Ethics Observations On The Academy’s Pro-Diversity “Fix”

Chris-Rock-Backstage-at-Oscars

Apparently panicked by the negative reaction to its all-white 2016 Oscar nominations,  and determined not to give MC Chris Rock more ammunition than he already has, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists has rushed into place new voter qualifications for next year’s awards. Under the new rules, members who have not worked over the past 30 years  will lose the right to cast Oscar ballots unless they have been nominated for an Oscar themselves.

What’s going on here?

1. Is this substituting real bias for unfairly assumed bias?

Sure it is.

As one soon to be disenfranchised voter told the Hollywood Reporter, “The Motion Picture Academy, in the spirit of Affirmative Action (which has worked so well in our universities), is determined to take the Oscar vote away from the Old White Guys…Personally, I wish they’d examine their complex preferential ballot procedure which clearly isn’t working right. But no, blame the Old White Guys.” Others noted that to assume older voters, many who were at their peak during the rebellious Sixties and the Civil Rights Era, weren’t voting for black artists was foolish. The new rules seem to be an obvious attempt to stigmatize and penalize older voters.  The seniors, said one dissenting Academy member, are often “perfectly vibrant and very much with it and, while they may be retired, it doesn’t mean they aren’t functioning on all cylinders. They have earned the privilege of being in the Academy through their work and just because they’re no longer active doesn’t mean that they can’t be a good judge of what they’re looking at.” Former actress Delores Hart, who gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss and who was the top-billed star of “Where the Boys Are?,” was direct, saying,  “It’s age discrimination.”

Of course, Hollywood has long-accepted age-discrimination, and Saturday Night Live would never skewer the Oscars for that.

2. The move reeks of disloyalty and disrespect. Organizations are well-advised not to ignore and reject those who were once their active members and leadership; veteran members provide continuity, integrity and perspective. Most of all, however, loyal, once active members have earned better treatment than to be summarily dumped in order to mollify Spike Lee’s bruised ego .

3. The new rules, brought out in the middle of the controversy rather than after a transparent and careful process, in essence scapegoats older members without cause or justification. The Academy has no idea who voted for whom, yet the message sent by the precipitous action is “It’s OK now, everyone: we’ve thrown out the bigots and those who just don’t get the the new, diverse culture!”  Responded Old White Guy Arnold Schwartzman, an Oscar winner for 1982’s “Genocide”:

“I’m quite angry….I just resent being characterized by some people as a racist. We judge films on the merits. There were some great films with white people that didn’t get in that I was upset about. Race had nothing to do with any of it.”

It does, however, take the heat off younger white members, who have reacted angrily to the implication that the black nomination shut-out was their fault.  Actress Penelope Ann Miller complained:

“I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year.”

Problem fixed, Penelope! All those old racists lost their votes: now you can blame everything on them.

4. The Academy’s desperate gambit to call off the dogs also violates the ethical duty of process. Protested  one Academy member:

“I think they have an obligation to represent us and not to act unilaterally. As a longstanding member, I find these actions very, very discouraging. While I understand that changes are necessary, it’s disappointing that the Governors never communicated what they were considering with members and never asked for feedback before they made a decision. I would like to point out that we elect members to represent us and they have very simply failed to do so.”

Veteran publicist Bruce Feldman, a member of the public relations branch, told the Hollywood Reporter that days ago, after hearing rumors that the Academy might make such a change, he contacted the PR branch’s three representatives on the Board of Governors  and reminded them that they had an obligation to consult the members they represent before taking action.  They obviously didn’t, and he  objects:

“I think they have an obligation to represent us and not to act unilaterally. As a longstanding member, I find these actions very, very discouraging. While I understand that changes are necessary, it’s disappointing that the Governors never communicated what they were considering with members and never asked for feedback before they made a decision. I would like to point out that we elect members to represent us and they have very simply failed to do so.”

5. On top of it all, there is no reason to think the changed voting criteria will work. Another member’s reaction:

“I have news for you: older people who lived through the struggles for civil rights are way more sensitive to minority issues than young people who don’t understand what it was all about in the first place. It’s fucking knee-jerk liberalism without taking into consideration what is fair.”

