Oscars So Woke, Oscars So Broke

At the Movies Blog

Green Book deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture a few years ago.

Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a set of diversity standards for Best Picture nominees starting in 2024. I ranted against people who ranted, about the “Oscars So White” hashtag controversy. Especially when a large part of that stemmed from Will Smith not getting a nomination for Concussion (which he was good in, but it was just an average movie). I found it odd that Smith’s wife Jada, who was doing most of the yelling, seemingly forgot about the two other times Smith was nominated.

It baffled me when the best movie of the year — Green Book — won the Oscar for Best Picture. That rarely happens. And yet, there were people who complained about how the black character was portrayed. The Social Justice Warriors just never seem to be happy, but I’m sure this latest announcement from the Academy will thrill them, although it might be the most ridiculous thing ever.

When the Academy added a lot of members that were younger or various ethnicities, nobody had a problem with that (nor should they). Although it’s funny that people felt the Academy was just filled with old white dudes who wouldn’t vote for movies that didn’t show old white dudes. Hell, Roma had a Mexican cast and it was nominated for Best Picture (and it was awfully boring). Parasite won Best Picture last year. And I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of Korean members of the Academy. Moonlight won Best Picture and it featured an African American cast, and the main character was gay. All that makes you wonder if rules like these are even needed? Especially when you initially think — The Irishman wouldn’t have been nominated (it shouldn’t have been, but for a whole different reason). Irishman probably would have squeaked by, because even though it was a bunch of white and Italian men, it had a female casting director and Mexican cinematographer.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who was the African-American Academy President for a few years, started the ball rolling for more women and diverse casts in films. And you can’t fault her for wanting to help her race if she feels they’re under represented. Although I just Googled, and the percentage of African Americans in the U.S. is around 13%. As a critic who watches 90% of the movies released each year (indie films, foreign films, blockbusters), I can say that there are easily more than 13% that feature black actors as key characters (after writing this, a segment on the news stated that 28% of movies last year featured a lead character who was Black). It’s not like the ‘70s where you had to either be Sidney Portier, or play a pimp or criminal if you were a Black actor; or a Middle Eastern or Indian actor had to play a terrorist. Last year, the beautiful film Yesterday had Himesh Patel in the lead role, and it was about The Beatles. Just saw Patel in Tenet, but he’s crashing an airplane, so…one step forward, two steps back. Although they cast a Black actor in the lead, so there’s that.

The Academy has announced that in 2022 and 2023, for a film to be considered “best picture” it’s not a matter of how great it is. It will have to submit a confidential “Academy Inclusion Standards form” to be considered. It has to meet the inclusion thresholds by meeting two of the four standards set.

The Academy released a statement saying, “The aperture must widen to reflect our diverse global population to both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them. The Academy is committed to playing a vital role in helping make this a reality.”

Here are some of the standards:

STANDARD A: ON-SCREEN REPRESENTATION, THEMES AND NARRATIVES

To achieve Standard A, the film must meet ONE of the following criteria:

A1. Lead or significant supporting actors

At least one of the lead actors or significant supporting actors is from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

• Asian

• Hispanic/Latinx

• Black/African American

• Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native

• Middle Eastern/North African

• Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander

• Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

My first question about this is….what if a movie is a period piece? It would certainly be hard to fit this criteria. I can’t imagine making a WWII movie like Dunkirk fitting this. Spike Lee knocked Clint Eastwood for not having black soldiers in his two war movies, and Eastwood had to explain that in one of those movies, there weren’t any black soldiers that raised the flag at Iwo Jima. 

Steven Spielberg wouldn’t have gotten the nomination for his war films Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List. And that’s the guy who gave us The Color Purple. Off the top of my head, I think of films like Glengarry Glen Ross, 12 Angry Men, On Golden Pond, Kramer vs. Kramer, Ordinary People, Chariots of Fire, and Googling would give me a list of many more, that were nominated for best picture based on their merits, yet didn’t have any gay characters or people of color.

My wife, from the other room, just rattled off a list of Best Picture nominees from last year, all of which wouldn’t qualify: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Marriage Story, Jo Jo Rabbit, Ford vs Ferrari, 1917. One of the movies that was nominated that would have been under these rules — The Joker. There were a number of African-Americans in it, and here’s the crazy thing. I know an African American critic and she was furious about those black characters, because she thought they were trying to show that the way they treated him is what drove him to become a crazy murderer. I think she’s totally wrong in that take, but that’s how crazy this all is. The one movie of the nominees last year that had Blacks in the cast, upset a Black film critic. And, great movies with black characters, like Green Book — they get knocked by certain African Americans (Spike Lee, yet again), because they don’t like how they’re portrayed.

Here’s my next question. What if the actor “identifies” as one of those classes, but isn’t? For example, a situation like Elizabeth Warren. She thought (or said) she was Native American. Turns out, she wasn’t. There was a woman that ran a chapter of the NAACP who said she was black. When her white parents came out in the public and said “Uh, yeah, well…she’s white,” she had to resign. The other day a white professor at a college who had claimed to be black, had to resign. So if an actor “identifies” as one of those ethnicities on the list, and years later we find out they weren’t but wanted to further their career — is the Oscar for “Best Picture” given back? With the Heisman trophies sometimes they have to be rescinded when payments occurred? (this was a story locally when Reggie Bush had to give the award back after his parents were given a house while he was a college athlete).

