The further I dip my toes into the world of media journalism, the more I realize that a certain level of privilege and ignorance clouds the judgement of everyone involved. The backlash to criticism of The Oscars virtually shutting out people of color for the second year in a row has been singling out more biased Hollywood types than usual over the course of the past month. White actors and actresses the likes of Michael Caine, Charlotte Rampling, and others have continually played devil’s advocate for The Academy’s decision; Julie Delpy even went on record saying that it’s easier being Black than it is being a white woman in Hollywood, a sentiment her 2 Days In New York co-star Chris Rock strongly disagrees with. April Reign had it right all along.
Just under a week ago, Joel and Ethan Coen (whose latest flick Hail, Caesar! is in theaters now) were the latest white filmmakers to put in their two cents on the issue when they were asked by Jan Yamato of The Daily Beast during an interview. “By making such a big deal, you’re assuming that these things really matter. I don’t think they even matter much from an economic point of view,” Joel said. “So yes, it’s true—and it’s also true that it’s escalating the whole subject to a level it doesn’t actually deserve.” It’s very easy to talk about awards not mattering when you’ve got four of them sitting on your mantle (both brothers won Best Original Screenplay for Fargo in 1996 and Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay for No Country For Old Men in 2008). For a duo that just released a satire on the post-war Hollywood system, claiming that diversity shouldn’t take precedent in a story seems kind of backward.
Never mind the fact that white filmmakers are given the luxury to be mediocre. Hail, Caesar! is great time at the movies if you’re into film history, but it’s also the Coen Brothers’ lowest weekend take since 2003’s Intolerable Cruelty. Filmmakers of color don’t have the luxury to be mediocre; we either need to change the game or else the awards are completely out of our reach.
At the end of the day, are the Coens right about the awards not mattering? Yes. But even putting the physical awards to the side, The Oscars are supposed to be reflective of the American public’s interests, and in an age where racial and ethnic minorities are growing by the year, our voices are growing louder; why would Cheryl Boone Isaacs have changed the Academy membership rules if they weren’t? Art is subjective, but if the entire membership thinks the same way, then the the film reel will continue to eat the celluloid.
Acknowledging ourselves with our own award shows (NAACP Image Awards, ALMA, etc) is an alternative here, but the truth of the matter is that we all live in America; supposedly the greatest Melting Pot in the world. What good is taking out time to recognize our own if we’re being left out of the national conversation?
Whether or not the awards themselves matter, The Oscars are supposed to represent the vanguard of Hollywood filmmaking across *all* spectrums, and I’m sorry, the directors of The Revenant, the director of the Amy Winehouse documentary, and The Fucking Weeknd being the only people of color acknowledged across 24 categories in a year when films like Creed, Tangerine, Dope and Beasts Of No Nation, were released is just unacceptable, no matter how many people try to convince you that 12% of the winners being Black over the course of the last 20 years is a fair tradeoff. The cast of Straight Outta Compton, one of the most financially and critically lauded films of the year, wasn’t even invited to the damn party.
While The Coens pay the barest amount of lip service to diversity and get ready to compete for their respective fifth statues for writing Bridge of Spies on February 28, here’s hoping that Chris Rock’s supposedly revamped hosting jokes really tear into this issue and spearhead more change.