Straight Outta Patience: The Truth About the Academy Awards and Racism

Hi, I’m Barrett. And I’m here to help you weed through the bullshit.

If you have a pulse and don’t live in an underground bunker, you probably know about the Academy Awards being under fire because of a racial controversy. A quick refresher: this is the second consecutive year in which all the acting categories and most of the major categories in general feature zero black nominees and only a few nonwhite ones, like Alejandro González Iñárritu, director of The Revenant.

That has caught a lot of people’s attention, especially in the black community; there are a number of celebrities who will be boycotting the ceremony, like Will Smith and his wife. Spike Lee as well. Host Chris Rock is reportedly going to rewrite his opening monologue to address this diversity issue. So yeah, it’s a big deal.

Here’s the thing: this whole diversity controversy about the Academy Awards is bugging the hell out of me. First of all, too many people are egregiously oversimplifying the issue, and second, not enough people are making a case as to what movies were snubbed and how they’re better than the movies that were nominated.

By my count, these are the 2015 films that featured prominent performances by members of the black community AND were considered to be noteworthy films in some way (and yes, I will only be focusing on black performances because that’s where the root of the controversy is – not Asian representation, not Hispanic representation, not Muslim representation – you get the idea):

Beasts of No Nation

Concussion

Creed

Dope

Straight Outta Compton

Tangerine

I’m not including The Hateful Eight because I don’t think Samuel L. Jackson did THAT good of a job. So let’s assess each film (and by the way, that’s only six movies out of 365 days, so just think about the overwhelming odds they’re working against in the first place – more on this later).

Beasts of No Nation

This was an exceptional movie and I’m surprised it didn’t receive a single nomination. Not one! Idris Elba was really good but I can’t say with certainty he was snubbed. It was a strong performance, but I’m not convinced it outpaced the nominees. It was also fairly subtle, which can make it harder to appreciate for some.

If anything, teen actor Abraham Attah was snubbed. On the other hand, that kid from Room didn’t get nominated either, so I’m chalking this one up to the adults winning against the kids. Also, considering it didn’t get nominated for Best Director or Best Cinematography, I’m going to say the viewers either hate Netflix or the film just didn’t click with enough of them for whatever reason. It’s a damn shame for sure, but I don’t see racism being a factor here.

Concussion

I haven’t seen it, but honestly it doesn’t look very good (the reviews mostly back me up on this too). In the trailers at least, Will Smith was terrible with his overacting and atrocious accent. Some might argue the movie’s message was more important than the delivery, but The Big Short managed to excel on both ends, which doesn’t help Concussion‘s case.

I can’t help but snicker at Will Smith’s decision to boycott the ceremony. Go for it buddy. Your flick didn’t deserve any nominations to begin with.

Creed

I’m mad I haven’t seen Creed yet because I’m certain this has the strongest case for proving any type of racist agenda. Michael B. Jordan is one of my favorite actors and if he was even 80 percent as good here as he was in Fruitvale Station, he deserved consideration.

But the question then becomes this: was his performance truly so good, you can definitively say it was better than any of the Best Actor nominees? If the honest and objective answer is no, then the voters simply shafted him and it’s also probably because Creed is a sports movie at the core.

Did he get shafted because of some kind of cynical racial agenda? I don’t believe so, but I can’t guarantee it either.

Dope

Dope was a coming-of-age film that was vastly inferior to Sundance Film Festival darling Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and since neither film received any nominations, I’m not seeing shady behavior here.

Straight Outta Compton

This was one of the most overrated films of the year. While the first half was entertaining and positively throbbed with energy, the second half completely regressed into your typical mess of a cliché. None of the performances were strong enough to even sniff a nomination, and I’m surprised the screenplay received one for Best Original Screenplay, to be honest.

Tangerine

This is another example of an indie film that was critically well received but just wasn’t good enough to warrant any Oscar nominations. I personally really enjoyed the film, but it didn’t even make my 2015 Movie Power Rankings and I missed a ton of good films, like Spotlight, Carol, Brooklyn, and The Martian so I’m not surprised Tangerine didn’t receive nominations from the people who presumably saw every film that garnered very positive reviews.

At this point, you might be asking, “Okay, so what are you trying to say? For two years in a row, the Academy just happens to nominate only white people for their biggest awards?”

Well, yeah.

I’m surprised and a little embarrassed at all the indignation this controversy has caused. Someone please explain to me just exactly how this is such a problem when it has only happened two years in a row. If this was truly systematic within the voting process itself – a distinction that will become clear in a few paragraphs – I think it would be a little more blatant.

