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« So Linky Together | Main | Sundance Award Winners: Slow West and Earl and That Diary Girl »
Sunday
Feb012015

Thin Skins and The Art of Being Snubbed

I've been sitting on half formed think pieces about all of this for a couple of weeks deciding whether to publish but here goes. Bear with me.

A very recent article at Wired about journalist behavior at Sundance made a lot of journalists angry. I agree that a lot of movie journalists are jaded (I think that about other Oscar bloggers all the time who don't see to love it like I do). Yet the piece isn't really fair because there are terribly behaved people of all types of badges at festivals. The type of badge you wear does not influence your behavior. Your character influences your behavior. Still there's so much online response and twitter uproar about this that it reminded me of all the potshots taken at Birdman's depiction of a critic (in a movie that is not meant to be taken literally at that).

In short: a lot of media writers have thin skins. I'd include myself here I must say but I think it's better to take your lumps quietly than protest too much. (Movies.com had a similarly themed piece on bad movie etiquette but it was more generous and didn't point too specific a finger.)

The uproar over these pieces reminded me of my own discomfort about the way people react to Oscar snubs (or omissions if the "S" word offends you). This season in particular, the Selma situation has provoked a lot of criticism,...

When you're snubbed it's usually wisest to just say "I was disappointed" and leave it at that. Something more clever will also do like an "Um...". You can even film an elaborate meta companion to your movie. Take the case of Sweden's Oscar shut-out Force MajeureEW offered up a sound theory as to why it was passed over by the Academy and they included the now infamous "video snub" reaction of Ruben Ostlund which you can see below if you missed it when it was making the rounds. It's so perfectly reflective of his movie, which mocks its protagonist for his easily damaged ego and his "ugly man cry" that it's hard for me to think it's real. It's gotta be staged, right?

Here's when it's okay to bitch about an Oscar snub...

When history backs you up 100% it's absolutely fine to take shots. But not in the moment. A short time ago Spike Lee said 'fuck 'em' referring to his own brick wall meeting with Oscar buzz back in 1989 and who wouldn't co-sign that?

Nobody’s talking about motherfuckin’ Driving Miss Daisy. That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss Motherfuckin’ Daisy. So if I saw Ava today I’d say, ‘You know what? Fuck ’em. You made a very good film, so feel good about that and start working on the next one.

Indeed the furor over the film's semi-dismissal got so loud that the Academy's president had to step in to speak about the Academy's efforts to diversify and also to remind everyone that Selma did get a Best Picture nomination (no small feat). Even more recently BAFTA's president had to try the "we're not racist!" defense (they gave the film zero nominations - but are blaming it on too few screenings and being a late arrival). A lot of smart think pieces like David Carr's at The New York Times mentioned the anger over an all white acting lineup and referenced the #OscarsSoWhite tag. But this particular wing of anger in this particular Oscar year -- and the year in film always needs to be a factor -- I can't really join in on even though David Oyelowo would have been in my ideal Actor lineup.

So I sort of wish he hadn't expressed his disappointment so pointedly, by again calling attention to the Academy's demographic.

“Yeah, it bothers me,” he said. “It bothers me because it’s the best reviewed film of the year. It’s a film that doesn’t direct or act itself...

The great thing is that the film is transcending all of that in terms of its notoriety and people loving the film, but that situation is representative of the demographic that votes for these things, and hopefully that’s going to change going forward."

I fear that blaming older white men is too easy a target and also not fair to them. It makes them into a sort of evil monolith that they aren't. Being an old white man does not mean you'll have terrible artistic taste anymore than being young black and female ensures that you'll have great taste. Though one aesthetic advantage minorities of any type (gay, black, female, Asian, whatever) do arguably have over straight white man of any age is they are more likely to be able to relate to stories about straight white men than the reverse. When nothing is created specifically for you, you learn to be very flexible in terms of your identification with stories and characters. In this way, a changing demographic in the Academy would certainly help.