This emergency solution is evidence of panic and incompetence. What happens if no black nominations come in next year? Then what?

6. The sad part is that the rule changes are defensible, and if they had been made after discussion, study and consideration, would have made sense. The Oscars are, after all, primarily a promotional event that is supposed to make the industry look good. Its awards should also reflect current tastes and demographics. Changing the voter pool to make it younger, current and more active wouldn’t be unreasonable, if it were done fairly, openly, and not in a way that insulted the integrity of long-time members who did nothing wrong, unless being old and white is now considered “wrong.”

Maybe it is.

38 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Academy’s Pro-Diversity “Fix”

  1. I’m not sure if it will fix things, but I do think the fix was overdue nonetheless. The changes definitely make sense, independent of any controversy. Here they are, for anyone interested:

    Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.

    At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.

    In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.
    http://www.oscars.org/news/academy-takes-historic-action-increase-diversity

    Much like other institutions, the Academy has a conundrum, how do you change an entrenched and self-reinforcing system that disadvantages minorities? Once upon a time, the movie industry was an all-white affair, in front of the camera, and especially behind it. Minorities were effectively shut out of the industry except for the smallest, most token roles. And as people tend to recommend people they know and interact with, who then go on to do the same, it is very difficult indeed for outsiders to break into this system in any significant numbers, even if the strictly racist practices of the past are no longer in effect, it still is nonetheless still in motion decades later (see also the housing industry as another example).

    So letting them continue without trying to change them and address that would be unethical. This only disadvantages those who have not been active or notable in the industry in the last ten years. I think that is a good line to draw, and hopefully will encourage members to remain active for longer.

    As a side note, I snorted a bit at this: “I have news for you: older people who lived through the struggles for civil rights are way more sensitive to minority issues than young people who don’t understand what it was all about in the first place. It’s fucking knee-jerk liberalism without taking into consideration what is fair.”

    Maybe. Maybe not. Some young people back then joined in the march for civil rights. Others were busy spitting on black students trying to enroll in their school. They can hardly all cover themselves in glory just by having lived through those decades. But that is just a side observation.

    • Hollywood has been overwhelming liberal, even by today’s extreme standards, since the Fifties, and your assumption that the proportion of racists among artists tracks with the general public is factually wrong. Artists of all kinds, since the ancient Greeks, have tended left: it’s the nature of art itself. Hollywood may be more unbalanced that way than ever, but to say that older members may have been shoulder to shoulder with Bull Connor show a weak grasp of artist demographics.

      There is nothing wrong with this kind of adjustment in principle: the MLB Hall of Fame just did the same thing with its voters. However, the timing and manner of the Academy’s change was wrong, completely.

      Since 2000, 10% of the nominees have been black, while 12% of the population is. The last two years are statistical anomalies, that’s all, and the over-reaction has been extreme. Hollywood is not going to make movies that are not aimed at its primary audience, nor should it, nor does it have any obligation to. It’s a business, and it has a market.

      • Since 2000, 10% of the nominees have been black, while 12% of the population is.

        Of all nominees? That would be a start, if correct. Though I strongly suspect that statistic is just from the four acting categories, not overall, or even from the “major category” Oscars (the acting categories, director, best picture, original and adapted screenplay).

        Hollywood can make whatever movies it likes. And people can of course, criticize Hollywood for making the movies that it does. And Hollywood can chose to react to that criticism with an eye towards the bottom line, or not. And around and around it goes.

        • Just the acting categories. That’s the controversy—I have heard a word about the tech and designer categories…and for bask stage jobs, how are voters supposed to know what they look like? Do you know what the races are of all those people on the credits? Maybe they are all black.

  2. Quoted in the article: “I have news for you: older people who lived through the struggles for civil rights are way more sensitive to minority issues than young people who don’t understand what it was all about in the first place.”

    The flaw is that the civil rights that were fought for in the ’50s and ’60s were equality before the law and equality of opportunity, not equality of results. You have to get to following generations to get the suspension of independent judgment that makes informal quotas possible.

