Diversity Aboveground: Oscars Boycott?

Last Thursday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) released nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards  and once again, it appeared comprised almost entirely of Caucasian males. Women did fare better with previous years. The eight Best Picture nominees had seven female producers although the only solo female directors represented are Deniz Gamze Ergüven under Best Foreign Film and five of the directors in the Documentary categories. Still, women were represented in many of the categories.

This is the way it looks for everyone else.

Black:
Jason ‘DaHeala’ Quenneville (Fifty Shades of Grey)
The Weeknd (Fifty Shades of Grey)

Filipino:
Ronnie Del Carmen (Inside Out)

Indian:
Asif Kapadia (Amy)
Sanjay Patel (Sanjay’s Super Team)

Japanese:
Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Omoide no Mânî)
Yoshiaki Nishimura (Omoide no Mânî)

Latino:
Alê Abreu (P Menimo s o Mundo)
Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Ciro Guerra, plus the entire cast and crew of
(El Abrazo de la Serpiente)
Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)
Frank A. Montaño (The Revenant)
Gabriel Osorio Vargas (Historia de un Oso)
Jonas Rivera (Inside Out)
Martín Hernández (The Revenant)
Paco Delgado (The Danish Girl)
Pato Escala Pierart (Historia de un Oso)

Middle Eastern (Born and/or Raised):
Arnon Milchan (The Revenant)
Basil Khalil (Ave Maria)
Belly (Fifty Shades of Grey)
Naji Abu Nowar, plus the entire cast and crew of (Theeb)
Nomi Talisman (Last Day of Freedom)

Pakistani:
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness)

Vietnamese American:
Rosa Tran (Anomalisa)

Transgender:
Antony Hegarty (Racing Extinction)

When put that way, it seems like a lot, right? Maybe everything has been blown out of proportion?

However, the only African representative is Margaret Sixel who’s Caucasian and most of those nominations come from The Revenant or Fifty Shades of Grey. There are only two Black professionals and they’re both in the music industry. Just a handful of individuals represent all the countries of Asia. None of the nominees are from the First Nations or the Native American tribes of North or South America although El Abrazo de la Serpiente is a historical drama based on the Indigenous peoples of Columbia.

The Embrace of the Serpent

El Abrazo de la Serpiente

This year’s host of the ceremony, Chris Rock, decsribed it as “the white BET awards”.

If that’s not pathetic on its own, consider that these 25 individuals make up just 12.82% of nominees. Caucasians make up 87.18% of nominees. Women make up a third of the nominees.

It’s not as though the talent wasn’t there. Was Sylvester Stallone the only memorable part of Creed or just the palest human in the production? If you’re going to have two empty slots for Best Picture, why not follow the Critic’s Choice Awards and award one of those nominations to Star Wars: The Force Awakens whose main heroes are all minorities? Why was the all Caucasian writing team the only people deemed worthy from Straight Outta Compton?

Was Straight Outta Compton‘s snub just because the Oscar voters; median age 62, 77% male, 94% Caucasian, couldn’t identify with young Black men? Or is it because its about Niggaz With Attitudes and its producer and founding member, Ice Cube, is still outspoken against police brutality? Quentin Tarantino protested police brutality in 2015 which resulted in police organizations around the country boycotting The Hateful Eight. When it came to the nominations, the usually prolific Tarantino received no direct nominations for himself and just three for the film. Samuel L. Jackson seemed like an obvious choice for Best Supporting actor in the film but was ignored. González Iñárritu and one of his producers are the only people of color nominated in the main six categories.

Revenant Producers

González Iñárritu and Milchan

If it’s all about politics and/or being subjective to personal tastes, what does it even matter? Why should we care about underrepresentation?

Films nominated for Best Picture get box office bumps anywhere from from 18-32%, coming out to an average of $14 million in additional revenue. Production companies will even invest in films that might not be blockbusters but with enough awards publicity, could either break even or turn a profit. If the Oscars develop a reputation for ignoring films of color, these companies might think the movies aren’t worth the hassle.

