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Much Ado about Nothing – the Non-Issue of Oscar Nominations

OSCAR POLITICS--While I understand the concern about the lack of diversity in nominations for excellence in the acting craft, as a black man I believe that, by trying to focus on the Oscars themselves, that concern is misplaced.

The Oscars are merely the opinions of members of the Oscar committee as to the best performances during the year. Most of them did not decide what movies got made or who would star in them. 

The lack of diversity in awards should not be our primary issue. The lack of quality programming that is created using talent from diverse backgrounds should be our issue. The awards are given based upon opinions of persons within the industry who chose what they liked. I cannot believe that every academy member specifically limited his or her choices to exclude all persons of color. 

The issue is really the lack of diversity in programming – and it is one that is not new: it’s existed for many decades. While Black America was being denied access to media ownership in the 80s and 90s by black politicians and black federal judges, in violation of the Constitution, there was no protest from the Black Hollywood establishment. They failed to see the future that would affect them. The ownership of distribution during the 80s and 90s was a precursor to the lack of programming today dealing with issues in the lives of Black America. I know this because I was there in the middle. 

Over Oscar history, there have been many films, actors and actresses who have not received nominations despite the high quality of their work or the deserving nature of their performances. Hollywood is a business and that business is there to make money. The award of Oscars means money. 

The lack of diversity inside the production of movies is certainly more critical to me than the acknowledgment of the quality of any performance within those media. The lack of black directors and behind-the-scenes personnel limits the ability to express the black experience within movies. 

There are numerous awards, such as the NAACP Image Awards, which attempt to acknowledge superior work done within the entertainment industry by black Americans. These organizations have sought to fill the void within the larger awards process. I do not find it surprising that so few minorities received nominations because most of the movies made do not provide starring roles for minority performers. When you look at the percentage of the total movies made, the total amount of minority leading persons is very small. 

If less than 2% (a guess) of the movies that are made in America have minority-leading actors and actresses, then I'm not surprised that 25% of the nominations for the best performances do not go to minorities. In my opinion, the solution is not to blame those who have an opinion about the movies they've seen but rather to look at ways to increase minority participation in the production of more films promoting diversity. I do not believe that those whose opinions may differ from yours about the quality of the performances should be blamed for the lack of diversity. 

The Oscars have many times excluded film performers that the general public felt were deserving of nominations. Even though I'm not a film expert I certainly have seen films and performances that I thought deserving that were not nominated. 

Anyone invited is free to choose whether or not to attend the Oscars. It seems unfair to call for a boycott because you do not like the opinions of those that voted for the nominations. 

One of the most vociferous complaints I've heard was about Idris Elba not being nominated for his role in the movie "Beasts of No Nation,” a movie produced for Netflix, a company eager to take market share from the traditional movie production system. But the Oscars are controlled by the traditional movie production system and I'm sure that the Oscars are not looking for ways to enhance the exposure of their competitors. 

I think Spike Lee has the best take on whether to attend or boycott the Oscars. He said that he was not calling for a boycott, although he was not attending. He acknowledged that the Oscars had been making strides towards more diversity: after all, Chris Rock is the host. Spike says that, instead, he’s going to see the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden and he’s looking for a victory. I would take Spike’s courtside seats to see the Knicks over any ticket to see the Oscars…but I'm just a regular guy.

 

(Clinton Galloway is the author of the fascinating book “Anatomy of a Hustle: Cable Comes to South Central LA.” This is another installment in an ongoing CityWatch series on power, influence and corruption in government … Corruption Watch. Galloway is a CityWatch contributor and can be reached here.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.