A2. General ensemble cast

At least 30% of all actors in secondary and more minor roles are from at least two of the following underrepresented groups:

• Women

• Racial or ethnic group

• LGBTQ+

• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

My question is — women?! What’s that about? Are women…not in movies? Now, you could say women over a certain age, perhaps. It’s funny that at the time of my writing this, the only person in Hollywood complaining about this is Kirstie Alley (Cheers), who is a woman over 60 who probably has a hard time getting parts because of that. And she realizes how ridiculous this is. Also about the above, the “physical disabilities.” Where does that end? If you are only deaf in one ear, or blind in one eye, does that qualify? Should Daniel Day-Lewis not have been cast in My Left Foot, and instead an actor with a disability? We had this same debate when the trans community was upset that Scarlett Johansson was playing a trans character. Well, she dropped out because of the complaints, and guess what? The movie wasn’t made. I think the people who finance movies would rather have an A-list actor play a person in a wheelchair, than cast an unknown person in a wheelchair to play that part. Another question I have is — to satisfy the LGBTQ community, does it mean the actor has to be gay, or…can the character in the script be gay, but played by someone who is straight? Also, what does this do for a 25-year-old actor who might be gay, but hasn’t come out yet? Maybe he has reasons for not wanting to be out of the closet, yet he knows it will increase his chances of getting parts now. There was a time that would kill a career in Hollywood, and the studios would hire women to be seen with actors like Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson. Now agents will be begging their actors to come out of the closet, or…just say they’re gay.

A3. Main storyline/subject matter

The main storyline(s), theme or narrative of the film is centered on an underrepresented group(s).

• Women

• Racial or ethnic group

• LGBTQ+

• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

STANDARD B: CREATIVE LEADERSHIP AND PROJECT TEAM

To achieve Standard B, the film must meet ONE of the criteria below:

B1. Creative leadership and department heads

At least two of the following creative leadership positions and department heads — Casting Director, Cinematographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Director, Editor, Hairstylist, Makeup Artist, Producer, Production Designer, Set Decorator, Sound, VFX Supervisor, Writer — are from the following underrepresented groups:

• Women

• Racial or ethnic group

• LGBTQ+

• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

At least one of those positions must belong to the following underrepresented racial or ethnic group:

• Asian

• Hispanic/Latinx

• Black/African American

• Indigenous/Native American/Alaskan Native

• Middle Eastern/North African

• Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander

• Other underrepresented race or ethnicity

B2. Other key roles

At least six other crew/team and technical positions (excluding Production Assistants) are from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. These positions include but are not limited to First AD, Gaffer, Script Supervisor, etc.

B3. Overall crew composition

At least 30% of the film’s crew is from the following underrepresented groups:

• Women

• Racial or ethnic group

• LGBTQ+

• People with cognitive or physical disabilities, or who are deaf or hard of hearing

When it comes to the cast and crew, this seems to make a little more sense. It shouldn’t be hard for big studios to do this and there are a lot of good things about doing that. It’s just a bit problematic if you have some indie filmmaker, who maybe has his friends working on the crew, or he/she is hiring the cheapest people available. It would be a shame that some indie film like Reservoir Dogs, would be considered some racist production. This year, the indie movie Tom Of Your Life — was written, directed, acted, and music done by one man — a Caucasian male. Yet there was one Black character on a bus who had a few lines. Do we have to look at the side characters in films, to see if they have enough minutes on screen or enough lines, to qualify as part of the cast? I remember Viola Davis got an Oscar nomination for her seven minutes on screen in Doubt (Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hofffman), and she was amazing in it. So, in the future, if an African American character has 11 minutes of screen time in a 2 hour movie, is that enough to meet these standards? It certainly was at one time for the Academy.

There are a handful of other things about diversity, involving publicity, marketing, internships, that I’m not going to bother writing about that here. If you’re interested, you can find what the Academy wants done online. I am more interested in discussing the idea of telling artists how to create their art. And it’s not like these rules are really that strict, but that’s not the point. You don’t put quotas on creating art.

It just seems so utterly ridiculous on so many levels. Perhaps Hollywood should just give out participation awards. It can be like the 8-year-old youth soccer league, where everyone gets a trophy so feelings aren’t hurt. Now, you could make the argument that you don’t want a child who didn’t win to be upset, or you could say it makes a child learn that you might have to try harder or practice more, or that not everyone comes in first place. I’m sure a rebuttal would be — how could these certain groups get the opportunities? Well, guess what? There are thousands of struggling actors who have jobs as waiters/waitresses, that will never make it in Hollywood. You know why? Because people like Denzel Washington get to have his son waltz right into a great career on screen (and don’t get me wrong, John David Washington is great). So maybe the Academy should be against nepotism. They could have a rule that if a Hollywood A-lister has a kid, for them to star in a movie, they have to first do 10 years of community theatre. 

