Opinion Piece – The Oscars, Diversity and the Cold Hard Truth

This picture sums up the reactions of many people who felt this years Oscars are to “white” and not “diverse” enough

Opinion piece by Eddie on 24/01/2020

As has become the case in the last few years, the recently announced field of Oscar nominees competing in this February’s Academy Awards have been overshadowed by outcry’s from across the globe, bemoaning the fact that diversity amongst the nominees is too slight too appease the now unspoken about rule that the Academy voters must try their utmost to get a broad range of cultures, genders and voices onto the biggest stage for film, seemingly no matter the cost of the art represented.

Now in theory, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact it’s a great thing that film lovers should be exposed to a cross section of art from voices of all shapes, sizes and colors but what is starting too grate, is the fact that even in a year such as this, where the Academy, has believe it or not, got many of the categories right, critics and outspoken voices are never going to be appeased no matter what merits the films in the spotlight are responsible for.

Soon after the nominations were announced, famed author and Academy member Stephen King tweeted about his experiences and how he chooses to vote in the Awards.

Met with much publicity and harassment, many have overlooked what point King was making and the fact that, sorry to say, his right. 
What King is saying in my mind, is that it shouldn’t matter who is making what, it’s about the product and in the case of this year’s nominees, they were voted for for a reason and are all deserving of their appearances in the Awards.

Do we want to get to a point where deserving products are overlooked because a category needs a women in there or that a person of color is needed to ensure quotas? It would be amazing if one day all nominees in the Best Director category were women or all actors in an acting category where non-Caucasian but it must not come at the cost of overlooking the deserving pieces of art that these high profile awards can shine a light on.

While people applaud critics having a go at this years Best Director field, filled with how dare they, an all-men group, let’s just take time to appreciate where these men have come from and what cultures and diverse backgrounds they represent.

Martin Scorsese – a catholic Italian-American whose grandparents immigrated from Italy.

Sam Mendes – born in England to a Jewish mother and a father who was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago as a Roman Catholic.

Todd Phillip’s – born to a family of Jewish background in New York City.

Quentin Tarantino – raised in Knoxville Tennessee, Tarantino’s parents decent stems from Italy and Ireland.

Bong Joon-ho – born and raised in South Korea, Jong-ho has been a prolific Korean filmmaker as well as a director of English language features.

While it would’ve been great to see a Greta Gerwig here or a Lulu Wang, these 5 nominees, these 5 men, all deserve their places in this particular field, there’s no agenda here, its just as King stated, when it comes to art it’s about “quality” and to vote in any other way would be in fact wrong.

Lady Bird and Little Women director Greta Gerwig would’ve been a worthy nominee in the Best Director category, but was overlooked in favour of other worthy nominees

The other important point to consider in this issue plaguing awards and taking up far too much time in the media, is the fact that the common movie goer doesn’t really care who directed what or where someone is from or what they stand for, they are watching movies for entertainment and valuing each product on those merits.

People I know don’t only go to films only directed by white men or only directed by women, they just want good films, they just want to be entertained and for many voters I am sure they are much the same when they sit back and appreciate a film that has resonated with them.

Movies are an important part of world culture, a powerful way for stories and voices to be heard in ways in which they never would otherwise but this whole diversity issue needs to be carefully considered as it threatens to get out of hand and overshadow the very pieces of worthy art that the whole outcry proposes to address.

How do you feel about this year’s Oscars? Outraged or content? Let me know in the comments below! 

Anonymous Guest Contribution:

A bit unusual, but below is an extract from some feedback on this issue I received in the lead up to this post, I believe it was worth adding as further food for thought on the issue.

“It’s not that women aren’t getting the opportunity to make films, it’s just that no films made by women other than Greta Gerwig were better than the 9 films that got nominated by the academy in the Best Picture field.

I will concede that in the case of JoJo Rabbit this is hard to believe, but before you lament a lack of diversity, first you need to categorically choose which of the other nine films are not worthy of being celebrated in this manner.”

“Martin Scorsese can’t change the fact that he’s an elderly white male of Italian heritage. What he can do, is make incredible, classic films that have been proven to stand the test of time… if The Irishman cleans up at the Oscars, it is a decision that can be justified wholeheartedly.”