I guess I don't think the Academy is doing all that terrible a job in terms of diversity based on what is available to them. When Black actors DO get typical Oscar roles, they tend to get nominated. Oyelowo was stuck in one of the most competitive categories we've seen in years and Oyelowo wasn't the only odd man out. If we look back through the past decade we can see that things are improving. There have been 19 black acting nominees in the past 10 years (2005-2014) with 5 of them winning or, roughly, 10% of nominees and 8% of winners. That's a slight improvement over the previous ten years with 13 nominees and 5 winners. Even better news can be found in the past ten years in other categories: Ang Lee becoming the first ethnic minority to be a double winner in Best Director and we had two black nominees which is double the amount that had ever been nominated before; in screenwriting we had our first two black winners (Precious, 12 Years a Slave).

All of this is good news and maybe even arguably a good ratio considering how stacked the deck is against ethnic minorities succeeding in Hollywood where the bulk of the roles and stories seem to be made by and revolve around white men from 10-80 years of age. 

The insistence that "Oscar doesn't watch black films" suggests that there were Oscar worthy performances out there in a given year that weren't being considered. While you can certainly make a case for Oyelowo and Ejogo this year in Selma as typical Oscar work who else was there really? It's easy to diss the Academy for skipping over acclaimed breakouts like Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights / Belle) but honestly few white women if any would have been nominated for playing a fictional rock star in a film that wasn't a hit or starring in a period piece with decent but non spectacular reviews early in the year. Political collegiate comedies of any stripe don't exactly light Oscar's fire so there goes Dear White People. As for Get On Up my theory is that it needed better reviews and box office and maybe arriving a year or two later in Chadwick Boseman's career for traction to happen. As has been discussed many many times on this site and others, the Academy tends to make men wait for their first nomination until they are a bit seasoned and it's only his second leading role of note.

I'm not saying that racism doesn't factor in. Lord knows the Obama years have taught us that racism is still alive and well (boy are future generations going to be gobsmackingly embarrassed about how much people lost their shit when a Black man was in the White House). And ironically the same media that bitched so much about Selma's treatment by the Academy were the ones who got so caught up in its "LBJ" representation which was a far more racist situation given that it was, at its core, about protecting and elevating LBJ as some sort of white savior and in a bigger picture way about who gets to lay claim to history (read this Mark Harris piece if you haven't yet).

Gugu in Beyond the Lights. Rock star movies aren't the Academy's cuppa unless they're huge bloated biopics of dead or ancient rock stars

I'm only saying that while it's easy to bitch about perceived wrongs, it's smarter to survey each field and get to the root of the real problems rather than being angry about the symptoms. By all means bitch when a great performance goes unrecognized. But don't bitch at the Academy if the studios don't give great roles to black actors or if they suddenly won't abruptly change their entire personality to honor a film like Dear White People. That's a larger issue about aesthetic discernment and genre biases that we can and should have outside of the thorniness of conversations about representation and color.

The Oscar body changes slowly over time but they don't and will never vote in a vacuum. Critics and moviegoers also subtly or sometimes baldly affect their preferences via reviews and public discourse and media coverage and perceptions of "success" (often an aphrodisiac). If more critics and moviegoers keep their minds open about what types of movies can be worthy (even critics and the public fall into this tunnel vision trap about "important" + "true story" = great) than Oscar might too. And we'll certainly get more diversity of voices in our movies if we nurture filmmakers like Ava DuVernay with our ticket dollars; that's true of filmmakers of all underrepresented voices. Minority audiences are just as culpable as anyone for not supporting cinema that they should. Gay films, for one example, have had a very tough time for the past decade connecting with their audiences theatrically (and audience that used to come out for movies about them). I mean, Pride, would have been a large success if a lot of gay people had shown up for it in droves since it was an indisputable crowd pleaser and word of mouth would have exploded with a big enough base.  More artistically leaning black films also often run into indifference financially.

zero nominations. only 1.4 million at US box office.

Vote with your ticket dollars when it comes to seeing diverse voices on screen or behind it. And when you want to complain about someone not being nominated, make sure you think of them as one of the five best in that category within that year and you are truly comfortable leaving dozens of others off the list in order to have them there. Context always needs to be considered and it rarely is when anyone wants to make a point. 