Like, maybe if there was a diversity drought for five years or something, we could raise some eyebrows.

And none of that even factors in other statistical variables. Have you considered the fact that there aren’t worthy candidates from the black community every single year? This interesting nugget has been going around the internet: almost 99 percent of Oscar winners have been white.

A pessimist might point at that statistic and say, “Why is that so lopsided? It’s clear racism is at play.”

An optimist might say, “Hey, improvements are being made. It’s skewed because early Hollywood was very racist.”

But this is what a rational person says, “It is an oversimplification that doesn’t factor in multiple variables. For one, the industry is racially lopsided. Just like the NBA is dominated by black athletes, Hollywood is the inverse of that. Therefore, it only makes sense that there would be considerably more white winners than winners in any other racial category.”

But there’s more to be said. As some astute people have noted, the problem is not within the voting process itself. The real problem lies in the people who actually pay for movies to be made and there’s a problem getting quality ideas out there that also utilize ethnically diverse casts.

Why is it that almost every Oscar-nominated movie featuring significant black contributions invariably focuses on one of three giant categories: trials & tribulations, musical biopic, racist bullshit? How are blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and everyone else supposed to get nominated if they constantly get typecast?

So yes, there’s a problem. But it goes deeper than the Academy’s voting habits.

2015 Movie Power Rankings

A power ranking of my ten favorite films of the year and a list of all the other movies I saw for you to gawk at.

BS:JAG’s annual movie power rankings are still in their infancy years – this is only Year Two after all – but one day they will probably rival the Oscars and the Cannes Film Festival in prestige. Of course last year I was too generous with my rankings, giving nearly fifty percent of the films I watched a place in either the Pantheon or the Honorable Mention category.

That’s a format that’s not selective enough to imply any type of actual competition. Therefore, only ten films will be given actual rankings, while the rest are simply listed at the end (as usual).

Remember: release dates are based on IMDb and any movie title that is also a link sends you to my review of that very same movie.

HONORABLE MENTION

10. Kung Fury

This short film was funded entirely on Kickstarter and parodies the often over-the-top action films of the eighties as well as anything I’ve ever seen. The references are appropriately crazy while maintaining focused precision on channeling the eighties’ cheesiest pop culture trends and the short viewing time almost guarantees an enjoyable experience without overstaying its welcome.

I would place it higher, but like I said, thirty minutes is a solid amount of time to entertain our increasingly twitchy generation so I couldn’t place it above feature films that regularly go for three times the length of Kung Fury.

Still, it’s the best film of the year… to show how heinous Hitler would be if he knew kung fu and had the ability to travel through time.

9. The Revenant

I was gonna publish this way earlier, like late December type of early, but held off because I was waiting to see this with my dad. Turns out it was pretty much what I expected: a beautiful, raw film that falls short of true greatness because of its own heavy pretentiousness.

Still, watching Leo was an inspiring experience, and Tom Hardy once again showed why he is one of Hollywood’s greatest and underrated actors right now.

The cinematography was breathtaking and the score was simultaneously haunting, throbbing, and grandiose. Plus, this Chicago winter is really starting to hit us hard here and The Revenant has been a nice reminder things could always be worse. Dang bears…

Unfortunately, I can’t place it any higher on the list because so much of the movie was just patting itself on the back with all the tracking shots of nature and Leo crawling on the ground.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

People have been saying this might be the best action film in decades. I wouldn’t go that far but it was certainly one hell of a fucking ride to experience. Even though I had to take a piss for the entire second half of the movie, I couldn’t bring myself to get up and leave because I was afraid I would miss something spectacular.

Tom Hardy was awesome, but Charlize Theron was something else. She’s always been pretty good at being a badass but this was really taking it to the next level. Somehow I love her even more now. Like, not even a crush, or lust, but an appreciation for what she’s doing in her profession.

Hell of a film, and the funny thing is people were saying in the beginning it’s a reboot nobody asked for. Well look where we are now. Nice.

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

At the end of the day, you have to admit one thing: we can talk about the artistic merits of filmmaking and what it means to work in that medium, but what all of us want at the core is a movie that is entertaining and fun.

And sure, there are a lot of worthy criticisms to bring up, like how much of it copies from earlier Star Wars films or how Kylo Ren was not as badass as we expected (still very complex as a character), but it has to be noted that the two biggest weaknesses of the prequel trilogy – acting and the script/dialogue – were vastly improved here.

