January 15, 2016

Why are Oscars so white?

Some analyses of the #OscarsSoWhite phenomena:

The unbearable whiteness of Hollywood: The Academy should be ashamed—but the problem is bigger than the Oscars

For the second straight year, no performers of color have been nominated. Here's the real reason why

By Jack Mirkinson
What’s behind all this? Let’s call it one part economics and two parts institutional bigotry.

First, the economics: It’s no accident that television’s explosion of diversity happened at the same time that the economics of the business have morphed so much that it’s hard to articulate what constitutes “television” anymore. The plunge in ratings, the rise of streaming and the insane proliferation of outlets spending money on original series mean that TV creators have the luxury of targeting smaller audiences than movies do, and of taking more risks. The prestige wing of the industry has also embraced the new platforms enthusiastically. Having a show on Netflix is now seen as equivalent to having one on HBO.

Movies aren’t there yet. 2015 was actually the biggest year in both global and domestic box office history. That money, though, was generated on the back of a small handful of films—mostly thundering 3-D blockbusters that were easily exportable to every country in the world. More and more, the movie industry won’t take a chance on anything but the seemingly surest bets, and until it sees a sufficient threat to its way of life, it won’t veer from this path. What’s more, the on-demand platforms that could potentially sustain smaller, more interesting films are still seen as second-class, meaning that they don’t have a chance to break through in the same way that similar TV ventures do.

Here’s where the bigotry part really starts to rear its ugly head. All too often, “risk-free” still means “white men.” There remains a stubborn belief that movies about women or people of color won’t “play” in the international markets that have become so important to sustaining the film industry. What’s so infuriating about this is that, over and over again, movies about people of color or women that do get released make piles of money for the studios. It’s institutional barriers, not box office clout, that are holding back more of these films.

Even when movies aren’t expected to make a ton of money, the same rules still apply. Take another look at the 2016 nominations, many of which were given to smaller films. It’s not like the chosen white actors were plucked out of diverse movies. With a couple of exceptions, all of the movies they starred in contain almost completely white casts from start to finish. (They’re overwhelmingly male-centered, too: the most prominent female character in “The Revenant,” which won the Best Picture award at the Golden Globes, is a bear.)
Another Oscar Year, Another All-White Ballot

By Cara BuckleyFingers immediately pointed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Oscars and which, despite efforts to diversify its ranks in recent years, still skews older, male and white, according to a 2012 investigation by The Los Angeles Times. Academy members themselves were taken aback, saying in private conversations, “Don’t look at me,” but also, “This really doesn’t look good.”

But the truth probably springs from a murkier confluence of factors both sweeping and granular, from missteps and misjudgments in awards campaigns in support of individual movies to the systemic lack of diversity in Hollywood.

The studios behind two films that focus on black characters, “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton,” seemed to come late to the realization that their productions were awards contenders or proved unable to win enough votes. The Academy’s preferential voting system also works against films and actors not selected as voters’ top picks. And, perhaps the biggest factor of all, the industry’s overall offerings: Many of the 305 films eligible for Oscars did not, demographically speaking, reflect the lives and complexions of movie audiences.

“Every time I say the same thing: Until we get a position of power, with a green-light vote, it’s not going to change,” Spike Lee said in an interview a few hours after the nominations came out. “We may win an Oscar now and then, but an Oscar is not going to fundamentally change how Hollywood does business. I’m not talking about Hollywood stars. I’m talking about executives. We’re not in the room.”
The Oscars’ death spiral: The academy and Hollywood are locked in a crisis of their own making

Another super-white list of Oscar nominees, but the problem is less the academy than Hollywood's dominant ideology

By Andrew O'Hehir
From the point of view of the academy’s leadership, this pretty much presents an insoluble dilemma. Seriously, what are they supposed to do, beyond putting up with all the outraged blog posts and #OscarsSoWhite tweets and pushing onward for another year? Can they kick out all the stereotypical retired bit-part actors and movie executives in Beverly Hills, with their stereotypical sky-blue cardigans and white patent-leather shoes? Or send them all anthrax in the mail with their holiday-season screeners? They cannot. Can they rig the nomination process, or set up some informal quota system to ensure that at least one or two people of color show up in the acting and directing categories? Well, I suppose they could, and I wouldn’t be surprised if such things have been brainstormed in private. But consider all the ways that could go wrong—if Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh heard about it, for instance.

Barring such drastic measures, the academy is pretty much stuck with the membership it has, which is gradually growing younger and more diverse, but remains predominantly just the way you would think. Far more important, it’s also stuck with the production process of the Hollywood studios and “prestige” indie producers like Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin, which privileges certain kinds of movies, certain kinds of stories and certain kinds of characters over others. That’s where the heart of the problem lies, which is why I think it’s slightly misguided to point fingers and shriek at Mr. Sky-Blue Cardigan. Yes, to the extent Mr. SBC exists, he doesn’t get off the hook. (He didn’t nominate Ava DuVernay last year for “Selma,” the most Oscar-y movie imaginable.) But it should not come as an enormous surprise to learn that Oscar voters have safe and conservative tastes in many ways, or that they favor period pieces, inspirational fables and do-gooder tales, all wrapped in that indefinable quality best described as movie-ness.
The Oscars Will Remain So White If These 5 Things Don't Change

The first step to fixing the problem is admitting that it exists.

By Carolina Moreno
Hollywood's Diversity Problem Starts at the Top

Major Talent Agencies Represent Few Actors of Color

Studios and Talent Agencies Won't Take Responsibility

Films Just Aren't Casting Actors of Color

Yes, Academy Voters Are Seriously Lacking Diversity
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Hollywood Still White in 2015 and Another White Year at Oscars.

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