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Spike Lee and Oscars So White

We get this every year it seems: an outrage over the lack of representation by black actors and filmmakers in the nominees for the Academy Awards.  There is always the outrage over subbing any film or performer; but, when it comes to race, the shouts and tweets are louder.  This outrage takes many forms and has many voices but what we see, almost annually, is a pundit (or few) that claim to speak for their entire race in decrying the racist motives of the Academy Awards.  It’s not new, remember when Marlon Brando sent that Native American girl to accept an award for him?  Quite frequently, this is Al Sharpton or someone like him.  This year we have Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars and speaking out about the lack of representation in the nominees.  I agree with them on the fact that there are no black nominees, that while there were outstanding performances and films from black artists this year, the Academy did not recognize them.  The Academy is mostly old white people, so their tastes are not surprising at this point.

Spike Lee - made a good movie once, like 30 years ago. Now he just whines.

Spike Lee – made a good movie once, like 30 years ago. Now he just whines.

My argument, however, is essentially to ask, “What’s the point?”  What does having an Oscar or a nomination actually mean?  Why would it ever matter who the voters are for the Academy Awards?  How do their opinions shape what everyone else thinks are great movies.

As I said before, there were fantastic films and performances by black actors this year that were unrecognized by The Academy.  Straight Outta Compton was a fantastic film, Will Smith earned a lot of respect for his role in Concussion, and there is the continuing work of such great actors like Idris Elba, Morgan Freeman, and many others.  It would have been great if they’d gotten recognition at the Oscars this year, but that wasn’t my decision; nor was it Spike Lee or Jada Pinkett Smith’s decision.  Those old white men that make up the bulk of The Academy’s voters, they have their own opinion, they like the movies they like for whatever reasons they do.  That doesn’t mean that Straight Outta Compton, Concussion or any of the other great things done by black artists this past year are unworthy of recognition.  In fact, one would better serve racial interests by promoting and discussing those movies – instead of complaining about the cinematic opinions of old white men.

Not quite going to debate this. It is rather accurate.

Not quite going to debate this. It is rather accurate.

I understand there is a lack of racial diversity in Hollywood, but time and society will eventually change that.  Calling for an “investigation” into the Academy voters, demanding to include more people that share the same opinion – that’s a great way to create dissent and get people to hate you.  Imagine if a presidential candidate went out of their way to ensure that no people from the rival political party were permitted to vote.  Politicians do find subtle ways to do that and they lose respect for it.  How is claiming that the race of a person makes their voice more important – that more black voters would create more recognition for films by black artists?  The Academy is not a political organization, it’s just a bunch of people with different opinions, and the American public doesn’t always see it that way.  If The Academy truly represented the cinematic tastes of the American Public, Star Wars: The Force Awakens would have been Best Picture, right behind some Michael Bay movie.

samual jackson hate 8

Being snubbed at the Oscars does not take away from the talent of someone like Samuel L. Jackson.

Hatred and boycotts are not the way to serve any cause.  I hate to use a horrible cliché such as “you draw more flies with honey,” but it’s true.  You can’t force people to like movies they weren’t interested in – you can’t force all those old white men to like Straight Outta Compton, you can’t force people to start watching more films by black artists by whining about some dumb awards that realistically achieve nothing.  An Oscar doesn’t make a film bad or good; a movie is subjective art, it’s only as good or bad as each individual viewer decides.  Whining accomplishes nothing: when a kid whines about “life isn’t fair,” they’re often right but such cry-baby antics don’t suddenly make the world more fair.  Introducing people to the work of black artists, discussing the great works they’ve done, getting people motivated about those films will create more diversity.  The Academy won’t change society – society has to change itself.  The work and voice of one individual will never create diversity.  The introduction of ideas by individuals, however, can change society’s views on such things.

Idris Elba is great in anything. He is a GOD among men.

Idris Elba is great in anything. He is a GOD among men.

In other words, if you want to create more diversity in Hollywood, don’t start at the top and demand it.  Start at the bottom, with the individual filmgoer, introduce them to a broader variety of films, get them to develop their ideas and tastes.  After all, what’s important is that their work is watched and appreciated, not that it wins awards.  A movie isn’t “good” or worthy of acclaim because a bunch of old white people, whom you’ve never met, say it is – a movie is good because you enjoyed it, because YOU give it that acclaim.  As it stands, yes there is a racial qualification to getting an Oscar, but that’s just a meaningless award that does and means nothing.  There is NO racial qualification to making great art.

Don’t waste your time telling The Academy to check their privilege because they won’t.  That time is better spent encouraging people to watch some good movies, introduce them to some good art.

About The Author
Matthew Coats
Matthew Coats
Formerly known under the pseudonym of Alex Jowski. Site owner, movie aficionado, and film school grad. Matthew Coats presents reviews, some written, some as vlogs, and some as weekly shows, for a variety of different movies and television shows. After years of struggling to get his own projects off the ground amidst the normal routine of living, Matthew Coats decided to create a site in order to share and promote movie reviews, video games and much much more from talented and original people all across the internet.
6 Comments
  • Alex Stockwell
    January 19, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    Honestly, when I first saw this story on IMDB, one scene instantly popped in my head.

    “IIII’m black, y’all! And I’m black y’all! And I’m bliggity black and I’m black y’all!”

  • ArmymanZ
    January 19, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    What bugs about these reactions to a lack of diversity is that only black actors get all the attention. Oscar Isaac(Latino) got robbed for his role in Ex Machina!

  • January 20, 2016 at 11:38 am

    well stated alex…n’ let’s be honest-the oscars have been bullshyt ever since they refused to bestow best picture on the genius that is BOSS NIGGER

    and i’d say “where da white women at???”…but we know they already pulled this same stunt last year

  • stefaneechi
    January 29, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Whining isn’t effective? Um, dismissing observations on inequities as whining is fair effective in terms of NOT challenging the status quo for sure, but framing an issue as if only positive messages will be heard is silly tone policing. No issue of inequity will ever see change, without people bitching about it first. People try to influence opinion and raise awareness in a variety of ways, and protests and boycotts are a tried and true method. A problem has to be acknowledged before change can occur. Baby steps eh?

    • January 29, 2016 at 11:14 pm

      Whining about the Oscars is ineffective because the awards mean nothing. Ferguson, Mizzou, the countless other incidents of racial inequality and oppression that actually affect people’s lives – those things are worthy of protest. The Oscars mean nothing, that is just opinion on movies. When it comes to movies and entertainment, one draws more flies with honey. It’s more effective to avoid saying “The Oscars are bad,” and instead say “These movies by minority artists are great.” But, ultimately, whining about the academy awards is a waste of breath because that’s not the cause of inequality, only a symptom.

      • stefaneechi
        January 30, 2016 at 6:55 pm

        hmmm. The Academy Awards mean nothing? I beg to differ. Most awards, and especially The Oscars, will have quantifiable monetary effects on a film’s distributive options/profits, while garnering leverage for the people nominated. We’re talking about celebrating media that reflects and affects society and this lack of diversity perpetuates stereotypical views of minorities – so a lack of diversity is also a cause, not simply a symptom of inequality. And never mind bringing up other “more legitimate” issues of inequity, because this discussion is specifically about The Oscars. Also I’d like to point out once more, to characterise complaints on inequity as whining, is dismissive. You go on to talk about how to positively effect change instead, and I agree with you there, but so many people are resistant to ideas around inequities, that it requires all manner of methods to plant those seeds of change. Meet people where they’re at and go from there. Protests and boycotts gain traction for the issue and that’s good, because some people don’t think there’s anything wrong with the lack of diversity in The Oscars.

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