The Oscars Aren’t the Only Problem

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People hate it when you insist that there’s a lack of diversity in American cinema. That makes me wonder if they simply don’t watch as many movies as I do. They probably don’t.

I love movies. When I was a kid, I got a VHS copy of Stand By Me for my birthday. I remember thinking that it was the best gift I’d ever received. I was about ten years old at the time and completely obsessed. It was a thoughtful gift, and when I realized what I’d been given, my heart sang. I was beyond thrilled that I could now watch it whenever I wanted. I watched it incessantly. In fact, I still have that VHS cassette and I don’t hang onto much. It was the first movie I’d ever owned and that means something to me because, like I said, I love movies and I watch lots of them.

I want nothing more than for the movies to always be the good guy, the right thing and the correct answer. However, they can’t be my safe place today because today they’re the problem.

Oscar Nominations 2016: View The Complete List of Nominees – Oscar.go.com

A few days ago, when the list of the 2016 Academy Award nominees was released, it immediately popped into my Facebook newsfeed. Instantly, I clicked on the first Oscar-related post I saw, not because I desperately wanted to know if any brown people had been nominated, but because I wanted to see if Leonardo DiCaprio had been deemed worthy of a nomination this year. I’d recently seen The Revenant, enjoyed his performance and was now fully invested in his quest for one of those coveted, golden statuettes. If you ask me, DiCaprio deserved one for his performance in Django Unchained, but he didn’t even get nominated that year.

Upon my initial review of this year’s list of nominees, nothing seemed out of place. Then I realized that everyone nominated in the acting categories was white. Again. “Is this really representative of the talent that’s out there?” I thought as I rolled my eyes hard and fast. A fraction of a second later, I read that Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu  had been nominated for best Director for The Revenant. “Welp, at least we have a Mexican in the Best Director category, and a legit one at that. Ajua, motherfuckers,” I thought as I smiled and looked out the window, proud that a brown person like myself could indeed rise to the top. Unfortunately, the moment didn’t last.

cat window mexican hat

Curious to see what other folks thought of the clear lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, I headed straight to the comments section. It was worse than I expected in there. The very first comment I saw was actually a rant about how giving Oscars to minorities, just because they’re people of color in a movie, would devalue the entire process. “Is this asshole for real?” I thought as I scrolled down past more and more comments echoing his outrage.

I read so many nasty comments that I felt compelled to speak up because I’m a minority, I love movies and I don’t see enough of myself reflected back at me when I watch them. I’m part of the American experience, but you might never know that if you’re only going by what you see in American films and that feels like an insult, especially to someone who finds solace in movies. I couldn’t leave the comments section without saying something and so I posted a comment of my own. I said that no one was asking for an Oscar simply because they’re a person of color in the movies, and to assume that there just weren’t any Oscar-worthy performances from minorities this year is naive.

My comment was not an invitation for discussion. It was simply my opinion. I never intended to engage these people in conversation. What I wanted was to let them know that their point of view wasn’t the only point of view. In response, folks called me, and others with similar views to mine, whining babies. They insisted that we were just playing “the race card.” This I expected. I get it a lot actually and it makes zero impact because if you’re going to debate me, you’re going to need more than petty insults to get the job done. Others went beyond basic insults and slathered their responses in condescension. They told me that I hadn’t properly thought through my position. They assured me that if I just took the time to really think about what I was saying, I’d see that I was mistaken. Infuriating right? Wrong. I get this a lot too. I’m a woman and a proud feminist, so I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been virtually patted on the head and told run along, but I never do.

One man in particular (an Asian guy) responded directly to me, noting that there weren’t any Asians nominated this year either. He said he would never complain about his lack of representation at the Oscars. Nope. Not him, he was going to tough it out or something. He sounded so proud of himself for this, but his statement only confused me. “Maybe it’s a cultural thing,” I thought as I continued reading. He went on to say that, hey, at least Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu was nominated and he’s Mexican. “A BLOODLY MEXICAN [emphasis his]and we never judged him for it.” I suppressed my initial instinct to attack this guy and instead reminded him calmly (i.e. sans caps lock) that Iñárritu hadn’t been nominated for his work as a minority, but a director. I also took this opportunity to inform this jerk that Mexicans like Iñárritu and myself are technically Caucasian. He stopped talking at me after that.

The Angry Comment Crew (including the Asian guy) simply insisted that if people like me want to see more minorities in movies, then we should get out there and make those movies. And, if we weren’t willing to make those movies, then we should shut the hell up. These people truly believe that if us minorities actually took the time to study real hard, practice diligently and apply ourselves, we might one day make just as many Oscar worthy movies as white folks.

Here’s the problem with that logic:

Via NPR

Via NPR

How exactly are we supposed to make these movies if we can’t even make it into the movie-making club that is Hollywood? Furthermore, the white male narrative has dominated Hollywood since the invention of the motion picture, but times have changed. Audiences have matured and developed a beautiful complexity that can no longer be denied. The lack of diversity in the acting nominations for this year’s Academy Awards is not the problem; it is merely a symptom. If you still don’t belive me, watch the first two videos below. Enjoy.

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Comments

  1. I promise I know how to spell “film.” For some reason, despite it being correct on the back end, that word keeps displaying as “iflm” in the post. Apologies, guys. I swear I’m not trying to post half-assed stuff, but technology is working against me at the current juncture.