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.

Owen Wilson’s War: Fighting Ridiculous Controversy in “No Escape”

Sorry folks, but No Escape really isn’t xenophobic or racist.

Owen Wilson hasn’t made a serious movie in years and it’s a shame his solid performance has been overshadowed by some very heavy controversy revolving around No Escape and just exactly what kind of message it’s trying to convey. There’s been serious talk from all different types of sources that the movie (quick plot summary: Owen Wilson and his family move to an unnamed Southeastern Asian country only to find themselves running for their lives in the midst of a violent revolution) is xenophobic and/or racist.

At first I thought it was no big deal, but I’m losing my mind here because everywhere I turn, I’m reading something ridiculous about the film that makes my blood boil. So I’m here to set things straight and tell you the reality of the situation.

The idea of this type of movie being xenophobic or racist is the same asinine criticism that was getting heaped on the shoulders of Hustle & Flow and it’s not even about being overly political correct. It’s about failing to realize a movie’s context is often determined by the expected audience. In this case, we have Hollywood making an American movie for a predominantly American audience.

If you want something neutral or completely absent a position, launch yourself into space because you’re not getting that kind of objectivity in the world of pop culture. And, by the way, No Escape is thrilling and unrelenting and the only thing that would have made it better is if Owen Wilson and his family didn’t keep getting saved by typical movie synchronicity and heroics.

Finally let’s not forget Pierce Brosnan’s character does offer a little context when he says the people are just trying to protect their own families and livelihood through actions that might seem brutal or savage from Owen Wilson & Company’s perspective – which is incidentally our perspective as well. Is it enough? Maybe not, but I’m laughing at the people who want more, like this is supposed to suddenly turn into a documentary or a really pompous episode of The Newsroom.

But perhaps the most important thing people are forgetting is that cinema explores scenarios and just like Hustle & Flow explores the fictional account of a fictional Memphis rapper and just like Collateral explores a fictional taxi driver and assassin in a fictional version of LA, so does No Escape.

The whole point is to show what it shows and I don’t get how people don’t understand that by now.

If you really want to ask a provocative question, ask whether what you’re seeing is at least viable realistically. Can you imagine a scenario where a family moves to another country and suddenly finds themselves in the middle of a violent uprising? Because I can. It probably happens all the time, historically speaking.

End of rant. For now.

Screw You, Bill Hader: A Sordid Tale of Zombies, Cheerleaders, and Prolonged Existential Angst

The highly anticipated explanation for why I hate that bastard Bill Hader so much.

There were three things racing through my head while I was dying:

  1. A bullet.
  2. What a way to get the answer to humanity’s ultimate question: what happens after we die?
  3. I was not going to be surviving the zombie apocalypse.

But let’s rewind the tape a little and find out just exactly how I got myself into such a mind-blowing scenario. I remember I was in “a moment” – I don’t remember anything before just being there in the present.

My friend Dylan and I were standing in a narrow beige hallway right next to a massive atrium with beautiful windows perfect for letting natural light stream in. It was the type of place a gathering of students might study in. Peaceful. Calm.

Then I noticed a group of cheerleaders walking towards us.  All sexy, identical, and busty – the greatest clone army in history. Their green cheerleader uniforms hugged their bodies as they slowly approached. And yet… even though they looked relatively harmless, my gut told me they were zombies although none of them exhibited any of the classic symptoms: nobody was shufflin’, mumblin’, or fumblin’.

I knew Dylan and I had to kill these hot zombies and I realized I was holding a baseball bat. We both were. So we reluctantly swung away and I distinctively remember connecting with a zombie cheerleader’s head. It made a wet thwock: a damp and hollow sound like someone aggressively tapping a watermelon with their knuckles.

During that grueling process, I noticed a spindly man out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw it was Bill Hader, inexplicably adorned in a purple bellhop uniform. Before I could react, he chomped down on my hand. Needless to say, I was stunned, shocked, and dare I say… stupefied.

Look at this gabagool, having the time of his life.

Look at this gabagool, having the time of his life.

Before I could blink, I found myself in the middle of the atrium. I was sitting on a luxurious white sofa and Dylan was standing behind me. He had a gun in his hand and I got the impression he was about to Lincoln me, if you know what I’m saying. I wanted to ask why he didn’t use the gun against the zombie cheerleaders, but then I looked down at my hands.