  3. I wonder whether there isn’t more that a tad of antisemitism at play here. Hollywood is, historically, such a Jewish dominated industry, the operative word being “industry.” It’s a business. I wonder whether the old, Jewish guard isn’t being purged. Perhaps all the old-time finance and PR and marketing people and agents are being kicked to the curb by the young Turks who tend to be more on the talent side. If true, it’s terribly ironic in so far as Jews, predominantly actively liberal, have always been at the very forefront of support for Black causes.

  4. This whole unethical racial smearing of the Oscars over the lack of black nominations and the subsequent unethical reactions seem to be par for the course these days. Logic and ethics are thrown to the wind like a stinky old shoe and illogical activism is taking over in all walks of life. I know that Hollywood is full of boneheaded illogical activists but these faux racial smearings are doing some real harm to our society, these illogical people are out of control, illogical racial stupidity seems to be like a highly infectious disease set to reach epidemic proportions if logical sanity is not restored.

    Side Note:
    I’ve been veering away from watching the Oscars over the last few years, I just don’t find the spectacle fun to watch anymore, the same is true for most of the awards shows; me watching the shows live won’t change the outcomes and actually I’ve got better things to do with my time. I’m not exactly sure what it is that is driving me away but it’s likely that the whole thing no longer even “feels” genuine; the regular “blowing of sunshine” is one of the factors that drove me off the theatre stage and that’s probably an underlying factor here too. I’m sure I’ll watch the Oscars if I personally know one of the nominees.

  5. From now on, if one of the cut-off actors is hired for a role, does he or she get the vote back permanently or just until the next Oscar nominations? If any too-old actors are to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, can they vote for themselves? What if their birthdays fall on a leap year? Hey! Has anyone seen which way Logan went?

  6. Zoltar Speaks wrote: “This whole unethical racial smearing of the Oscars over the lack of black nominations and the subsequent unethical reactions seem to be par for the course these days. Logic and ethics are thrown to the wind like a stinky old shoe and illogical activism is taking over in all walks of life. I know that Hollywood is full of boneheaded illogical activists but these faux racial smearings are doing some real harm to our society, these illogical people are out of control, illogical racial stupidity seems to be like a highly infectious disease set to reach epidemic proportions if logical sanity is not restored.”
    ___________________________

    It seems to me very very hard to come up with an accurate description of what is happening in our present and specifically with these issues of race. The ‘logic’ of the series of recent events, that connect to the past, does not seem at all ‘illogical’ to me. It seems consistent with the logic of liberalism-hyper-liberalism and radical leftism. And the ‘logic’ is that logic is not what it is important. The ‘logic’ is much more getting even for past injustices and it seems to me that film has played a large part in establishing this general mood and in fanning the fires of racial resentment. I recently watched the movie on Lincoln (Spielberg) and then read up on historian’s critiques: there is not much of historical accuracy in the movie. It is an expertly produced deception. I also watched ’12 Years a Slave’ and understood that its function was to arouse hatred and anger. The arousal of a cathartic anger. So, it is Hollywood itself which has been helping to establish the moods of the present. Radical ‘religious progressivism’ has been known to turn against itself in purges, and then of course the guillotine comes to mind.

    Is there not a ‘logical’ progression from liberalism to populism/democracy and then to socialism and then to a general social mood which desires to overturn the established order and level it totally? The ‘logic’ is that, right now, there is a whole set of manifestations in culture that give evidence to a sort of social-political lunacy. On the basis of much of what Jack has noted about Trump I would not fear Trump so much as a sort of populist leader who will likely arrive to take advantage of the social madness at hand. Trump will fall but then the ‘logic’ of the present indicates that some populist lunatic dictator with Napoleonic ambitions is just around the corner. How is that going to play out?

    ‘Logic’ would indicate the need to backtrack away from this cultural momentum into a genuine conservative position, but only a lone individual can carry that out and ‘the populus’ doesn’t even understand what that can and should mean. This is the direct OUTCOME of a number of generations of ‘social and ethical delinquency’ and this is what an ungrounded materialist and consumer culture drunk in the wrong sort of democratic populism tends to.

