Easy: Change one Oscar nomination and the whole “boycott” brushfire over racial diversity would never have happened.
If Will Smith had been nominated for “Concussion” instead of Michael Fassbender for “Steve Jobs,” all would have been quiet – more or less. That’s what should have happened, too.
If it had, Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith wouldn’t have had such an itchy trigger finger on the “boycott” button when no single black face appeared among the 20 Oscar acting nominees. The only black person among the 20 Screen Actors Guild Award nominees is the estimable Idris Elba for Supporting Role in Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation.” No such outcry, then, greeted the SAG nominations.
Where all of this gets funny is when Robin Roberts interviewed Smith on “Good Morning, America.” Anyone who has ever been married to an independent and outspoken spouse who is going to say whatever they jolly well please whenever they jolly well please, can’t help but find it a little funny that, according to her husband, Jada didn’t tell Will what she was going to say and do before she said and did it. He’s now along for the ride, the way he tells the story.
The day before on “GMA,” Spike Lee said, understandably, “this whole academy thing is a misdirection.” The problem isn’t with a dearth of faces of color among Oscar nominees; it’s with a lack of diversity up and down the full-length of Hollywood movies as “an industry,” not the poor benighted Motion Picture Academy, which is a bit less clueless than it was for many decades of the 20th century.
The problem, to Lee, is with the dearth of black executives in the motion picture business. And that’s where Lee – as is his wont – got pretty interesting. There should be, he said, an equivalent of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” which dates from 2003 and states that NFL teams must interview capable and interested minority candidates for head coaching jobs. It’s named after Dan Rooney, of the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers family, who was head of the Diversity Committee that established the rule.
One of those, by the way, sometimes pointed to as a result of the “Rooney Rule” is Carolina Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera, whose team is going to the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks.
If there were more minority executives, Hollywood Studios would almost certainly operate a bit differently.
But the gleaming whiteness of the acting nominees wasn’t the only idiocy in the Oscar nominations. “Steve Jobs” isn’t the only overrated film this time around. So is “The Big Short,” whose director Adam McKay was nominated but not 78-year-old Ridley Scott for “The Martian,” one of the great extraterrestrial fantasies of all time.
And there is where the Academy’s whole response to monochromatic nominations is characteristically stupid.
As always, the Academy decided to search for senile culprits for it all and decided that older “inactive” Academy members need to give up voting privileges after 10 years.
But then as Lee well knows, the Oscars always have been “misdirection” from Hollywood’s diversity problems. Absurdity and injustice have always been part of their birthright and always will be.
I admit cheering with a huge war whoop at the discovery that the little film I consider 2015’s best, “Room,” was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress (Brie Larson, for that one, who stands a decent chance of running the table). But that doesn’t mean I’ve come around to thinking of the Oscars as a sensible, sagacious and enduring statement about excellence in motion pictures. It’s just a snapshot of community sentiment for monetary purposes in a community known for truly legendary foolishness and worse.
I know the current Motion Picture Academy president – Cheryl Boone Isaacs– is African-American, as is Oscar host Chris Rock who, I hope, is allowed to cut loose and take movies seriously at the same time.
But the very history of the Oscar is invidious in so many matters. The first person of color to win it was Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With the Wind,” from whose Atlanta premiere she was barred for racial reasons over the pained objections of Clark Gable. And she won for her extraordinary excellence in an eternally demeaning and caricatured role.
Let me confess that except for Gable and that incredible crane shot in the Atlanta railway station, I have hated “Gone With the Wind” since I first saw it at age 12 – in many ways because of the ghastly but virtuosic stereotyping of McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen. They were prodigiously gifted actresses, both. That they will always be remembered in wretchedly demeaning roles is a sorrow too deep for tears.
Yes, McDaniel won her historic Oscar. But as Lee says, pure misdirection.
The fault is not in our Oscars – it’s in ourselves.