“I wonder how the argument would go in retrospect… if The Matrix was nominated for Best Picture, is that demonstrating more of a lack of diversity than if Jupiter Ascending was nominated, because in 1999 the Wachowski’s were brothers, and in 2015 they were sisters? The fact that just a year earlier in 1999 Shakespeare in Love won the award proves that the Academy is often stupid with their decisions, but not racist, sexist or guilty of any other intolerances that the ignorant hordes race to label them.”

“The Academy Awards recognize achievements in movie making, and Stephen King is more qualified than you to offer his opinion on the cinematic year that was. So, please respect his views on a subject matter that is not intended to shape the world, but rather offer some of us a bit of an escape from its drudgeries.”

21 responses to “Opinion Piece – The Oscars, Diversity and the Cold Hard Truth

  1. I recently wrote about this Oscar issue and my conclusion is that people will always be self-centered and unable to escape their bias. Whether they are on “The Academy” or not. People have prejudice and there’s no fix for that.

    I also struggle with the question – “When would we know that the Oscar nominations are perfectly diverse and fair?”

    • Great point mate, we are now perhaps at that point where it will never be fully satisfied?

      I understand the anger and frustration when films of worth are ignored in favour of more generic offerings but this year, I just don’t understand the outcry over the nominee’s, they are all great films/great performances!

  2. My problem with the Oscars this year is that The Lighthouse got only 1 nomination while Joker got 11. I think Joker’s a good movie but honestly it’s not “Best of the Year” material in my book. But that’s evened out with Parasite getting a lot of nominations (which is surprising to see a foreign movie get this level of recognition by the Academy).

    You do honestly raise a great point about how the quality of the movies matter more than the diversity of the nominees. I consider 2019 to be a really great year for movies (to the point where I’m doing a Top 20 of 2019 for my very own blog). We should count out blessings that so many great movies got award nominations.

    I guess we can chock up this outcry to bring some people are unpleasable.

    • I was pretty sad to see A24 mostly shunned, it seemed like between Lighthouse, Waves and Uncut Gems (and I think even Midsommar?) they would’ve been in for some love.

      But yeh that’s the thing, I don’t see why people are complaining so much about this year’s crop of nominee’s when really, there all worthy of being there.

      I really don’t understand the complaints about the acting fields in particular.

      • A24 were on fire this year with their output this year. Several of their movies have earned a spot on my Best of 2019 list).

        My only complaint with the acting category is that I personally think Willem Dafoe should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Lighthouse. In a career full of great performances, his work there stands out as the best. Although that’s probably my bias talking, because I’m a big Willem Dafoe fan.

      • From all I’ve heard you’re absolutely right! It sucked for him as the Best Supporting Actor category was arguably the most loaded of all the areas this year.

  3. As a person – like most of us on here – who watches a lot of films, and being a person of colour, the overwhelming ‘whiteness’ of the Academy awards has never been an issue for me. Unfortunately, there are a whole raft of factors that go into nominations that we, the great unwashed masses, never think of or know about.
    Aside from the massive push from studios behind their products, the Academy members are inundated with films. It is the same for all the award shows, with various members of awards bodies receiving copies of films on a daily basis. There is no way they watch all of them or even want to.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Makeqfit. I think its refreshing to hear that you’ve never had issue with the “whiteness” of the awards.
      I love how over the last few years a great range of diverse films and actors etc have been nominated or even won on the night and look forward to a further abundance of great content over the next few years.
      I had real issue with people complaining this year, I just felt like the products speak for themselves and King tweeted about a great point that art needs to come first, not whose making it or where they come from, none of that should matter if the work of art they produce is worthy.

  4. Incredibly well put piece.This year in particular was great for film so I expected heated races. Given that, I think this year’s awards are pretty good(even though I wish more A24 pieces got recognized)- they’re actually better than most years.Happy that Parasite got some of the recognition it deserves.

    • It’s honestly incredible just how much hype has built for Parasite. I honestly believe it has a great chance in the Director and Best Picture fields.