    • Alizia Tyler,
      Can you do the following for me so I can better understand your position:

      Please write one relatively brief conclusion paragraph to cover the overall opinion you’re trying to express?

    • Alizia,
      First; the problem is that I find your comment a bit random and I’m not exactly sure what your overall position is and how that relates to my comment; just spend a little time clarifying it in one brief conclusion paragraph so I can talk about your overall point and not the seemingly random other stuff.

      Second; why not reply directly to my comment to you, isn’t the “Reply” link under my comment visible on your computer?

      • Maybe if I summarise:

        The issue of race coming up now is a historical issue with deep roots. The racial anger being expressed now, though it seems ‘illogical’, is a logical result of the mind-set of liberalism. The core of this manifestation seems to me to have a lot to do not with justice but with revenge: getting even for past abuses. I suggested that Hollywood itself (Spielberg and McQueen [12 Years a Slave] fan the fires of extreme resentment through false or misleading historical narratives. These false and misleading historical narratives nourish a ‘mood’ of retributive anger which is expressed culturally and socially in many different ways.

        Liberalism and progressivism, class struggle, and the desire to topple or remodel social structures can be seen as emanating from the French Revolution. Jacobinism, etc. These are essentially demonstrations of extreme violence. On one hand there is ‘advancement’ in the sense of liberalising progress (freedom, self-determination), but it also seems to include violence and the threat of violence. In my view and understanding one of the ‘moods’ (as I call them) of the Black Liberation Movement is violence and the threat of violence.

        Although the issue in this post on this blog has to do with race and the Oscars, the issue of race right now is playing out in many different fields, yet it is a manifestation of a popular – perhaps demagogic? – undercurrent. People ‘link up’ with the *feeling* of it, the mood, and I think that you noted this in saying: “illogical people are out of control, illogical racial stupidity seems to be like a highly infectious disease set to reach epidemic proportions if logical sanity is not restored”.

        Except that in our culture now, in a bizarre culture mediated by reality TV and infotainment and politainment, a culture that has lost its bearings and its grounding in what I can only label ‘conservatism’ for want of a fuller description, similar forms of madness are manifesting themselves all across the board. It is as if the ‘populus’, fed by madia-machinery and emotionalism, unable to reason soundly, is susceptible to hysterical social moods.

        Trump is just such a manifestation. He is infotainment, radical resentment, and deranged political activism unloosed. Bizarre currents or manifestations of social madness, though appearing unrelated, are (in my view) symptomatic of a general condition. Trump will likely fall, but I’d suggest that various powers of groups of interests must see to it that he falls (my theory only, I have no evidence). But Trump himself is not the danger. The danger is what he presages.

        The insanity and violence of the FR caused many heads to roll but it did have a social and political function: the rise of the modern state as we all know it (and desire it I assume). But it also opened an avenue to a democratically-based dictatorship: Napoleon. If my example is too crude and too facile so be it. But I think that liberalism, democracy, demagogic democracy, consumer culture, materialism, and severing of a population from sound (and conservative) education are all connected.

        Thus, the present is an outcome of a whole series of choices and a long history. I would go further and say that ‘we’ are all complicit and we feed these processes. The processes we see ‘out there’ are out there because they are ‘in here’ (in us).

        Well?

    • Difficult?? That’s a gross understatement, you literally expanded on what you wrote.

      Summarize

      Summation

      You increased your work count in your “summary” by 159 words which is an increase of 40%. That might have been a summary of a 10,000 dissertation but not a summary of your original comment. I guess it was a ridiculous thing to ask you in the first place, I should have known better.

      Never mind.

  7. The ‘summary’ was of ideas that I am presently working with. I should have written ‘re-clarification’. (I will send myself to bed with no dinner).

    And there you have it. I might suggest to you that you focus on one part either that you agree with or that you don’t. But this is exactly what my line of thought is (about these issues).

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