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.

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