Colin Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Jeff and Beau Bridges, Emma Roberts, Ben Stiller, Rumer Willis, Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Alison and Scott Eastwood, Kate Hudson, Dakota Johnson, Wyatt Russell, Robert Downey Jr, Gwynth Paltrow (the main couple from Iron Man, all because their parents were in the business), Michael Douglas, Peter and Bridget Fonda, the Barrymore’s, and hundreds more. Oh, and even ones with no talent, like Jayden Smith. I think instead of Jada Pinkett being so upset that “Oscars so white” she should have been mad at herself for letting that untalented kid of hers ever go in front of a camera. Yet Jayden will have a long career in Hollywood, since he has two parents in the business.

Movie critics Siskel & Ebert once had a debate while reviewing one of the Jurassic Park movies. Siskel said that he was distracted when Jeff Goldblum’s daughter came into his office and she was Black. Ebert, who was married to a black woman, was upset by Siskel and asked why that would be distracting. He said, “You can just assume he was married to a black woman, or adopted her. Why is that such a distraction?”

The fact is, both of them are correct. And if you have these standards, and directors have to now worry about other things when casting for a film, it changes their art. I was at a party once and was talking movies with a pretty woman who was in a wheelchair. She told me she was an actress, and she had done stagework, and was even in a few films (including the Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes film Stuck on You). Since we agreed on so many of our favorite movies, she thought I’d agree with her when she said, “Don’t you think they should cast more actors that are in wheelchairs?” 

Seeing that she was in a wheelchair, wasn’t going to make me just say “Why yes, they most certainly should.” My response was, “Well, it depends on what the story is.”

She responded with, “The story doesn’t have to revolve around the person in the wheelchair. That character could be a neighbor, or best friend. They don’t have to be the lead.” I then thought about that debate Siskel & Ebert had, and I said “Well, if I’m watching a movie about a serial killer who lives a typical suburban life, and they’re at a BBQ and the neighbor rolls up in a wheelchair…my mind is thinking…did this killer hurt her? Why is she in the chair?” 

Of course, she didn’t see it that way, but it was an interesting conversation. And while I feel her pain, because it must be hard for her to get jobs in a field she loves, the simple fact is — it’s hard for ANYONE to get acting jobs in Hollywood. There could be a guy who’s 6’8” and loves acting, yet nobody will hire a man who towers over all the actors in Hollywood who are short. And let’s not even get into the weight women have to be and all those other things.

My wife, who doesn’t have a racist bone in her body, had talked about how distracting it is when she’s watching some period piece that takes place hundreds of years ago in England, and a Black actor pops up in a scene. She says that just wouldn’t be the case back then and it takes her out of the picture.

I remember loving M. Night Shamalan’s Unbreakable. But when Samuel Jackson has an art gallery/comic book opening, about 75% of the people walking around were Indian — the same as Shyamalan. I laughed out loud, and asked the person with me, “Are there this many Indian people that just love comic books and art in this town?” 

I then thought that he probably just had a bunch of his family members in the background scenes. And I get that. But guess what? It took me out of the story being told for that moment. It’s as bad as hearing someone say on screen, “Call me immediately! I’m at 555-5555.”

All of this made me think of the NBA. No, not that silly argument of “Well, why doesn’t the NBA have to have a certain number of white players?” 

A sports station I listen to has talked on a few occasions, about how poorly the NBA awards the MVP award. The host of the show said, “The NBA doesn’t like how it would look if LeBron James won it every year, so they decide…okay this year, we’ll give it to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Another year it was Russell Westbrook, another James Harden; because it’s a more interesting story if you have a variety of people win the award.”

I have no doubt the NBA does that, but I have less of a problem with that, because those other players are awesome. And there have been times where LeBron won the award two years in a row, as did Steph Curry, Steve Nash, and Tim Duncan. Now, I’ve always had more of a problem with the Academy giving Oscars to people who don’t deserve it. I first thought that when I was a kid. I watched as Sean Connery won the award for The Untouchables — a decent, but not award-winning performance in my mind. That year, I would have rather seen Albert Brooks win for Broadcast News, or nominees Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington. But Connery’s winning was because…he hadn’t won before, he was older, blah blah blah. And everyone gets that these things are going to continue to happen when it comes to voting. Yet with the path the Academy is going, they’re going to say that of the five actors nominated, at least one of the five has to be a person of color. See how ridiculous that even sounds?

The last two times the Oscars came up with big changes, the majority of people hated them, especially opening up Best Picture nominations to up to 10 films. That stemmed from the fact that the Academy failed in not nominating The Dark Knight (Batman). And because of superhero movies getting more popular and sensing they’d be made fun of for not nominating these movies that make $500 million, they came up with a category for “best picture/most popular” or something. After everyone talked about how stupid that was, they dropped that idea in a matter of days. Hopefully everyone will come out about how stupid these new rules are.I can just imagine watching movies in the future and seeing the token [insert race here] and thinking — Ah, these guys are going for an Oscar nomination.

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