When I began to watch the televised announcement of the Oscar nominations, I was prepared for a wave of minority nominations. After all, the Academy for Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was lambasted last year for the absence of African American nominees, and with the Academy stuffed with knee-jerk, left-wing, Democratic donors, I assumed that last year’s criticism would prompt the voters to place an affirmative action thumb hard on every scale. To my amazement, I was wrong! For the second year in a row, all 20 nominees in the acting category were white. The only nonwhite nominee was for Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu).
This tells me that the Academy Awards, though they may be influenced by so many biases that the final awards—except in rare cases where a performance was so outstanding that nobody could argue with the choice without looking silly—are meaningless as credible determinations of merit, have integrity. They are not “fixed.” The Academy, whose chair is a black woman, would have loved to have a large, or even a small group of black nominees to be able to show more diversity. The awards, however, are supposed to be based on artistic merit, not EEOC targets. It looks like the Academy’s members voted that way. Good for them.
Oh, naturally, Chris Rock (the Oscar night host—do you really think the Academy would have engaged his services if it didn’t want and assume plenty of black nominees?) has been launching verbal grenades, and Al Sharpton, the renowned film auteur, is calling for a boycott (“when the only tool you have is a hammer…”). In the end, however, the complaint of black activists is self-defeating and hypocritical.
Are they seriously arguing that the Academy is biased and insensitive to diversity perceptions, after Hollywood was a major contributor to Barack Obama, after it awarded “Twelve Years A Slave”a Best Picture Oscar as a capitulation to the campaign, “It’s time!” even though almost no one really thought that the film was in fact the best movie that year: after decades of the supporting actor Oscar nominations including every conceivable minority nominee, including 2014’s Barkhad Abdi, a Somalian chauffeur nominated for being a convincing Somalian in “Captain Phillips” ? That nomination should have been a warning that Hollywood didn’t have enough minority candidates or films to choose from, because it is the lack of diversity of Hollywood products and artists, not biased awards, that is the problem.
Do activists really want affirmative action awards, as in, “These actors were nominated because of their color or ethnicity, not because of the quality of their work, or because it was superior to that of other artists”? They might, even though the devaluation of the honor that accompanies all diversity-based hiring, school admissions, promotions, elections and awards will inevitably follow. There appears to be two primarily African-American themed films that critics argue were “snubbed,” “Creed” and “Straight Out Of Compton.” Two? There are dozens of movies every year that have a legitimate argument that they should have been recognized over the ones that were. Not nominating the “Star Wars” movie as Best Picture is just the luck of the game, but not nominating “Straight Out Of Compton” proves racial bias? I know this is how the civil rights industry is trained to think, but seriously?
What is the theory now, that at least one movie about minorities has to be honored as a “best,” or it’s proof of bigotry? How about this argument: proven and previously honored black Hollywood artists like Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Lupita Nyong’o, Eddie Murphy, Gabourey Sidibe and others should have turned in better, more substantial work in 2015. Studios should have developed more quality vehicles for them. Although some have argued that Jackson “deserved” a nomination for once again re-cycling old tricks in “The Hateful Eight” because he’s, you know, Samuel L. Jackson, that’s nonsense, and I bet even Jackson knows it. He’s been coasting. Denzel didn’t make a film in 2015. Halle’s doing TV science fiction; Sidibe is rather limited in range because she’s about 300 pounds. Spike Lee has apparently lost his touch, and Barkhad Abdi is back driving a limo in Somalia, for all I can tell. Is this the Academy voters’ fault?
There’s no ethical solution to the absence of minority nominees except to have a stronger and larger pool of candidates, unless activists want there to be a special “Best Movie with a Large Number of Black Artists” category, or a “Best Performance By A Minority Actress” Oscar. No, obviously those send the wrong message. What they appear to want is for the “Best Movie with a Large Number of Black Artists” to be automatically included in nomination the Best Pictures category, but to pretend that the nomination was on pure merit, which is to say, color blind.
Ethically, you can’t get there from here. Either minorities want a thumb on the sales, and guaranteed nominations based on factors having nothing to do with merit, or they want a meaningful award with integrity, in which minority status played no role. Pick one. I can tell them which is the right choice, if it isn’t sufficiently obvious.
If Al and the gang want more Oscars, then they need to aim their complaints at black audiences and black artists. To the audiences: make hits out of movies featuring black artists by buying tickets, and the bottom-liners in Hollywood will make more of them. To the artists: stop cashing in, start taking chances, make movies, not TV zombie shows, and champion good writing, not big budgets.
The Oscar nominations will come when they are earned.