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Reader Comments (41)

One of the things I've accepted in being an Oscar buff is that you're going to take almost equal bad with your good. And I think a lot of arguments I read about why "the Academy" decides to do what they do are wrong-headed. The Academy isn't a committee and it doesn't decide anything. It's members vote and make decisions for a wide variety of reasons.
Anyway, the Selma problem bummed me out - and particularly the Duvernay snub, as much as I really like the Miller nomination that we probably got instead (see good/bad) - but I'm ready to blame a lot of factors, many mentioned here and elsewhere, and hope that the bad publicity opens up more possibilities for black filmmakers to get things made and nominated. What would *really* help, of course, is for more people to go see Selma.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

This is definitely one of my favorite pieces of yours. Thanks for the great read!

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTayTayHoliday

I fear that blaming older white men is too easy a target and also not fair to them. It makes them into a sort of evil monolith that they aren't.

Hollywood---a patriarchal white supremacy. I will repeat it until one of us dies. Because you should know what something is. That is what the industry that created the medium you love so much is. You want equality for all. And what to see images of everyone. But that is not how it works.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Thanks for this. Not to be glib, but it's Sunday morning and I haven't had my coffee yet:

#AmericaSoWhite > #HollywoodSoWhite > #OscarsSoWhite

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Good gravy, Nathaniel. Thank you for being so reasonable.

The point about the paltry number of legitimate African-American contenders this year is spot-on. It's ironic that prior to the nominations, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chadwick Boseman were only in the conversation when someone went so far as to list fringe contenders for a nomination. After the Selma uproar, they're suddenly all over the place as examples of #OscarsSoWhite. It's indicative of the kind of revision that goes on every year after the Oscars, where many folks develop selective amnesia and rewrite the year's conversation according to whatever storyline comes to predominate.

Anyway, bravo!

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Thanks for putting this in perspective. I couldn't agree with you more. Well said!

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Nathaniel I want to agree with you on your points made about the Academy doing better recently in representing black actors and other people of color (YES, PEOPLE OF COLOR) but the point is black and POC actors/movies are still very underrepresented at Awards shows and in casting decisions. So what does it matter if people complain? Poor Academy members will get their feelings hurt?They'll feel like they aren't trying hard enough? That it'll undermine the fact that they made progress by actually nominating Selma for Best Picture? And for giving 12 years of Slave Best Picture last year? So everyone should just Stfu and be thankful right? But you can whine about poor Jakey-poo and Ralph not getting nominated right? And Marion almost not getting nominated? Smh

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermax

Of course that video is staged. It's a reference to the movie. lol It's hilarious.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

So well put Nathaniel!

Where were these media voices complaining about Selma snubs when Beyond the Lights and Get on Up were opening to such little buzz? These same sites will report breathlessly for months about the smallest scraps and details about certain films, but black films will go largely uncovered. So much of Oscar season is all about hype and what films are getting attention. Certain outlets shouldn't be surprised if a film or performance that they barely covered can't cross the finish line.

It's easy to blame other people.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWill H

This is such a well-reasoned and articulate piece. Thank you, Nathaniel!

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Agree with you that it's not fair to blame the older white males in the Academy. Also, that's missing the point. It starts with casting -- as Rita Moreno said, "The terrible truth is that if you don't get the right parts -- you're not going to be. Are you going to get an Oscar nomination for one of those Judd Apatow movies? Not likely -- no matter what nationality you are. And I think that until we as Latino actors get to do roles that have really serious meaning, it's going to be impossible to get nominated." It IS about the roles and minorities aren't getting a chance to play those roles, not often enough. As you noted, "the bulk of stories seem to be made by, and revolve around, white men." Yes, but even when it's a minority making a film (look at Alejandro Inarritu) his ENTIRE cast is non-minority and it's set in diverse NYC! That's absurd. I do agree with what you said that "content needs to be considered," and IMO "Selma" wasn't snubbed at all. The movie had some amazing scenes, but overall wasn't great -- the score was terrible. And I REALLY wanted to see it and have love Oyelowo for years in SO many movies. I agree that the problem isn't with the Oscars per say but with casting and with the studios. They should start looking at the abundance of talent out there and cast a wider net...(Also, Theory of Everything kind-a sucked).

