OPINION: #OscarsSoWhite Was Nothing More Than Meaningless Clicktivism
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Black people don't need white people to tell them when their art is good. Those who believe otherwise are the true racists.
The 2016 Oscars were scrutinized left and right for being “racially bland” and “too white.” It’s another one of those clicktivist hashtag deal-i-os: #OscarsSoWhite.
Some members of the Hollywood “Elite” -- that is to say, the American Royalty, which, in a bit of twenty-first (and twentieth) century strangeness, is comprised of people who play make-believe for a living -- boycotted the single most prestigious awards ceremony in the country. Why the boycott? Because there wasn’t a single "person of color" nominated, despite the ceremony long being known as “one of the whitest gatherings on earth.” In response, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs is now changing the makeup of the nominations process, as she detailed in one of many speeches about the controversy that occurred during the ceremony.
Many reasonable people, including black members of said elite group, were vocal in their belief that the vehemence coming from those "offended" by #OscarsSoWhite was really much ado about nothing. The African American proportion of the U.S. population is 12.6%. That proportion is far, far less if you look exclusively at the pioneers and plutocrats who have brought film to where it is today, where it has (strangely, as I alluded to above) seemingly supplanted what would have traditionally been an oligarchy. Nonetheless, ten percent of Oscar recipients in the last sixteen years went to actors of color — (not including the underrepresented Hispanic and Asian populations who, for some reason, don’t seem as adept at complaining about it, though they're getting better). This is akin to Chinese actors boycotting a Japanese awards show for not including more Chinese nominations, which we would all say is pretty absurd.
So…what was the big friggin' deal? Like most things in the Twitter-verse, it wasn't that #OscarsSoWhite, it was that #OscarsNotPCEnough. It was pure, self-satisfying, utterly meaningless clicktivism.
On January 16th (MLK Day) actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and director Spike Lee declared that they would not attend this year’s Oscars. Both Pinkett-Smith and Lee found it appropriate to make statements (via short videos) voicing their “outrage” that "in this day and age," the talents of actors of color are ignored, tossed by the wayside, treated as if they don't matter. Personally, I found Lee’s statement to be a bit kinder and less aggressive, whereas Pinkett-Smith said she will not ‘allow’ people of color to be ignored anymore.
First of all, disapproval over the racial makeup of Oscar noms whilst recalling Martin Luther King is like a Christian claiming they're oppressed because Starbucks stopped offering Christmas cups. It is a complete and utter failure to grasp the intent and purpose of the underlying Saint. Really, what was that all about? Why bring a historic (and heroic) figure who stood for equality into a fight, literally, over golden idols?
In any case, the uproar has brought such a stink to the posh echelon of the film world that I can smell it all the way out in Rancho Cucamonga, where I sit a white, male, totally unrecognized actor and artist. What did the stink bring? Sure, we got a tone-perfect Chris Rock monologue, a tone-pushing-it Stacy Dash appearance, and a tone-deaf Lady Gaga effusion, but did any of it really make any difference to, you know, the world? Of course not.
Now, I’m not saying we need a cease fire on social justice at the Oscars. In some ways, the search for larger meaning at this year's awards was refreshing. But let's remember what the Oscars are: a marketing exercise designed primarily to generate more revenue for an exclusive short list of self-selected films. Imagine an annual consumer electronics awards show for which employees and former employees of Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Panasonic and Sony chose all the nominees — that's, essentially, what the Academy Awards are (and, in the case of Sony, that's actually exactly what they are). Why bring dark aspects of race into an event that is intended as a gathering of friends, peers and co-workers that the vast majority of us are quite obviously excluded from? As Spike Lee put it, the Academy Awards is “not where the 'real' battle is." He's more right than he knows. Using the Oscars, the most exclusive ceremony on Earth, as a platform to complain about exclusion is like complaining about global warming on a trip to Death Valley — it is not only entirely useless, but also seeks only to placate the complainer's own discomfort.
During his monologue, Chris Rock said, "all we're asking for is an equal opportunity." But where is it shown that that is not already the case? Because a black person wasn't nominated for an Academy Award via a blind, democratic process created by rich white people to celebrate their own white films means that blacks have been deprived, somehow, of the opportunity to make films and star in them at all? Certainly that's not the case. If anything, black filmmakers include less white people in their films than white filmmakers. Not only do black filmmaker's almost exclusively cast black people, they almost exclusively make films about being black. How many whites have been nominated for BET Awards? Exactly three, ever.
It isn’t fair for those who have put their hearts, souls, wallets, blood, tears, and lives into making art, to have their attendance be mocked and condemned by fellow artists all because of the color of their skin. The point is that we don't judge on the color of skin. Whereas next year, Academy voters will have no choice but to choose for exactly that reason. And what will be the endgame? Increased racial tension, not decreased, as no one will know whether black noms actually deserved the nom, or if they're the token PC choice. White filmmakers are already packing their films with token black characters, and it hasn't even been three days since the ceremony. Isn't it a filmmaker's job to tell a story accurately, not fulfill racial quotas? Aren't racial quotas precisely the problem?
MLK fought for the decency of mankind: the societal equal treatment of blacks by whites, not forced inclusion in an inane private ceremony. Yes, the Oscars are symbolic. But symbolic of what? Equality? No. Symbolic of precisely the opposite — of elitism and celebrity worship. They are symbolic of people being divided into "special" and "not special." #BlackLivesMatter (which I fully support, by the way) is about acts, whereas #OscarsSoWhite is about feelings. Black people who feel bad about being snubbed by the Academy Awards are only feeling the same way as we all do - unimportant and lesser-than.
But Pinkett-Smith said, “It diminishes power and we are a dignified people and we are powerful.”
Who is ”We?” Who is doing the real "othering" in this situation?
“We” should be a pronoun that doesn’t specify division so harshly. As far as I am concerned, "we" are one race, called humans, and we are part of a subgroup called artists, and if there's one thing for sure it's that almost none of us are invited to the Oscars.
Art is about creating a piece of something out of nothing, regardless of individual backgrounds, regardless the color of one’s skin, to reflect your experience. Believing that the Academy Awards has anything to do with that is, at the very least, misguided. As ridiculous as it is to say, art is about making art. Being art. Breathing art. It has nothing to do with recognition through an award. People who cast a hierarchy on art aren't artists. They're critics and parasites. Black people certainly do not need white people to tell them their art is good. It's those who believe otherwise that are the true racists.
An actor/actress may deliver the best performance of his/her life and not be nominated. Kubrick never won an Oscar, and that's what's cool about him. It doesn't now, nor has it ever, have to do with racial identity and it's a crockpot of frothy stew-y shit on a hoagie if that's where your mind takes you. Nominations are about luck and politics, not about the color of one’s skin. Like the goal (not the method) of Cheryl Boone Isaacs' “five-year plan," let us be we. And let's do it by not fixating on skin color.