Movie industry problems go beyond Oscars
Whether moviemakers boycott the Academy Awards ceremony next month or go to the show and use the platform to highlight the racial disparity issue, their business has a problem and they should be trying to fix it.
Hollywood is a symbol of opportunity for the talented people who come seeking fame and fortune. If it turns out that this opportunity is not available to all in an industry that presents itself as open-minded, then many might wonder where it is available.
So it matters that the Oscars have become known for overlooking the diversity in their midst. Hollywood produces lots of fine acting performances and superb filmmaking by minorities, and worthy movies presenting a world of perspectives, but it tends to celebrate whites, men and white-men-themed films. Since this reflects the white, male power structure in the industry, it suggests the trouble doesn't begin with myopic award voting but with a narrow perspective among the people who hire talent and decide which projects get made in the first place.
In the Oscar nominations, all 20 in the acting categories are Caucasian. None of the eight Best Picture candidates have minority leads. The Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Inarritu is up for Best Director, but none of the five nominees for director are women.
All of this despite, as film writer Bob Strauss points out, the prominence of movies like "Straight Outta Compton" and "Creed" and the lesbian romance "Carol," and high expectations for actors Idris Elba (in "Beasts of No Nation") and Will Smith (in "Concussion").
It would be one thing if this were an anomaly. It isn't. This is the second straight year that no non-white received a nomination in the acting categories, and, really, such oversights have been happening on and off for decades.
It would be one thing if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were out of step with the industry at large. It isn't. A 2015 study by UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies found that film studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male, and found similarly disproportionate percentages in other film and TV studio executive suites. It is no wonder the Oscar controversy is being taken more seriously this year.
Individuals must exercise their conscience — and be allowed to do so, without political pressure to get in step. Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who are black, say they will boycott the Feb. 28 Oscars ceremony. Will other stars? Would the controversy make viewers tune out or tune in? What will emcee Chris Rock and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who are black, say? What will award winners say?
In the end, keeping track of the specific poses of Hollywood celebrities isn't important. But it's important that they care about a real problem in their industry of make-believe and take real steps to solve it.
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