Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Oscars can never be all things to all men/women

The Oscars are with us again, and, as always, privileged people with way too much time on their hands are looking for something to complain about. This time, of course, it's all about #OscarsSoWhite (can we even have a discussion that doesn't involve hashtags?)
The Globe and Mail has thrown itself into the media feeding frenzy with a double-page spread of black or partially-black actors and directors who have been criminally overlooked throughout the years, all the way back to 1929. Some I have heard of, some I have even seen and enjoyed, some mean absolutely nothing to me, which probably says more about me than about the films. Some I have seen and not been particularly impressed with; some I remember being impressed with, but they happened to be released in a year with a lot of other good films. It makes you realize just how arbitrary and random both the release of films and the nominations of Oscar candidates really are.
Now, yes, in an ideal world, Oscar nominees would be 64% white, 16% Latino, 12% black, and 5% Asian (thank you, Wikipedia). But I imagine that the talent pool in the film industry does not conform to those statistics, and, as we have been reminded over and over again in recent weeks, the Oscar selection committee most definitely does not. Likewise, women are also almost certainly under-represented, as probably are the transgendered and albino communities. Some of this is apparently already being addressed as we speak, as the Oscars organization smarts under the glare of too many critical cameras. Some will take much longer, and will probably involve, among other things, a process of persuading blacks and Latinos that theatre is cool, and that rap and basketball are not the only ways out of poverty and repression.
I just ask that we don't impose a quota system on artistic endeavour. I would like to think that Alejandro Iñárritu will win best director for The Revenant on his own merits, not because he is Latino. The selection of Oscar nominations is a necessarily flawed process, and all the people will never be happy all of the time. For example, there are other white actors who I believe should be in the running this year, and probably other black and Latino performers too, although not necessarily the much-touted Stephan James.
We also need to avoid the pitfall of lionizing movies just because they are "worthy" - Mandela, Selma, The Race, etc, are all important films, as well as successful ones, and it is all to the good that mass white audiences go to see these movies, in much the same way as I believe that everyone should go to see other worthy, educational and well-made films like Suffragette or The Hurt Locker. However, this is not the same thing as saying that they were the best films to come out in their respective years.
Having said all that, I find it difficult to get too worked up about it all. I am not even a big Oscars fan - I find it way too bombastic and self-satisfied, as well as way too long and tedious - I don't think I have ever managed to watch it all the way through, and most years I don't even try. Frankly, I find the whole thing rather fatuous and embarrassing, but hopefully I'm entitled to my minority view. It seems to me, though, that, if less people took it so seriously, it would not need to represent and embody all the hopes and aspirations of every budding thespian. But then, of course, sales of over-the-top haute couture would also take a hit, and that would never do.

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