  5. I’m going to write something about this shortly, and while I haven’t quite sorted out my thoughts, my guess is my opinion will fall somewhere between what you wrote and those demanding more representation.

    Stephen King’s argument is quite common in debates over affirmative action. The problem with his argument, is that most judgements about merit are fairly subjective. Are all of the male nominees for best director deserving? Probably (admittedly I’m not that interested in 1917). Are they all OBJECTIVELY better than the directors of Little Women, The Farewell or Booksmart? One would have to be pretty confident in one’s position to argue that.

    Those who want representation would argue that awards are subjective and therefore it doesn’t matter if Greta Gerwig is only the 6th or 10th or even 15th best director of the year: she’s undoubtedly an accomplished, “deserving” director who would fit well on the stage with the other nominees. Nominating based on merit is a subjective task, so there’s no harm in modifying one’s choices slightly for reasons of representation.

    • What a man! It’s incredible to think he never won an Oscar, actually it’s mind-blowing. But that is so true, if he were overlooked today I am sure there would be someone say it’s because his Italian.

  6. I’m an avid movie-goer. Over the years, I’ve decided on directors, actors, costume designers, cinematographers, music and many other of crew members who are favorites. In fact, I’m one of those “credit watchers.” A fellow whom I worked with in community theater is co-owner of Legacy Effects and started out in the Stan Winston Studio. With Legacy he has designed and created Captain America’s, Iron Man’s and Thor’s suits. He did the creature design for The Shape of Water, Godzilla movies, and Aliens. He was a puppeteer for Big Fish. His first shot in Hollywood was on the movie Terminator. You can bet I look for his name in the credits. (I always cheer for him.) He’s just a plain old white kid who came up from nowhere, but his stuff is really good and he HAS won awards; you jut never see those on the big show.

    I agree with Mr. King. Quality work is the main thing. It’s the quality work that we notice while watching the film. Unless we have an ax to grind. To me, with someone with experience in creating film and television, no one really cares while we’re in production whether you’re black, white, female, male, or plaid (heh). We just want people who are good at what they do.

    I agree with your remark in the original post: “People I know don’t only go to films only directed by white men or only directed by women, they just want good films, they just want to be entertained and for many voters I am sure they are much the same when they sit back and appreciate a film that has resonated with them.” Of course, selection of nominees and selection of the winners is subjective. It’s like your reviews, Eddie. You know what you like and what you don’t like, and you back it up with “why.” If we were to say, “Well, I liked *this actor* but *I like *this other one* because he’s black, that doesn’t do anyone any good.

    We can take the diversity thing too far, in my opinion. It’s almost as if Academy members would have to be — at least in their heads to make someone happy — nominating Best Black/Asian/Hispanic actor in a (fill in the production position here). Enough is enough. Pg

    • Paula thanks so much for sharing, I think you’ve made some wonderful points!

      I really hope the industry can work through these issues that get into the press and take over the headlines, it’s just at the point where I feel like enough is enough, lets just focus on shining a spotlight on the good films and the great people that make them.

  7. A couple of years ago, I read a blog post about a school teacher who spoke about making sure that their students read books from non-mainstream/People of Color/non-binary folks. I commented pretty much the same thing: books should be read based on what the content is and not who the author is.

    She replied, politely, saying that yes ideally that would be the perfect scenario. But she also said that is not the case as some authors don’t have to face the same obstacles as the ones she recommends because of who they are. It is not about what material is deserving, it is about what makes that material deserving. In simple terms it would be quality = work – obstacles.

    And unless the works done by the authors is recognized, the obstacles won’t decrease.

    Yes oscars and a school teachers’ choices are completely different ballgame. One is in recognizing of great work, the other is just a reading list with no clear winner.

    But until the system is changed to give a level playing field, some underprivileged folks would have to be given a leg up: even as simple as expanding the number of nominees to make sure works are recognized from as many sectors as possible.

    • I think one of the great things nowdays is with streaming services, there’s so much more chance for films of all shapes and sizes being seen. In a cinema space where really only a handful of smaller films often from upcoming directors etc are breaking a year, these streaming services allow much higher profiles to everyone and everything which is great.

  8. Pingback: The Oscars and Diversity – Daniel’s Writing Cornor·

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