Author Topic: OSCAR WHITEOUT  (Read 1575 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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« on: January 22, 2015, 09:48:16 am »
by Reginald Hudlin  The Hollywood Reporter 1/21/2015

I hate whining.

Ironically, when I was asked to write about the Oscar “whiteout,” I was in a planning meeting for the NAACP Image Awards. For those who don’t know, the NAACP created the Image Awards almost 50 years ago in response to the lack of recognition of black talent in front of and behind the camera in mainstream (white) awards shows. You’d think this show wouldn’t be needed by now, but that’s clearly not the case.

Was there Oscar-worthy work in Selma that was overlooked? Absolutely! Why did it happen? One obvious problem is that not enough screeners were sent to the voters. And regardless of race, every Oscar year is full of heartbreaking overlooks of worthy performances and filmmaking. The unknowable question is whether the same voters who supported 12 Years a Slave had racial fatigue after supporting a black film last year. But in a year with a cascading series of racial controversies in Hollywood, the lack of black nominees highlights a bigger problem.

Articles decrying the lack of black presence in the Oscars is an annual event. Every once in a while there will be a miracle like 12 Years a Slave winning big, or Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Sidney Poitier all winning Oscars. Those exceptional anecdotes don’t make up for the tiny percentages of black and brown people working in entertainment.

Why is our business so behind the rest of the country? It’s easier for a black person to become president of the United States than it is to be president of a movie studio. In the ruthless world of the Fortune 500, there are now black chairmen or CEOs at American Express, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Merck and Xerox. When it comes to executive vps, managing directors and other feeder positions for future CEOs, the entertainment business can’t compare to the banking world, which is perceived to be a far more conservative environment.

Given the shrinking white population in this country, the lack of people of color in the suites and on the screens is just bad business.

In the 1950s, Hollywood was reluctant to make movies with black stars because Southern distributors wouldn’t support them. Now the South is one of the biggest markets for black entertainment product. But the problem still isn’t solved because in the 21st century, Hollywood is reluctant to make movies with black stars because the international market won’t support them.

Samuel L. Jackson told me a story about talking with a distributor in Japan who was telling him how he doesn’t “play” there because no one knew who he was. But as they walked down the streets of Tokyo, Japanese people kept stopping them, excited to see Jackson in the flesh! The executive did not register the irony.

So how do we make things better? By taking action at every point of the food chain.

I know the Academy has already been working very hard to diversify its membership. My agency is bringing more people of color through its internship program. I hope other institutions do the same. Corporations should look at their vendor relationships and do business with companies owned by people of color. Make diversity a metric in annual bonuses.

When three of the biggest new TV shows of the year have black casts and producers, it would be prudent for other networks to follow their lead. It would be prudent for more films to emulate the multicultural casting of the Fast and Furious series, which is more successful with each installment.

And it would be great if the phrase “black film” wasn’t just used when a movie makes less than $100 million. When a movie with a black lead makes more than that, they aren’t black movies but “Will Smith movies” or “Denzel Washington movies” or “Kevin Hart movies.” If a movie makes enough money, then color goes away. It’s kinda like how some people think Egypt isn’t a part of Africa.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., we can all make a difference if we believe the time for action is now.

Reginald Hudlin is an Oscar-nominated producer of Django Unchained who produced the 2014 Governors Awards for the Academy.

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2015, 09:49:26 am »
THURSDAY, JAN 22, 2015 08:00 AM PST
The dubious upside of Selma’s Oscar snub: Hollywood can’t continue to ignore its own race issues
Ava DuVernay, Russell Simmons and Reginald Hudlin weigh in on race and Hollywood

Director Ava DuVernay says she knew back in December that she wouldn’t be the first African American woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for “Selma,” which is up for the Best Picture award. In a story published yesterday, Entertainment Weekly reports the director chalked it up to simple Academy math, and it turns out she might be right. The Academy is overwhelmingly white (94 percent) and male (77 percent). While we might want to think of artistic awards as strictly merit-based, race and gender may very well have worked against DuVernay—several Academy voters indicated to EW that DuVernay’s unequivocal response to criticisms of her portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson as reluctant on civil rights “came off as strident and defensive.” In a majority culture that can paint outspoken African American artists with the “angry black woman” brush, and that only just awarded a woman the best director statue in 2009 (Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker”), a lack of representation allows one side to dominate the conversation and dismisses what they don’t want to hear.

The conversation would be different if an African American woman helming a Best Picture nominee wasn’t already such a rare occurrence. In a new interview with Variety, venerable hip-hop (and now film and TV with his Def Pictures) producer Russell Simmons criticized Hollywood’s “deafening” lack of racial integration: “The segregation in Hollywood is incredible.” He also blasted well-meaning Hollywood liberals who see themselves as more progressive than they are when it comes to understanding African-American culture and how that cultural blindness can stifle minority talent from rising to the tops of their fields.

That attitude shines through in the Entertainment Weekly story on DuVernay, where one Academy member defended their decision: “It’s almost like because she is African-American, we should have made her one of the nominees. I think that’s racist. Look at what we did last year with ’12 Years’.”

There it is—the attitude that if the Academy fêted a film about slavery one year, it absolves itself of having to pay close attention to artists of color the next. Reginald Hudlin, one of the producers of 2013 Best Picture nominee “Django Unchained,” wondered about what he called “the unknowable question” about “Selma” in an essay for The Hollywood Reporter: “whether the same voters who supported ‘12 Years a Slave’ had racial fatigue after supporting a black film last year.” But Hudlin also says that this only highlights the bigger problem: “It’s easier for a black person to become president of the United States than it is to be president of a movie studio.”

“Selma” is up for Best Picture with only a Best Original Song nomination to back it up, while films that have won Best Picture since the Academy expanded the list to include up to ten nominees have also received nominations (and wins, even) for categories that, it would seem, contribute heavily to a film’s Best Picture contender status—directing, acting, writing, art direction, cinematography, costume design, editing, sound design.

A Best Picture can certainly forego a directing nominee—Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” for example—but the dearth of nominations across the board for “Selma” raises questions that do, indeed, seem unknowable. What makes a “best picture” if the acting, directing, writing, design and storytelling aren’t also stellar, or if the film isn’t among the year’s most beautiful or meticulously executed? Even “Argo” garnered seven nominations, including best adapted screenplay, which it won. It’s clear from its Best Picture nod that in general, the well-meaning, progressive, overwhelmingly-white members of the Academy recognize on some level that “Selma” is a noteworthy film, but the lack of further accolades indicate that they may not understand, or be willing to entertain so quickly on the heels of “12 Years a Slave,” what—and who—makes it so.

 Erin Keane
Erin Keane is a staff writer for Salon's entertainment section. Follow her on Twitter: @eekshecried.