There was no baseball bat this time, but sitting on the sofa cushion was a shiny .357 Magnum. I picked it up; it was heavier than I expected. I was confronted with the reality of the situation: I was bitten. I was going to turn. I was going to die. Now.

Dylan understood without saying a word and he backed away. I raised the gun to my head and, well, pulled the fucking trigger. In that instant, there was a slight feeling of pressure as the bullet eased through my skull and entered my brain. Everything was moving so slowly.

My interpretation of reality was forever changed during that moment – time and space were becoming irrelevant as my death loomed large. I attributed that astonishing change to the fact that the bullet was ripping my brain apart. As the bullet continued its unrelenting progress, the initial realization of death began to overwhelm me.

There was no more speculation. It was reality, happening live right at that very moment. Then, after what seemed like ten minutes, everything faded to black. Only darkness. No sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no nothing.

Nothing but nothing.

I’m not sure how long things stayed like that. But after what felt like a century had passed, I suddenly awoke and found myself standing in a field next to a highway in New Jersey. I was surrounded by many men and women, all with open mouths and wide eyes of terror. I turned, only to see zombies were approaching from every angle.

They weren’t cheerleaders either. These were the type you see on The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later. As they ran towards us, I remember one thought that burst through with astonishing clarity: “Yet another reason New Jersey fucking sucks.”

Then I woke up, sweaty and tense. What a terrible dream. Fuck zombies!

And that Bill Hader guy too. May he fall in a well – a deep and dark well with slimy moss covering the walls so he can’t climb out… although, I do have to admit he was pretty good in Trainwreck and other stuff like The Skeleton Twins.

All Quiet on the Facebook Front: Urban Crime, Mass Shootings, and Pakistan

On December 16, approximately 130 children and 10 adults were killed in a school shooting in Pakistan. The reaction here in the States was… muted, even on social media like Facebook. Why?

Last summer, I started writing for The Daily Iowan, which is a newspaper run by University of Iowa students. I was an opinion columnist, which meant I could joke about “getting to be a journalist without actually having to do any research.”

But for my first column, I took it pretty seriously and wrote about the surge of mass shootings that had sprung up across the country around that time, as well as race/ethnicity and social class in regards to ignoring the gun violence that occurs on a daily basis. I said this in one of the last paragraphs:

“What is also remarkable is how we’ve come to accept [certain] types of gun violence as being a normal part of society. Or, if we don’t think it’s normal, we still choose to do nothing about it. It’s almost like there are areas of America where that type of crime is seen as being a given, and it’s not until that crime spills over certain borders that we start to worry and get uncomfortable.”

It’s true – we really make a huge fuss about mass shooting sprees, but we’ve become desensitized to the violence that happens every hour, every minute. And yes, you can bet your ass that skin color and money have to do with it.

The vast majority of the school shootings that shook the nation (and still shake their respective towns) took place in mostly white, middle class suburbs. People aren’t “supposed to” get shot in those types of places. I would know – I live in a predominantly white and middle to upper class neighborhood, and the cops have nothing better to do than be extra vigilant for… speeders.

The South Side of Chicago (the bad parts of the South Side, I mean), on the other hand, is a place we all look at (from a safe distance, of course) and shake our heads. We don’t like what’s happening to the people in shitty urban neighborhoods, but we don’t exactly care either. In our eyes, violence is just an inevitable part of their lives.

And that’s just a crummy mindset to have.

Pakistan is on the other side of the world, so by nature it’s hard to truly care about what happens there. As human beings, we show a remarkable ability to selectively choose when to feel empathy towards each other. I mean, it’s not a coincidence we care about our family members and friends more than we care about that one neighbor down the street we never interact with, much less a country we only hear about on the news.

Still, there was something disconcerting about the total lack of reaction on Facebook. I remember after the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and it seemed like every person logged onto Facebook or Twitter to post “RIP” or “I offer my condolences.”

Wow, so poignant!

Yet, 130 dead kids in another country can’t even get some sort of reaction from those same people? The last time I checked, shooting kids is fucked up, regardless of what country you associate yourself with.

Even more confusing is the very fact that the US has been dealing with an unusual surge in school shootings the past few years. You would think we would be, if anything, even more moved by a similar event at this time.

Alas, what do we really know about Pakistan? We probably think about terrorists, and maybe Osama. Maybe we heard something about India and Pakistan having a tense relationship “or something.”

At the end of the day, the mindset we have towards Pakistan is the same mindset we have towards the minorities – specifically black people – who live in our cities’ rougher neighborhoods. We look at them and shrug, saying, “Hey, that kind of violence is just normal over there. What can you do?”