Ice Cube was asked for his opinion a couple of weeks ago about why would it matter if Straight Outta Compton wasn’t nominated and he responded, “Inspiring young filmmakers to go this route and make stories about what they believe is important, and not just what they think is Oscar-worthy, or going back to the same kind of stories. This is an outside-the-box film for the Academy in a lot of ways, and to me that’s what art is all about.”

González Iñárritu is one of the few success stories and his last two films, The Revenant and Birdman, had almost entirely Caucasian casts. In 2015, González Iñárritu won Best Director for Birdman and the year before that in 2014, fellow Mexican born Alfonso Cuaron won for Gravity but that was also with an almost all Caucasian cast. India, who produces around 1,300 films a year, has only had three films in Oscar history be nominated. It’s important to have representation. It’s important to have films resemble the audiences watching them. It’s important to have children watch an award show and see grown-ups that look like them being recognized for achievement. It’s important to give them the idea that it could be them up there someday. Over half of those buying movie tickets in the United States aren’t Caucasian.

David Oyelowo

Oyelowo

David Oyelowo described the  AMPAS as “This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.”

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AMPAS President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, responded to the controversy by saying, “While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion…

As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.  We need to do more, and better and more quickly.

This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.”

 

Academy President

Boone Isaacs

Boone Isaacs’ description of what was done during the 1960s and 1970s is an oversimplification. Entertainment professionals are invited to join AMPAS because current members sponsored them or they were nominated for an Oscar the previous year. If the majority of your members are older male Caucasians, most of their acquaintances will be male Caucasians and the movies they’ll vote for will be about male Caucasians especially older ones. When faced with this scenario in 1967, AMPAS President Gregory Peck stripped membership from anyone who was no longer actively working in the industry. He also added a large number of younger members. In all, those he either kicked out or added was around 500 members.

Since AMPAS is facing the same problems 50 years later, it was a short term solution. Entertainment Weekly estimates that 322 members were added in 2015 and just 18% were People of Color. Out of thousands of industry professionals, AMPAS decreed just 60 worthy? That’s about the capacity of a packed McDonalds.

Yesterday, AMPAS announced “sweeping…changes”. First of all, members will be subject to having their membership changed unless they meet any of the following criteria every 10 years.

AMPAS Membership Renewal Criteria:

A. Member “has been active in motion pictures during that decade.”

B. Member has passed the criteria test three times previously and thus, has been a member for over 30 years.

C. Member has been nominated for or won an Academy Award.

Members who no longer meet that criteria will become “emeritus” members who enjoy all the privileges of membership except paying dues and being able to vote.

Does it seem like there’s a lot of loopholes there in order to keep the older male Caucasian members?

Yes, that is a lot of loopholes and it’s unclear whether any members will changed to non-voting status.

It’s also unclear how this might affect film productions if older professionals are taking jobs just to meet criteria A. when otherwise, that job could have gone to a younger and/or less experienced professional.

There is no mention of how or whether an emeritus member could go back to voting member status except meeting criteria C.

AMPAS is “launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity” and have them sponsored through current members just as it’s always been done. If stepping up efforts last year meant only adding 60 new members to fulfill diversity, what will this increase bring? 90? 120? Compared with the over 6,000 members now, that doesn’t sound like very much. Even if the current number of members that are People of Color were doubled, that would still only number around 756 members.

In addition to that, the Board of Governors, who have the real power over AMPAS, will add three seats for new Governors and invite certain new members to future Board of Governors’ meetings in order “to be more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.”

There are no guarantees about any of these positions being filled by minorities or even someone under that median age of 63. Plus, when there are already 51 Governors, would three more make that much difference?

There has to be a fundamental change of almost everything to do with membership and the Oscars. Transparency needs to be key. Currently, AMPAS won’t reveal how many members it has, who it has offered membership to or how many votes various nominees or almost nominees received.

