Charlotte Rampling, Sylvester Stallone, Matt Damon, Leonardo di Caprio, Rooney Mara, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence…have more than one thing in common. They’re all actors & actresses, they stand to get nominees and/or Oscars for 2015 and…they’re all white. But does talent only come in this color?
There’s been a lot of noise about white oscars, so much so that critics launched the pointed hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and aptly so. Not a single nomination for a minority actor/actress/director: Idris Elba in netflix-heavy Beasts of No Nation, Samuel Jackson for Hateful Eight, Ryan Coogler or Michael Jordan in Creed, any of the actors in Tangerine in a post Jenner trans era, Will Smith in Concussion, Teyonnah Parris in Spike Lee’s Chi-raq or any of the actors in the much talked-about, positively reviewed, box office hit Straight Outta Compton. Not a single nomination or plaudit after last year’s grand tirade that America and Hollywood are ready for a change in Hollywood narratives.
Last year, the nominees and winners were not the typical awardees. Hollywood, for once, accepted plots and stories that weren’t told and didn’t revolve around youth on grand quests, or beauty or fast action. But rather edifying and intimate drama, depth of character, which included winners who were 50 year olds or twenty something yr olds [Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne]. The other nominees & winners were also older than the average past awardees: Keaton in Birdman, Arquette in Boyhood, Simmons in Whiplash etc. What all of these previous winners had in common last Oscars was their battle against infirmities and death, which they brought out by their talent, their acting skill. They found told/acted their story differently that garnered them the Oscar for best actor. And although the white movie industry did make up for years of neglect by recognizing 12 years a slave for best picture and bestowing statues on Forrest Whitaker, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Halle berry and Mo’nique in the past, we cannot forget that since 1998 Oscars has been white. Nor can we forget that they snubbed David Oyewolo or director/co writer Ava du Vernay for the brilliant, award winning film Selma. It would seem that depute mvid industry’s craving for different stories the Selma story was not part of the line-up of those stories. Perhaps only one story gets to win an Oscar so we didn’t need to remember our dark history of slavery in Selma? We didn’t need to remember the wretched story that gutted and touched black lives told by a woman. Straight Outta Compton, Chi-raq, Creed or Beasts of No nation are not stories the industry liked last year, yet they liked the white writer of Straight Outta Compton and the white actor in Creed: #OscarsSoWhite that Rocky got nominated in a movie about Apollo’s son [Hari Kondabolu]. Spike Lee asks: “How is it possible for the 2nd consecutive year that all 20 contenders under the Actor category are white? 40 white actors in 2 years and no flava at all! We can’t act. WTF!” It seems easier to be president of the United States as a black man than to be the head of a studio, he says.
What happened last year with different narratives? Have we gone backwards from 12 years a slave? Or are we continuing the Selma trend of snubbing anything related to black America or black lives or history? Is the lack of nomination for any of the issues that these films raise not a powerful enough narrative for hollywood and its audience? How could Chi-raq not ring an urgent bell in our age of gun violence and killings when it used abstinence from sex to drive the point home of no violence? Is black history and hip hop culture in LA not worthy of story telling? Are stories told by child soldiers in Africa too far removed and too much for us to be interested in? Or black trans lives?
Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are boycotting Oscars this year. Jada feels that people can only treat them in the way they allow. And on the 30th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr, Spike Lee announced his boycott reminding us of Dr King’s words: “there comes a time one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it’s right'”.
#OscarsSoWhite reminds me of what Jean-Luc Godard said in an interview for Goodbye Language in 2014 about Cannes Awards festivals when asked why he stopped going to Cannes. He thought he could find a cinema family there. But people would discuss ideas with him, lead him to his hotel, eat with him, then leave him alone. Jada feels used, too, like Godard: people of color are always welcomed to give out awards and even entertain but rarely recommended for their accomplishments. Spike and Jada are saying Goodbye to Oscars because those they & all the others actors, directors, writers etc of color consider their Oscar family leave them without a family. They don’t belong to that family.