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Oscars So Right On



Strictly may have finished its run for the year but the Oscar dance I mentioned in my last article is just heating up. This week, Denzel Washington, owner of two Oscars and a shoo in for best lead actor and director at the 2017 ceremony, executed some clumsy steps in an interview.

Asked about the supposed lack of diversity in awards he threw this up:

“I’ve been the guy at the Oscars without my name being called. I’ve been the guy whose name has been called. I’ve been the guy at the Oscars when everybody thought they were going to call my name, and they didn’t. I’ve lived it.”

The answer is typical Oscar hopeful sidestepping stuff. Doublespeak. Washington wants to keep his powder dry with both the Academy and his fellow African Americans in the industry. He could have simply said, ‘I’m happy I’ve been recognised and twice but there’s room for others’ and then spoken about diversity generally.

Instead the implication of his answer might appear to be that he thinks he deserved more wins and that he failed on some occasions because…….

Let’s rewind:

In October 2015 posters on an Internet awards forum declared that their choice to win the best lead actor Oscar in February 2016 was Don Cheadle. None of them had seen his unreleased film Miles Ahead. They did not know if Cheadle was any good in it but they wanted him to win.

Their sole criterion was that he was black.

In 2013 articles were written about why Steve McQueen should be the first black director to win an Oscar, even if Mexican Alfonso Cuaron’s directing achievement had been the greater for Gravity. ‘McQueen should win to encourage little black boys.’

Presumably little Mexican boys need no such encouragement to succeed. And even seeing a black man in the White House isn’t enough to spur black kids on. Insulting all round.

Earlier this year Jada Pinkett Smith (best known for being Will Smith’s wife rather than her acting accomplishments) and Spike Lee (recipient of an honorary Oscar) decided to ‘boycott’ the Oscars due to a ‘lack of diversity’ in the nominations. (For ‘diversity’ read African American, like them). The media unquestioningly lapped up the ‘controversy’.

So, here’s a question: When has an excellent performance / film by a black artist been ignored in favour of a terrible one by a white artist?

Surely, that must be the test? It can’t simply be that you prefer one over another. Skin colour doesn’t come into that. Many people think Michael Keaton (white) should have won over Eddie Redmayne (white). Others think Avatar should have won best picture over The Hurt Locker. Tom Hooper winning best director over David Fincher??!

That’s called personal taste.

There’s nothing sinister about people preferring one piece of art over another.

Yet, somehow, when it comes to African Americans, apparently we have to assume everything is tinged with malice and that much misused word ‘racism’.

There are no African American nominees in the big acting categories? It must be racism.

So, what ‘ism’ explains the absence of Johnny Depp, Ridley Scott, Emily Blunt, Jacob Tremblay, Aaron Sorkin, JJ Abrams, all white, last year?

Remember too, Jennifer Hudson (black) is an Oscar winner despite giving a performance in Dreamgirls that would put Ikea to shame while Amy Adams (white) is not.

The test must be that great African American actors and filmmakers are actively being disregarded in order to reward poor work by white ones.

Any lesser test would be an insult to African Americans who simply want to be actors and filmmakers not black actors and filmmakers for whom standards have to be lowered.

When a black actor has given a performance that is special he has been recognized. Denzel Washington, Forrest Whittaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Cuba Gooding jnr, Octavia Spencer and Monique to name just a few. Monique ran a pretty graceless campaign but such was the force of her performance that she won every award going.

That’s how it should be.

Anything less is suggestive of quotas. It’s horrible tokenism ie here are 4 people nominated on merit and here’s the sub par black performance we found this year to make up the numbers to stop the internet bullying.

Straight Outta Compton made lots of money, it should have been nominated was another argument.

Er, Star Wars anyone?

Even Meryl Streep can’t be nominated every year. What makes an African American actor special that they HAVE to be nominated every year, regardless of quality?

Where is the self respect and pride in being recognized for skin colour rather than excellence that transcends it?

#OscarsSoWhite is a catchy bandwagon that people jumped on. But check the social media accounts of its followers. Many making the loudest noise freely admitted they had only seen one movie in an entire year!

You can’t just watch Creed then claim that the Oscars are whitewashed when you haven’t seen the competition and can’t comment on it.

It also doesn’t help that the focus of the ‘movement’ is the big, glamorous categories, namely acting and best picture. That smacks of just wanting glory not actually wanting to put in the hard work to develop talent that will organically grow and make the industry naturally diverse from the bottom up.

if Jada cares that much about awards why doesn’t she use Will’s millions and become the Berry Gordy of Hollywood and create a Motown for film with black sound recordists, cinematographers, set designers as well as star players?

Simply handing Will Smith the trophy he admitted on a chat show he wants won’t change anything. Why is his desire to win an Oscar any more important than that of Tom Cruise (also Oscarless)?

Oscars 2016 saw a Mexican win best director for the third consecutive year. A Pakistani woman for best short documentary. An Italian composer for best score. Filmmakers from Hungary, Chile, Poland and many other countries won but hey, there was no diversity because an African American wasn’t good enough to be nominated for a showy acting award?

At the 2016 BAFTAs I spoke to the fans who had waited hours in the freezing cold to watch the red carpet. All said they don’t want a politically correct distribution of awards. Many also expressed the view, forcibly, that they were ‘so sick’ of the media’s obsession with the story. They thought it was disrespectful to the deserving nominees who were overshadowed by “bitterness.”

The fans who most angrily rolled their eyes at the suggestion of awards quotas based on race were themselves black or of South Asian origin. They said they were embarrassed by the idea ‘that we should be handed awards for our colour because we’re not good enough to compete with the best.’

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