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLee

Max-

I think you're misunderstanding Nathaniel's point here. He's not saying you shouldn't get pissed off that more black actors didn't get nominated. You should absolutely be pissed off, but directing your anger towards the Oscar voters is misguided. The anger should be guided towards the industry that has a disproportionately paltry selection of black roles. And his suggestion for effecting change is to seek out black movies and support them with your $$$. It seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Nowhere did I read that he asks you to stfu.

Abhi

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAbhi

Max- I don't think anybody walks away from this post and says "Yeah, we should just be thankful." Nathaniel himself says that we need to support films from minority viewpoints. And you're right that perhaps this controversy will make people think twice about films with people of color in the future.

BUT

It's also nice for people to know the truth. And the truth is that Oyelowo was the only real black contender for an acting nomination and he was in the most competitive category. Director was also highly contested this year beyond the three locks. Folks can lament Selma's (general) exclusion from the nominations, but the sadder thing-- as most people on this site will agree-- is that it was the only real non-white contender this year.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I've seen so many articles over the years that the Academy hasn't been inclusive when it comes to nominations. It was certainly true in the past, but I don't think it's true anymore in the slightest. I'm looking at my personal choices for awards over the last few years (yes, I'm that nerdy) and while my acting nominees aren't all white this year, they were in 2010. The difference between me and the Academy - I didn't dig Biutiful. The real problem? If I wanted diversity in my nominations he was one of very few choices, and I didn't like that film. It isn't the Oscars' fault that the movies being made aren't featuring enough diverse casting.

I haven't seen the press chewing out Paramount for screwing up by not sending Selma screeners to basically anyone outside of the Academy. I haven't seen frustration that Gugu Mbatha-Raw had two fantastic films come out this year but we barely saw a push for her. I never see anyone analyzing the number of films every year from major studios featuring a diverse cast. And if anyone is using the "Oscars So White" hashtag when they didn't see a movie in theaters this year with a non-white lead other than Selma (which the Academy nominated for Best Picture), they need to shut up. You vote with your ticket dollars, not your online complaining.

Blaming the Oscars is scapegoating that distracts from the real issue: We need to see a number of projects from major studios every year featuring non-white people. We need them to be made, first of all. We need studios to stand behind them in a serious way. And we, as ticket buyers, need to support them. None of that involves the Oscars. If you just blame the Academy, nothing will change and we'll be right back having the same conversation about lack of diversity next year.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Eurocheese, the only diversity in that Biutiful nomination was the fact that Javier Bardem is not American and not a native English speaker in a foreign-language role. Because the man is white.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Boesman not making it was my biggest disappointment of the year.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermark

I agree with Nat and several others that if you want to see diversity in films, you have to support diversity in films. The most important color in Hollywood is green.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Paul Outlaw, fair enough. Another all white year for the Academy then. If anything, that just reiterates my point.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I want to thank you, Nathaniel, for so clearly taking time and putting major thought into writing a piece like this. It's a conversation that is incredibly nuanced and difficult to tease apart, and we all know that internet posts (and comments on those posts) are a form of communication that can dull subtlety. I agree with you that progress merits recognition, and it is true that Black actors and artists (and other artists of color) are popping up ever more frequently in both the general awards season discussion and on nomination shortlists. This is a good thing.

But when it comes to diversity work (an inherently and always aspirational exercise), contentment with the status quo is anathema to growth and change. "Not as bad as it was" is not the same as "as good as it can be". The Oscars get dragged into this because their very invocation guarantees internet traffic and an audience that may otherwise never hear the argument in the first place. When we talk about the Oscars, we are always talking about the industry they purport to represent and reward.

