For the last few years Hollywood has been the focus of criticism for their lack of diversity, which has in turn caused movements (such as: #OscarsSoWhite) to crop up online and in the media calling for change. A prime example of why so many have begun such movements would be this years (2016) Oscar Nominations. When the Nominees were announced, many started to notice that out of the 20 nominees in the acting category, none of them were of any ethnicity other than white. This spearheaded a major call to action within the ranks of the Academy as well as the media surrounding it. Boycotts were then called by various members of the Academy and the snubbed (if you’re so inclined to believe) Will Smith along with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Spike Lee was also among those in the boycott, as well as Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo who was considering boycotting the Oscars before deciding to go “in support of the victims of clergy Sexual Abuse and good journalism.“ Meanwhile, Julie Delpy, and one of this years Best Actress nominee, Charlotte Rampling, made some naive and downright offensive comments regarding the issues of diversity and the call to change Academy rules– before later trying to apologize. The Academy President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (who is black), was pressured into changing Academy regulations and, later on, did so. With the release of the Coen Brothers latest movie, “Hail, Caesar!”, they’ve been making the press rounds and may have gotten themselves involved in the ongoing issue of diversity.
In an enlightening interview, journalist and film critic, Jen Yamato, asked the directors about the Oscar Diversity issue and she received “…matching bemused groans at the mention of the hot-button #OscarsSoWhite controversy.” The duo tried to divert the attention by implying that the Oscars were given too much importance, despite the fact they they have been nominated for a whopping thirteen nominations.
One of the most troubling comments of the whole interview revolves around the importance of the conversation of diversity and the Oscars in general:
“Why would there be?” countered Joel Coen. “I don’t understand the question. No—I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from. By making such a big deal, you’re assuming that these things really matter. I don’t think they even matter much from an economic point of view,” he continued. “So yes, it’s true—and it’s also true that it’s escalating the whole subject to a level it doesn’t actually deserve.”
As sad as it is to hear this from some of my favorite directors– the Coen Brothers have a point. The Oscars really shouldn’t be held in such high esteem, but it is and that’s the problem. Diversity is an issue that expands past Hollywood, however in a place where various types of people go to be seen and to view movies it is only natural they would want to be represented. Everyone should have a chance to see something different. People of different ethnicities and/or genders are given equal opportunities to create and have the same opportunities as white people. As a white male it may seem that I am giving a broad, inoffensive position to the issue (an issue that doesn’t directly affect me) but it’s important for every person to have a chance to speak out and be heard within an industry/lifestyle of backhanded racism– and I personally believe that.
With actors like Charlotte Rampling and Julie Delpy, as well as Michael Caine, the issue of diversity is being addressed and slowly answered. But a big reason for the backlash that these actors faced, that they probably didn’t realize, was due to the way they answer these questions. By trying to (ineffectively) give reasoning to the public as to why a diverse group of actors are not being nominated, they are demonstrating first hand the problem that surrounds the industry. With Michael Caine telling actors to “be patient”, I believe he misunderstands the point of the conversation. No one is disagreeing with him that in order to be nominated you have to be able to give a good performance, it’s that there are actors of other ethnicities that could (and perhaps should) be nominated.
Now it also could just be due to the controversy of Netflix trying to get into the Oscars (which can be saved for another article) with their film Beasts of No Nation, which was among one of the best films of the year.
Starring two black actors, Idris Elba (who was a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor) and Abraham Attah (considered to be one of the best child actors of 2015), Beasts of No Nation told a heartbreaking story about child soldiers, the war-torn ideas of a family and the loss of innocence. Now, that sounds like it has ‘Oscar winner’ written all over it! It was praised by most film critics, and was featured on multiple top 10 lists as a result– but it was shut out of the Oscars. However this isn’t just limited to Beasts of No Nation, Creed (nominated for Sylvester Stallone’s performance) was otherwise ignored by the Academy. Stallone was one of the best performances of the year, and it would be hard to argue that his nomination isn’t deserved, the problem is the lack of nominations for the rest of the cast and crew; which are, in my opinion, equally deserving. Ryan Coogler, director of Creed, was said to be in the running for some nominations with his debut feature, Fruitvale Station, but was ultimately passed over. Even performers that people had been sure would get in (such as: Benicio Del Toro in Sicario) were not nominated.
The Coen brothers are not without blame in this issue either. Over the last three decades of their career, they haven’t had any diverse actors lead their films (we could argue about Oscar Isaac’s role as Llewyn Davis, but his character was not written with such things in mind), and their statements show even more of an issue than their casting decisions. Joel Coen said, “Why people want more diversity—why they would single out a particular movie and say, ‘Why aren’t there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What’s going on?’ That’s the question I don’t understand. The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me.” That statement only reaffirms that he believes white people to be “the norm,” and that there must be a reason behind having someone of diverse background in your movie. Sure, I may be putting words in his mouth with the last sentence, but it’s only shown as being true within the context of their filmography.
The talk of diversity will surely continue for decades, because it is an important argument and one that should be out in the open. Whether or not there will ever be a winner is hard to say. There will always be a form of systematic racism in the case of Hollywood, but it’s not easy to tell at this point to what extent it will continue. However we are moving forward as a society by speaking up about these issues, and the place to start rectifying any issue is always by having the conversation in the first place.