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David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: 27 Days To Oscar – The Racial Thing

To start with… I am happy that no one (at least, no one I’ve seen) has been writing about “Oscar’s race problem” this season.

I don’t know why this year is not like previous years for journalists… and that may be a more interesting issue than the oft-overused racial angle. Because with two “Black-themed” Best Picture-nominated movies this year, apparently those who are given to racial hysterics have been soothed.

That said, Denzel Washington is an a role in Flight that is not particularly ethnic in any way and of 4 nominations to 7 people involved with Beasts, only 1 is for a person of color… a wonderful moppet.

Lincoln has a whopping 12 nominations… and not a person of color amongst the 16 names connected to those nods.

And let’s not forget Life of Pi, with 11 nominations. Ang Lee is of Asian descent. And the lyric writer of the song that is nominated, Bombay Jayashri, is “an Indian Carnatic music vocalist and music composer.” So of 22 people represented by nominations for the film, 3 are non-white (Ang Lee is twice-nominated.)

And let me restate… I don’t think that any of these 4 films, which represent all the “color” in this year’s race, have done anything wrong.

But the movie about slavery has no Black nominees. The movie about the abolition of slavery has no Black nominees. The movie about Gulf coasters devastated by Katrina has a little girl as its only nominee. And the movie about a young Indian man has 1 Indian nominee, who happened to write lyrics for a song.

I have never felt like racial politics and The Academy Awards go together well. But I also don’t see any step forward in this year’s nominations from any other year.

To be fair to Pi, the book was written by a white Canadian. Django is an original written by a white guy who fetishizes ethnicity. Beasts is an original by two young white people. And Lincoln was written by a nice Jewish boy based on a book by a nice lady of Irish descent.

Third time saying this, but I am not interested in injecting race into this race. Was there a Frenchman in Les Mis… a Middle Easterner in the top levels of team ZD30… a Philadelphian in Silver Linings? Hell, the French film film Amour was made by an Austrian!

The point of mentioning race at this point is as a reminder of the controversies stirred in years past and the ones that will be stirred in years future.

There was more ethnic variety in the silent movie last year—Hazanavicius, Bejo, Bource, etc.—than in the entire race most years… and that was before the acting nods for The Help. And maybe that is the bottom line. There is a lot of racism in the entire world, but the lines get a lot blurrier between, say The French and The Algerians and the Spanish and The Austrians, at least in the artistic world, than here at home. In American film, movie stars tend to be without color and everything else tends to be, almost, about color first.

There is no Black guy who is going to make Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino has a unique vision that is not something you can hire someone else of any color to recreate. The talents of Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee and Benh Zeitlin are unique to each man (another discussion starts about gender) and those movies are tributes to their interests, skill, and hard work. It is counterintuitive to say that any of them should not have made their movies or should have stepped aside for someone of the matching color.

But that’s always the case.

Until we have more Black filmmakers making a wider array of movies and more female filmmakers and more filmmakers of all colors not just making films for a niche market, but for everyone (including the old white people in the Academy), The Race Issue won’t be going away at The Oscars or in Hollywood.

Oscar is an end result of a year, not the definer of the what the year was to be before the year happened. As a result, without showing bias in the other direction (Affirmative Oscar Action), Oscar can only be—at best— a well-chosen, if narrowly chosen, palette of what we all were offered.

That’s a lot of weight for one little Hushpuppy to carry.

5 Responses to “20W2O: 27 Days To Oscar – The Racial Thing”

  1. Sam says:

    This is a good argument. Criticizing the Oscars for lack of diversity is addressing a symptom, not the problem itself.

    There is indeed no Quentin Tarantino equivalent in another ethnicity. But there IS some other unique talent out there whose own artistic vision we didn’t get to see and include in the discussion, because it was never realized as a finished film. That’s the problem.

    And isn’t that so much more frustrating and sad — that there was a great film we could have seen but didn’t get to for whatever reason — than any kind of statistical evaluation of the Oscars’ slates of nominees?

  2. gooddog says:

    “Was there a Frenchman in Les Mis… a Middle Easterner in the top levels of team ZD30… a Philadelphian in Silver Linings?”

    Uhh…Bradley Cooper is a Philadelphian.

  3. Krillian says:

    “Denzel Washington is an a role in Flight that is not particularly ethnic in any way”

    This made me think of the end of Hollywood Shuffle.
    “Can you act more… black?”

  4. Glamourboy says:

    You are happy that no one is writing about the racial issue this year….and then you go ahead and write about it. You bring up the issues that you are glad no one else has brought up.

    That’s some crazy logic there.

  5. spassky says:

    “a Philadelphian in Silver Linings?”

    Dave, sometimes I fucking LOVE you.

    EDIT: I like this in particular because of the inclusion of an arbitrary signifier like being from Philadelphia alongside more, perhaps, legitimate examples. (FTR, I’m a Philadelphian — and not the ChestnutHill/MainLine variety like Mr. Cooper)

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