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Is The Academy Racist, Or Was This Just A Tough Year?

Posted on the 22 January 2015 by Sirmac2 @macthemovieguy

I gotta say, with all the hoopla surrounding the Oscars nominating all white actors and actresses this year, and Ava Duvernay not being nominated, it looks as though the Academy might be racist. I mean, they have to be, right? It couldn’t just have been a really competitive year, or have anything to do with Selma waiting a while to send out its screeners. That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it, right?

The Best Actor category was EXTREMELY competitive this year. Not only did David Oyelowo get overlooked for Selma (and Chadwick Boseman for Get On Up), but so were Miles Teller (Whiplash), Timothy Spall (Mr Turner), Bill Murray (St Vincent), Jack O’Connell (Starred Up or Unbroken), Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Billy Crudup (Rudderless), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Mark Wahlberg (The Gambler), Chrisoph Waltz (Big Eyes), Brad Pitt (Fury), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), John Lithgow and Alfred Molina (Love Is Strange), Oscar Issac (A Most Violent Year), and Tom Hardy (Locke). So while I think Oyelowo did a terrific job, he had some amazingly stiff competition. And Oscar voting is all about personal taste. I usually wait till the end of January to release my “Best Of” lists, but I can tell you that if I had to pick five performances, Oyelowo wasn’t there. He’d make my Top 10, but not my Top 5. I was more impressed by Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), who probably missed out on a nomination because his film was too small (and also maybe a comedy, and maybe Oscar voters hate SNL alumni)., I was more impressed by Bill Murray (St Vincent), who was brilliant and Golden Globe nominated, but forgotten by the Oscars this year. And, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, and Michael Keaton are all keepers. Also, if given one more vote… I still wouldn’t have used it on Oyelowo. That would have been Miles Teller for Whiplash.

Oyelowo was great, but this year was really tough for Best Actor candidates.

As far as the other acting categories, I didn’t feel that enough of the supporting cast really stood out enough to get Oscar nominations. Maybe Tom Wilkinson, but would nominating a white actor from a black film really make the Academy less “racist”? That didn’t seem to help when Danny Aiello was nominated for Do The Right Thing.

My point is, this is not the year to be having this conversation. Selma was a strong film, and it probably deserved more nominations. However, it opened late in the season, and waited to send out its screeners. It might have limited its own audience, and it waited till everyone else already had their favorites lined up. Remember, the Academy didn’t nominate Gone Girl for Best Picture (after many thought it was a shoo-in), or The LEGO Movie for Best Animated Feature (when many thought it would win). I doubt either of those shockers had anything to do with race.

The fact is, there is a whole different level of bullshit politics involving the Oscars, and how to campaign for nominations. If you don’t do it just right, or assume your film is safe, you end up getting nominated in only technical categories. Christopher Nolan limited his screeners to only Blu Rays, and who knows how that affected his votes in the end. He wanted people to experience his film on the big screen. Other films waited till they opened in theatres before sending out the screeners, and for those films, that put their screeners being shipped out late in the game. Then it comes down to campaigning. Bradley Cooper has gotten really good at playing to the Academy voters in his interviews, landing three nominations in three years. David Oyelowo and Chadwick Boseman could learn from him.

I don’t think the year after 12 Years A Slave, that you can determine that the Academy is now racist. I think it was just a tough year for film. Still don’t believe me? Let’s explore, shall we?

Just a few days ago, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics (GALECA) named their nominees for their 2014 awards. No Pic nomination for Selma, no Actor nomination for either Oyelowo or Boseman. Only Ava Duvernay managed a nomination for directing Selma. They probably just don’t like black men.

However, the Director’s Guild named their five picks, picking five white guys. So, they must be racist and sexist.

The BAFTA’s failed to recognize Selma with a Best Picture nomination, or Duvernay, or Oyelowo, or Boseman, or Get On Up, or any person of color in either Picture, Director, or the four main acting categories. That’s right, the British selected 20 white actors, and no one gave a shit. Bill Maher didn’t do an episode on it.

The Central Ohio Film Critics named Selma as one of the 10 best of the year, AND Ava Duvernay, AND David Oyelowo.

The Florida Film Critics Circle, however, went in a different direction and didn’t nominate Selma or any black people in the six major categories.

The Houston Film Critics picked 10 films, and managed to include Selma, but Duvernay was left out, and 21 white actors and actresses were picked again.

The London Film Critics (those damn racist Brits) snubbed all black films and black actors.

The Toronto Film Critics (not the Canadians too!) also snubbed all black films and black actors.

The Indiana Film Critics joined the London and Toronto critics in completely ignoring the needs of the people.

However, there is hope. The Broadcast Film Critics Association nominated Selma as one of 10 Best Picture nominees, and David Oyelowo was the only of 24 Actor/Actress nominees that wasn’t caucasian. But, Ava Duvernay was also nominated, and Quevenzhane Wallis was nominated in a “Best Young Actor/Actress” category.

And of course, the Globes recognized Selma, DuVernay, and Oyelowo with nominations, as well as Wallis.

Perhaps the greater problem isn’t the Academy as a voting body, but rather that all the eggs are seemingly in one basket. If you were going to vote for a black actor, or a black film this year, you had to vote for Selma. Aside from two longshot nominations for Chadwick Boseman or Gugu Mbatha-Raw (for Belle or Beyond The Lights), there weren’t a lot of potential contenders. Top Five’s best shot was in screenplay, and Dear White People isn’t really the type of film Oscar nominates (Snowpiercer was left out in the cold too).

Are the Academy voters racist for ignoring (basically) one film? No. Instead of being angry at Oscar voters for ignoring Oyelowo and Duvernay, why not be angry at Hollywood’s producers for only getting Oyelowo and Duvernay close to the finish line. Why were there not more good roles for black actors and actresses this year? You can’t put all your hope into Selma, and then release it at the tail end of Oscar season, and use that as the only barometer for racism. You’re not offering voters a real choice. It’s like you’re saying “vote for David Oyelowo, or you’re a racist.” Maybe he just wasn’t in your top five. If I had to guess, I would say he narrowly missed out on that nomination, probably placing 6th or 7th. I don’t think he was so far down that a nomination was impossible, but he just needed a few more votes.

You can’t really address the problem of racism at the Oscars without addressing the larger problem of not enough strong roles for black actors and actresses in Hollywood. The problem isn’t really the Oscars, the problem is Hollywood. The Academy can only vote on what you give them. Hollywood only gave them Selma.

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