Too often we put the burden of advocacy and education on minorities and those already oppressed by the system. I can't believe it's as simple as "minorities need to buy tickets and show up to films made by/for them, and if they don't they lose the right to complain about not seeing themselves on screen." Not when the media and industry treat "minority films" so differently than others, so Pride's paltry box office will have implications for the financing of future LGBT films in a way that RIPD or The Lone Ranger or John Carter simply will not for expensive films starring white dudes. Not when "minority films" like The Best Man Holiday that do make money are seen as aberrations or written off as surprises that don't really mean anything. Not when independent films of any kind are ever more difficult to find playing theatrically in major cities, and nearly impossible to access in far suburban and rural areas.

Change comes from repeated and frequent and widespread calls for and commitments to it. I don't think the Oscars need to be the only "battleground" (so to speak) on which this all plays out, nor should they be. It's probably true that the signifier of real industrial progress won't be a Black Best Director winner; instead, it will be when a shitty gay romantic comedy makes $100 million or when a trans woman plays the romantic lead in a big budget action film or when a superhero movie with a majority POC cast gets greenlit for $150 million budget. In other words, when there is demonstrable proof of equanimity of opportunity rather than numbers of shiny trophies given.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

This is a wonderful piece, but here is why I disagree. Because it is finally being talked about. My family who knows very little about movies or awards was even talking about it. Suddenly every anybody on the street was rattling off Academy demographics. The post-Selma snub uproar will absolutely have an effect on future years, and for that, I am thrilled it is happening. No, not every movie will be as good as Selma or Do the Right Thing, but at least this will start encouraging more filmmakers and studios to commission films with black directors and actors, and for audiences to go see them, and for awards bodies to go see them. So the next we get another masterpiece like Selma or Do the Right Thing, or master performances like Denzel, Viola, and David, they will be justly awarded.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I think what really made the Selma snub sting was that American Sniper was embraced so hard at the same time. I honestly don't think this backlash would be happening to the same extent if that weren't the case. It looked really uncomfortable.

Obviously I think it's a complicated issue with screeners and campaigning and things of that nature, but ultimately it brought serious issues to the conversations because even if the general public doesn't know where to direct the anger, hopefully Hollywood is paying attention the fact that it seriously lacks diversity and they need to change that.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Nathaniel, thanks for this piece.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Good post -- I've been arguing these points regularly with friends who spend no time all year long thinking about the Oscars but then jumped on the social media bandwagon as it left the station on nomination morning.

I will always love the Oscars for rewarding many great works of art and many great artists, while also recognizing them as revealing the larger, structural, societal problems that have to do with people in power (white, male, older) holding tight to that power and resisting change. The fact that a female centered story like WILD never even made it into the best picture discussion was to me one of the biggest damning signs of the Academy's sexism. DuVernay's omission was the latest in a line that includes Granik and Cholodenko, while young men like Zeitlin and Chazelle (not nominated, but considered a strong possible nominee throughout the season) are treated as auteurs.

Public shaming efforts like #OscarsSoWhite are actually a good thing in that they embarrass that boys' club into looking at its own priorities. (This also sends a message to people like the folks at Plan B, who produced 12 YEARS A SLAVE and SELMA, that they are doing important work.) But retweeting #OscarsSoWhite without buying a ticket to SELMA in a movie theater is just laziness, maybe even hypocrisy.

Keep the pressure on, I say, from all directions.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

We also can't ignore the events of the past year with the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and the ongoing protests and debates over police brutality within the African-American community and the failures of our judicial system in indicting these policeman. This, coupled with the lack of major love for Selma, was sort of twisting the knife and escalated to all this uproar over the Oscar nominations, in my opinion. Like someone said in an earlier post, there was not this kind of outcry in 2010 when all the nominees were white (and yes, Javier Bardem is white).