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Having transparency with nominee voting would also help situations like this past week when member after member claimed that they voted for minorities but without proof, they could be telling the truth or they could be lying to make themselves look less bigoted. The Hollywood Reporter had one anonymous AMPAS member quoted as saying,  “Race was the furthest thing from my mind when I cast my ballot, and in fact I nominated one person of color for an award.”

Was it their “one black friend”?

If AMPAS were to announce that Straight Outta Compton or Creed just missed being nominated instead of being off by a wide margin, then that would help to alleviate the anger and make the Oscar voters appear a lot less biased.

Nominations for membership need to be an easier process instead of being even harder to earn than a SAG card. There might have to be quotas about membership reflecting the same racial and gender makeup of its host country, the United States.

How can we, as creators and viewers, force such long-term changes?

  1. Boycott
Spike Lee

Lee

“I have never used the word ‘boycott.’ All I said was my beautiful wife, Tonya, we’re not coming. It’s like, do you. We’re not coming,” said Spike Lee yesterday.

That’s fine but boycotts work and non-attendance can be a form of boycott. When less celebrities attend, it’s harder to fill those Red Carpet specials. It’s challenging to find incentives to watch and less to talk about afterwards. The less people watch, the less money that networks and AMPAS can charge for airtime next year. The less people click, ReBlog and discuss online, the less money is being made for those websites and advertisers. Money almost always guarantees change. Last year’s telecast, which had a similar lack of diversity, had the lowest ratings in six years.

2. Support Minority Artists!

“The problem is, the people who could be helping to make movies that have Latinos and women, that money doesn’t come, because the idea is that there is no place for black movies … there has never been a plethora of black movies made. People believe we don’t want to see movies with black people in them,” Whoopi Goldberg said on Tuesday.

Two of the stars for Tangerine

Tangerine

It sounds like the old excuse that the talent or films weren’t there. 2015 had Straight Outta Compton, Dope, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tangerine, Creed, Ex Machina, Concussion, Furious 7, Beasts of No Nation, Bahubali: The Beginning and countless others. From small independent films to large blockbusters, the diversity was there.

Goldberg also suggested, “You wanna boycott something? Don’t go see the movies that don’t have your representation. That’s the boycott you want.”

Oyelowo pointed out earlier in the week that “We have a situation whereby currently the biggest movie in the world and of all time [Star Wars: The Force Awakens] is led by a black man. That film was knocked off the top spot this weekend by a film led by two black men, Ride Along 2. The biggest TV show on the planet is led by black people, Empire.”

It appears that Hollywood needs indisputable evidence that people will spend money on minority films in order to have more of them so instead of having that Oscar party, go see El Abrazo de la Serpiente or Race. Buy Straight Outta Compton with extended scenes or Infinitely Polar Bear, a film about an interracial family written by Maya Forbes. Rent Dope or He Named Me Malala which wasn’t nominated either. Keep the party and pizza but spend the time on a group binge-watch of Empire or Master of None.

Malala Yousafzai

He Named Me Malala

“Why is this a conversation that we only have once a year? Because every year we get all fired up and then the rest of the year no one says anything.”

Goldberg’s right that minorities need to be supported all year long and that’s been one of the goals for this column since it began. Recognition shouldn’t be restricted to a certain calendar month. Over the past year, there have been disappointments but there’s an overwhelming desire for change. The masses don’t care about your skin color or who you want to make out with or which gender you identify as, they care about the quality of your talent. If the Oscars can’t keep up with the times, maybe it’s time to leave them in the past.

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Do you remember a few months back this column discussed the Chinese film, Monster Hunt?

https://thegww.com/2015/09/11/diversity-aboveground-monkey-kings-feat/

It’s now showing in the United States!

And it’s in 3D!

Check out your favorite movie times website or App. to find the closest theatre to you.

So, will you be boycotting the Oscars? Why or why not?

Next week will be what to look forward to over 2016.

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