While I’m not a big Star Wars fan by any means, even I started to tear up during the opening scroll and every time an old character came back into the picture, whether it was Han Solo or even C-3P0, my heart skipped a beat. I’m excited for the next movie.

6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I’m kind of a sucker for indie films and this one happened to combine a lot of elements I personally find very attractive in life in general. And sure, it’s kind of a film about teenage angst, but it was also about friendship, suffering, growing up, and love.

That’s not saying much, I guess, but it’s a glowing film filled with earnest performances and I’m pleased it’s on a list filled with a lot of bombastic characters ranging from Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina to even a lot of the more quirky guys in The Big Short.

The soundtrack is appropriately indie and conveys emotion well while “Me” and “Earl” have a continued theme of making parodies of classic films that had the movie connoisseur in me giggling with glee.

THE PANTHEON

5. Ex Machina

Few films have addressed the intriguing topic of sentient artificial intelligence with such style and grace as Ex Machina, which features delicious production design and a tight script on an equally tight budget.

One of my favorite actors, Oscar Isaac, continues to show why he is a bona fide star, while Domhnall Gleeson continues to show up in incredible films and TV shows (seriously, check out this guy’s IMDb page). Alicia Vikander does a great job as the A.I., and certainly kept me on my toes as I tried to figure out what exactly each character’s central motive truly was.

It’s a thriller that ends up being pretty frightening near the end and overall this is definitely the type of movie someone could actually say is seductive without being all cliché.

4. Beasts of No Nation

Netflix clearly means business as they continue to expand beyond just the simple streaming service they once were. First they introduced hit shows like House of Cards (an adaptation from the UK series, but still) and Peaky Binders and now they’re kicking butt with their movies.

Beasts of No Nation is headlined by director Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective fame while Idris Elba portrays a guerilla commander and both do a wonderful job. But the most important performance is from teen actor Abraham Attah, who is incredible to watch as he transitions from carefree young boy to ruthless child soldier who has done and seen unspeakable things.

Even with the sublime cinematography, it’s a hard film to watch because of the harsh subject matter. However, it is a necessary one. Most importantly, the plot focuses on the internal struggles of an unnamed African nation and removes any overt implications of Western influence, which is something even an exceptional film like Hotel Rwanda didn’t do.

3. Inside Out

Pixar really struck gold with this one and it certainly tackles the most complicated subject matter I can remember from an animated film (that I’ve seen).

The voice acting was sublime, the concept was wholly unique, and the interpretation of how the mind works was really refreshing to see from an adult’s perspective and hopefully from a kid’s as well.

Just a monumental effort by a studio that had been mired in sequels for a few years.

2. Sicario

From top to bottom, I think this was genuinely one of the best films of the year and I’m surprised it didn’t receive any nominations in the major categories for the Academy Awards. It should have been a lock for Best Picture, Best Director and either Emily Blunt or definitely Benicio del Toro should have been nominated too.

It’s a damn shame and I guess it really means 2015 was an unusually solid year for good films. On the other hand, why the fuck was Mad Max nominated for Best Picture?

My head is spinning.

1. The Big Short

The Pantheon’s leader is my choice for best film of the year, but it’s also perhaps the most important as well. We like to think history is cyclical, in that it often repeats itself. That is certainly true in the financial world, which is often dictated by the ebbing and flowing of society and its various moods.

The financial crisis of the late 2000s was exactly what it sounds like – a crisis. And while much of the world was impacted, most people still don’t know the substance behind the story. That’s where The Big Short comes in, explaining the housing bubble crisis through a variety of perspectives.

Humor is used extensively, whether it’s through the breaking of the fourth wall or more traditional means. It’s one of those rare moments where the humor doesn’t make light of what happened, but instead keeps the audience engaged and awake to actually follow the movie’s path.

Of course, following the path is relatively easy to begin with, as the complex subject material is deftly handled by director Adam McKay to ensure the most absorption by even younger generations. And it was clear the humor was appreciated in at least the crowd I was part of, as the primarily white and older audience members alternated between knowing groans and appreciative chuckles.

This is the type of movie open-minded high schools will show their students. They’ll just need to get those parental release forms signed first. Totally worth it.

THE OUTSIDERS

Ant-Man

Assassination

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Black Mass

Daddy’s Home

Dope

Entourage

Furious 7

In the Heart of the Sea

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

No Escape

Northern Limit Line

Point Break

Spectre

Straight Outta Compton

Tangerine

The Gallows

The Gunman

The Hateful Eight

The Last Witch Hunter

The Night Before

The Overnight

The Ridiculous 6

The Visit

Trainwreck

Wolf Warrior