SAN DIEGO – #OscarsSoWhite. #TrueButSoWhat?
Now that our society has dealt with the trivial matters – Latino kids being shortchanged by public schools, and African-American families being poisoned by drinking water in Michigan, and people of color having to contend with police violence, unemployment, mass incarceration, decaying infrastructure and neglect by political parties – it’s time to turn our attention to more important issues.
Like whether there is sufficient racial diversity among the 2016 Oscar nominations.
I’ll spare you the suspense. The answer is “no.” Check the math. For the second year in a row, all 20 nominations in the acting categories went to white people.
That’s a massive blind spot by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But what, if anything, should its members do to improve their vision?
Does it matter? Latino undocumented immigrants worry about being deported by an administration that pretends it has stopped deportations. African-Americans did not see their lives improved significantly despite the election of an African-American president. Does anyone really think that either of these groups cares even a little bit that filmmaker Spike Lee and actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have vowed to sit out the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 28?
Clearly the academy missed the big picture. Still, this is an argument among elites. If you work in Hollywood, you might care about it. But few others do.
It is also a drama shot in black and white. Critics don’t seem to care that, apart from the acting categories, the directors nominated for Oscars this year include Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The Mexican filmmaker, who is nominated for “The Revenant,” took home a statue last year. Even so, Latinos have been overlooked far more than African-Americans over the 88-year history of the Oscar ceremony, and no one complained much about it – including African-Americans.
This is not to say that Hollywood studios shouldn’t write and produce, on a regular basis, more films and television shows that reflect the life experiences of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and other groups that are often ignored.
To be authentic and relevant, art must be at least somewhat rooted in the real world.
Nor is it to say that the entertainment industry couldn’t afford some introspection, and that it shouldn’t take steps to get with the times. The academy recently announced that it was making changes, including instituting new rules aimed at doubling the number of women and minorities in its ranks by 2020. As a result, some members who have been inactive in the film industry for 10 years could lose their voting privileges.
That sounds like common sense, and it is long overdue.
And speaking of introspection, you may have noticed that this is not a strong suit for journalists. My tribe prefers to look outward, not inward.
One exception is Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant who recently chided his colleagues for being so quick to criticize the Oscars for not honoring minorities when our own profession could use a splash of color. Vargas tweeted: “American newsrooms are less diverse now than when I started in journalism in 1999. A disgrace. And irresponsible. ‘#JournalismSoWhite.’”
Lastly, the whole “#OscarsSoWhite” ruckus perpetuates a culture of powerlessness. Here you have all these activists in the world of entertainment who are essentially begging for acknowledgment and validation from an industry that refuses to give it. There is no mystery as to who has the upper hand in that relationship. Folks, have some self-respect.
The silver lining in all this is that it’s fun to see Hollywood liberals squirm as they confront the idea that – when it comes to racial diversity in their own industry – they aren’t nearly as liberal as they pretend to be. Just because they may think corporations ought to practice affirmative action to bring more minorities into the executive suites doesn’t mean they’re ready for the concept of using racial quotas to dole out Oscar nominations.
That’s not the answer. But then what is?
Even the academy’s recent efforts to attract more people of color are based on the assumption that Latinos are more likely to vote for Latinos and African-Americans are more likely to vote for African-Americans. And yet, for some reason, we don’t find that concept as odious as what brought us here in the first place – the assumption that, in the current voting process, whites are only voting for whites.
It’s enough to make you change the channel, and skip the whole spectacle.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.