Yeah, the world can’t be a perfect place. Violence will always exist on some scale or another. It’s a wonder we haven’t had yet another world war yet, to be honest.

But I’m not trying to get people riled up and ready to fix all the world’s problems. It would just be nice if we acknowledged we don’t give a shit about some things, even though they are arguably more important than whatever we do “care” about.

The Blatant Offensiveness of Inactive Activism


Hey, if I had to pay real money OR dump a bucket of ice over my head – during the summer, no less – I think you know what I’d pick.

As a fan of the Atlanta Falcons, I like to think I was one of the first people within my group of Facebook friends to know about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that’s been spreading like a venereal disease.

In early August, our quarterback Matty Ice was one of the first to dump a bucket of ice (how appropriate) over his head in the name of spreading awareness for ALS, which most people know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Since then, scores of other people have done the same thing, from regular people like you and me to other athletes and celebrities like Conan O’Brien.

 

Ha, those gingers are something else.

Apparently all that ice has made some kind of difference, as it’s been reported by sources like USATODAY that the popular challenge has raised over $2 million for the national ALS Association since late July.

That’s a dramatic rise from the same time period last year, when “only” $25,000 came in.

Wow.

Unfortunately, there’s still something incredibly idiotic about this whole thing, and it’s in the wording of the challenge itself.

“I nominate [at least three unlucky people’s names] to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. You have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice over your head or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.”

Ummmm…. just one question… why is that “or” there?

I’ve been examining my Facebook friends to see who chooses to do both the challenge and donate, or just donate money. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of people are opting to take the easy way out and just do the challenge (which means only doing the ice).

What the fuck is the point of that!?

For me, it’s not even about the notion of wasting clean water – clean water gets wasted all the time all over the nation for even more useless reasons.

Like golf.

Like golf.

The real problem is the notion of inactive activism. Hey, here’s a quick question: what do Joseph Kony and Lou Gehrig have in common?

Easy. They were both the centerpiece of trendy, social media activism, which is also equivalent to doing pretty much nothing.

At least the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is doing some good, although I’m genuinely curious to see how much the donations are skewed by the money provided by celebrities (and by the way, it’s also pretty shitty for someone with a ton of money to do the challenge and only donate the requested $100).

Kony 2012, on the other hand, was one of the best examples of activism gone wrong. Everything about it was messed up, from the very organization that was doing the activism (all you have to do is google “Kony 2012 scam”), to prioritizing a bum like Kony when there were (and are) so many more pressing issues at hand.

Just ridiculous.

I guess the real question is this: does awareness mean anything and is there a difference between awareness and trending?

Awareness is absolutely important. Without awareness, nobody would even know something existed. Hey, you know what I found kind of funny? People are using “ALS” instead of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” and I have a sneaky idea why: it’s so the disease sounds more mysterious.

Think about it! People don’t really care about issues they already know about. That’s why nobody cares about gang warfare or homelessness. It’s not special; it’s just a part of our lives now. It’s also why people get worked up about mass shootings, but don’t give a shit about the gun violence that occurs all over the country on a daily basis.

Saying “ALS” instead of “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” makes it seem different, like people are supporting a new cause.

I’m willing to bet that the biggest awareness people have been enlightened to is that ALS and Lou Gehrig’s Disease are the same thing. Also, $2 million is huge compared to $25,000. But I wonder how many foundations and charities have gotten far less than that – especially within one month.

So that was a very sly move to do… and I’m a cynical piece of shit. Let’s move on.

Anyway, awareness is definitely vital. People are wrong if they think awareness doesn’t matter. But it depends on the context. That’s why awareness is different from something simply trending.

Everybody knows what Lou Gehrig’s Disease is, or they’ve at least heard of it. So this isn’t about awareness, really, is it? It’s more about getting it to trend, which isn’t bad or anything (seriously, no sarcasm there).

But there are also lots of other issues that could use awareness, only people aren’t talking about them. You know, issues like common myths people believe. Oh well.

I do want to end with this: for the record, while there are lots of negatives to this whole ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I do think a lot of good has come from it too (although, again, numbers don’t tell the whole truth). I just wish there was a more efficient way for people to actually make a difference, instead of pouring ice over themselves and having a good time under the guise of actually doing something good.

Oh wait – there is a more efficient method: just donate the money, you idiots.