22 January 2016


I'm not pleased with the Oscars this year, with the complete domination by Northwest Europeans across the acting and directing categories. On the other hand, the Academy has brought it on itself, with a combination of:

  • A stupid eligibility system that allows gaming by doing "special releases" in Los Angeles and New York at the end of the year to move the eligibility date... when a film that is released only in those location cannot possibly show a profit. This year, that means that Selma — a film that almost certainly would have been competitive in the directing and acting categories against what is on the official slate — was not eligible when it was a January 2015 release to over 95% of the country.
  • A stupid calendar that starts too damned soon after the end of the year — hell, the voting begins before the end of the year, and even well before the actual release dates of many eligible films. If one wants a meaningful contest for "best," one allows a meaningful opportunity to actually see all of the candidates. Otherwise, it's just a bloody easily manipulated high-school popularity contest for Homecoming Queen (ok, perhaps that was a bit too literal). Frequently among Academy voters whose education too frequently never got past high school, for that matter...
  • A stupid refusal to have actual, stateable, agreed-upon criteria for when a role is a "leading role" and when a role is a "supporting role." At least two of the supporting-actor nominations (without regard to gender) are for individuals who gave their all in performances that should be considered "leading" roles... and that, by itself, may very well have knocked persons of color in truly supporting roles off the ballot this year. The awards for 1980 are a disturbing — and by no means unique — example: The best-film winner had no leading actor, and the system manipulated things to give its actual leading actor an award as supporting actor because politics required giving a makeup award to another actor in the lead category (and also neglecting two performances substantially superior to that performance, also by actors who would later get make-up awards). And, meanwhile, there were performances by supporting-role "actors of color" that didn't make it on the ballot so all these white men could get their recognition. (Aside: This is not a slam at Timothy Hutton, whose performance in Ordinary People was good enough and certainly did not tarnish the awards like, say, the preceding year's best actor fiasco. Mr Hoffman deserved a Best Actor award... just not for Kramer v. Kramer, and so on down the line. It's a slam at the Academy.)
  • It's not that the Academy has a lot of non-active members that's the problem. It's how those non-active members got to be members in the first place... in an exclusionary industry, and especially in the off-camera roles. If the demographics of the acting branches of the Academy were significantly different (in a meaningful way) from the off-camera branches, one's rhetorical eyebrows might be raised a little higher; in reality, not so much. Bluntly, there's a long history of racism and nepotism in H'wood — starting with class- and race-selecting "unpaid internships" as an entry point — and it takes about thirty to forty years to reverse those. (That's what it took for the US military to move within one standard deviation of national demographics among the junior officer ranks after Truman "desegregated" the military in 1947.)

In short, the Academy has brought #OscarsSoWhite upon itself with decades of neglect, of coded acceptability — of "NY and LA based critics are the only ones who matter" in the era of Gene and Roger and location shooting and Vancouver/Toronto/wherever studios, of the de facto racial hiring practices throughout the industry that have gotten no attention whatsoever from the Academy, of allowing what is supposed to be a set of awards for "excellence" or "outstanding achievement" to be coopted for marketing and ego purposes. It's disturbingly parallel to the FHA setting the table for Trump-family racism... and I sincerely hope that at least one Academy member gets an uncomfortable flinch from that comparison. Failing to acknowledge past misconduct, and further failing to take specific steps to deal structurally with that past misconduct, has consequences; just ask Secretary (General) Powell — or anyone who served as a junior officer supervising/commanding Vietnam-era enlisted personnel, particularly at any base in the former Confederacy (or, hypothetically, New York City — thanks, greedy landlords).