But I wholeheartedly agree with the points made in this piece. The fact that Selma was the only major motion picture in serious Oscar contention that starred black actors is a problem that reflects the greater film industry. I also really think someone like Gugu Mbatha-Raw really could've had a legitimate shot for Belle if Fox Searchlight and, particularly, critics, journalists, and awards analysts really pushed for her and made her more visible. How many times did we hear this season about how "weak" the best actress race was? But she got shoved to the "not gonna happen" pile with Scarlett Johansson and Jenny Slate. I really don't think Marion Cotillard would've made it this year if the critics hadn't had rallied for her. She had no campaign, no precursor support (outside of Critics Choice) and was in a tiny, social-realist Belgian film that even the Foreign Film branch had discarded. So advocacy--whether it be from journalists, entertainment professionals, bloggers, whatever--can be highly beneficial and matter if you speak up loudly enough.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Good piece.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

What an exceptional post, well thought out and measured.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRami

Yes black people, only be upset over the right things in the right circumstances and certainly not about "Selma" and the Academy's insulting treatment of it, according to all-knowing Nathaniel. What the hell ever.

February 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKonn

Well said Nathaniel. I totally agree with Spike Lee, Oscars aren't the measure of excellence, the only thing for those involved with Selma (and other under-appreciated films) to do is move right on with another project.
I have become very frustrated as a woman with the taste of Hollywood executives so I go out and see films like Pride, Made in Dagenham, Begin Again, Babadook, Wild, and others, in the theatre.
And I buy dvd copies and give them away as gifts. That's the only way to truly support the kinds of films I wish to see. The real badge of success isn't a trophy or a nomination, if the film breaks even or makes money that filmmaker gets to make another film. That's the real success. The Kid's are Allright was enough of a success that Lisa C. went on to make Olive Kittredge. So go out there and buy a ticket and take a friend.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Amen.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Konn -- I love Selma and that is not what I'm saying.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's odd that you don't mention the kinds of roles and the kinds of movies with black actors that win - Precious, which I loved, is about an abused obese daughter of a welfare queen (basically the white mythos of government assistance), 12 Years a Slave has the white savior who eventually frees Solomon, Glory, Monster's Ball - they all have problematic representations of black people.

And then you have Selma (which I didn't care for at all) but is largely missing the white savior role. At the end of the day, they just don't want to give awards or nominations or recognition to movies without white people heavily involved.

As an Indian, how often did I have to hear that Slumdog Millionaire was a validation for the Hindi movie industry - even though it starred only one person who actively works in that industry, it was directed by a white man (who ignored and snubbed his Indian co-director), written by a white man, produced by white men and yet Indians should be happy about this?

The crux of the issue with the Academy, is they don't want minorities to tell their own stories. They want Michael Mann or Steven Spielberg to do it for us. They don't want minorities to have any agency in their own stories, they want Forrest Gump or Brad Pitt in 12YAS to help save us from ourselves.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

I thought was a great piece. Really on point. Selma is a great film but its too easy to blame racism for its snub. The movie did need to come out a bit earlier. I truly believe it was the poor campaigning that did it. The academy would have went for it if they gave it more time to gel. We should all be happy that the film exists. With or without oscars.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Seconding Rahul and the others on this. I think it's fairly obvious that when people are blaming AMPAS, they're signalling their perception of the entire industry in general--like, yes, people here on this blog understand the nuances of the Oscar race and how "complex" the races are, but I'm going to give a pass to everyone who is mad about racism and underrepresentation in Hollywood for not understanding the difference between Hollywood and AMPAS, or similar punditry facts. It belies the bigger point, which is the critique that AMPAS is a staggeringly, overwhelmingly monolithic in terms of ethnic/gender. (I actually never realized until the Selma fuss that it was 93% white--like Jesus Christ) and that the discussion isn't about whether Hollywood likes "black movies"--it's about the KIND of black movies they like, aka movies that are underpinned by a white savior angle.

I also agree that I would love to see people put their money where their mouth is--the Selma box office is sad and underwhelming to say the least--but nonetheless I'm uncomfortable with critiques that place the burden directly on the consumer rather than the people on the top with the power and money. Christian Bale said something similar, and rather infuriatingly, the other week when he claimed that the all-white casting of Exodus was the fault of the moviegoer for not supporting independent minority filmmakers, which is a terrible excuse. People do show up for movies with PoC in them. Ok, so not every indie movie with an all-PoC or queer or etc cast is a box office smash. Neither are indie movies with white people. Sundance is going on right now--how much is the average white-helmed indie showing there going to make, exactly? How many of them are going to break even with their budget?

