpretations if they see it differently, and that sometimes comes across as arrogant in the face of historians' objections. And she cast a Brit to play King.

My guess is, and it's just a guess, that older Academy members in the various categories (each branch nominates its own, actors actors, directors directors, etc. and then the entire Academy votes for the actual Oscar selection) who remember the Civil Rights struggle and were moved by LBJ's risking his presidency to support the Civil Rights Voting Act (I know exactly where I was when I heard him give the speech about it, where he said "We shall overcome" and it choked me up a bit to hear this white Southerner who was at the pinnacle of "American" power do that) and maybe felt a little reluctant to award what many historians of the period are saying is altering the historical facts. Even the Ralph Abernathy family and their supporters are upset that he's virtually left out of the movie when he was by King's side every step of the way and can be justifiably considered as big a part of the story, of the Selma march at least.

Maybe I'm wrong and the same Academy that awarded TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE best picture last year as well as one of it's actors the Best Actress award is being racist this year, but the reality for me is that most of the nominations can be justified from my retired-professional perspective, and that there's always films and people who I feel should be nominated who never even get close and it's because of all kinds of factors, like who is liked and who isn't inside Hollywood or who has the power at the moment or who so obviously should have won for a previous performance that members are struck guilty and nominate them for a less important performance, etc. My guess is that if Sidney Poitier had played King in his prime, he not only would have been nominated but would have won handily. But many don't know the work of the Brit actor who played King in Selma nor have they probably ever worked with him.

If I were talking to the director of Selma and the Brit who played King, I'd be saying "It's not personal, it's just business." That's my two cents.

[PS: if you object to my not naming the nominees I write about above, my excuse is that, though better I'm still knocked out by whatever I've been fighting for the last week and I don't have the energy or mental ability to look them all up and be able to write their name correctly etc. tonight....]


Janet K. said...

Makes a lot of sense to me, Michael. You're always very even handed.

Lally said...

thanks Janet

AlamedaTom said...

Oscars 2010: Best director - Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, which won best picture. A small step by the Academy, but a step nonetheless.

~ Willy