The #OscarsSoWhite tag, as most hashtags on Twitter, is kind of dramatized for effect but on-point in substance. I hope the following statement doesn't sound accusatory in any way, but I really feel like that people's perception of the hashtag is a kind of Rorschach for their perceptions of institutional racism in this country in general. E.g. How much of the blame for continuing oppression falls on the oppressed? How much of a right do the oppressed have to speak out against the people on the top with "good intentions"? How can we get more people to acknowledge that in whatever field or industry it is, from tech to movies to politics--the people at the bottom trying to work their way up continue to smacked back down by invisible ceilings?

The tl;dr of this is that I'm with Oyelowo all the way. It's absolutely not a stretch or in bad taste to state the obvious--that a 93% white voting bloc might not warm to the same movie that had liberal pundits in hysterics about the "negative" portrayal of LBJ; a movie that is actually quite radical and unnerving in its portrayal of black agency and black resistance. He doesn't need to wait 20 years down the line to be exonerated a la Spike Lee. Centuries of history already exonerate him.

P.S. It should be a rule that absolutely no one bring up the Oscar success of "12 Years' a Slave" ever again to affirm racial progress in Hollywood.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

Unfortunately scanned the comments too quickly and didn't even catch this from RJ--this is pretty much exactly what I wanted to add as well!

"Too often we put the burden of advocacy and education on minorities and those already oppressed by the system. I can't believe it's as simple as "minorities need to buy tickets and show up to films made by/for them, and if they don't they lose the right to complain about not seeing themselves on screen." Not when the media and industry treat "minority films" so differently than others, so Pride's paltry box office will have implications for the financing of future LGBT films in a way that RIPD or The Lone Ranger or John Carter simply will not for expensive films starring white dudes. Not when "minority films" like The Best Man Holiday that do make money are seen as aberrations or written off as surprises that don't really mean anything. Not when independent films of any kind are ever more difficult to find playing theatrically in major cities, and nearly impossible to access in far suburban and rural areas."

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

Ugh last comment, but just wanted to add--I find it a little odd that you used Spike Lee's quote to showcase how a "classy" loser responds, because the rest of your piece kind of scrubs out the rest of his Daily Beast interview. He talks about the "10-year-cycle" of AMPAS recognizing black movies for their achievements and expresses deep skepticism about progress. It's also pretty clear that he's applying the "Driving Miss Daisy v. Do the Right Thing" allegory to Selma and believes that the latter is being snubbed for the exact same reasons. Also, I think we can all say with conviction that Spike Lee believed and said the same thing regarding his Oscar snubs 25 years ago. When every inch of your career is embedded in overcoming profound societal bias, responding in a reasonable way is probably the least important priority on your list.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

P.S. It should be a rule that absolutely no one bring up the Oscar success of "12 Years' a Slave" ever again to affirm racial progress in Hollywood.


***

This!

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

P.S. It should be a rule that absolutely no one bring up the Oscar success of "12 Years' a Slave" ever again to affirm racial progress in Hollywood.


***

This!

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Pride seems to be the sort of movie that would have been a hit 10 years ago but movies like this aren't getting the support they used to.

February 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Caroline & RJ -- these are great points. I'll readily admit that I get caught up in the nuances of Oscars because I know too much about it. And I understand your larger point that people don't mean the Oscars in the limited way that I do just as people mean Hollywood to represent MOVIES

This part

The #OscarsSoWhite tag, as most hashtags on Twitter, is kind of dramatized for effect but on-point in substance. I hope the following statement doesn't sound accusatory in any way, but I really feel like that people's perception of the hashtag is a kind of Rorschach for their perceptions of institutional racism in this country in general. E.g. How much of the blame for continuing oppression falls on the oppressed? How much of a right do the oppressed have to speak out against the people on the top with "good intentions"? How can we get more people to acknowledge that in whatever field or industry it is, from tech to movies to politics--the people at the bottom trying to work their way up continue to smacked back down by invisible ceilings?
.

I could have phrased all this more elegantly with more time and I really appreciate your comments which have me me think more deeply on what I was trying to say. And I maybe even agree with what you're saying about the rorschach test though I would perhaps self-flatteringly side step the implication that this also includes me since I agree with you that institutionalized racism is a huge problem.

but that said I am uncomfortable with absolving minorities of *all* responsibility for their own representation.My point of view on this is from the LGBT community (the only minority I'm part of as a *gulp* white man) but when gays are complacement things sour for them. and I think that's true of any oppressed group or underrepresented group. Selma is such a beautiful movie specifically because it addresses that change comes from community, not one person.

When every inch of your career is embedded in overcoming profound societal bias, responding in a reasonable way is probably the least important priority on your list.

Great point though I object to the phrasing of "classy" -- a word I did not use that implies 'well behaved' and from there its a slippery slope to "uppity' a word that connotes ugly racism. I didn't want to get too distracted by the gargantuan topic of Spike Lee and the Oscars but you're right and I here you loud and clear.

I guess I just didn't like Oyelowo saying it because in most years he would have been nominated (and most black actors in that kind of role with that revered a film ARE nominated) but that's me getting distracted by the specificity of the actual Oscars and not the larger points which I thank you for reminding me of.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Kyle Buchanan has an excellent piece about what's going on at Sundance right now that for me very effectively illustrates the problem with the "minorities should work harder/do better" theory http://www.vulture.com/2015/02/sundance-exposes-hollywoods-white-guy-problem.html

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersally

Nathaniel--thank you for your thoughtful response, as usual. Very reassuring that you weren't referring to any silent rules of good-behavior--I did admittedly imagine that that was what your piece was hinting at, so it's good to know what you meant.

"but that said I am uncomfortable with absolving minorities of *all* responsibility for their own representation."

I wouldn't mean that either. I think it just goes without saying that marginalized groups already fight like hell on a daily basis to resist, assimilate, etc. whatever they need to do to survive and thrive. I totally feel you on the "complacency" feelings--I spend quite a bit of my free time involved in activism for certain progressive issues and I remember feeling regularly angry and frustrated about what I perceived as apathy from the people whose rights were at stake here. (This applies to basically any angry liberal, really.) Straying a bit far from the topic of movies here, but I think it helped whenever I was reminded to step back and remember that it wasn't complacency or apathy so much as exhaustion from the devastating psychic toll of having to resist an oppressive system each and every day. So when I see people disintegrate in the face of putting up with bullshit that shouldn't have been there to put up with in the first place, then I feel really strongly that the burden falls directly back on the system to fix itself. It's like Chris Rock's awesome quote about racial progress really being about *white progress," because "Black people have been exceptional for centuries but it's only recently that white people have been getting less crazy."

"I guess I just didn't like Oyelowo saying it because in most years he would have been nominated"

Hmm I guess that's the heart of this contentious divide. I think Oyelowo and others (myself included, I guess) are insinuating strongly that Selma's omission isn't accidental or circumstantial. Mark Harris' definition of a snub is purposeful omission driven by discomfort or dislike rather than indifference. I feel very strongly that Selma was snubbed, by that very definition, for the reasons that both Spike Lee and Oyelowo have eloquently stated in their longer interview statements, and if that IS the case, then it's about the flaws of an inherently rigged system, not the campaigning or quality or anything else within their control. It wouldn't matter to Oyelowo if you suggested that he could have been nominated another year, or that another actor playing that role would have been nominated--because his entire point would be that it wouldn't be true. And honestly, with the exception of Denzel in Malcolm X (and I'm not sure that that even counts as an exception, for reasons I won't get into here), I think people would have a very hard time refuting his statement that he would have been nominated and that the film would have received a truly welcome reception among more AMPAS members if he and the film had been more reconciling to whites.

February 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

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