#OscarsSoWhite Was Important But The Oscars Were Not


In today’s social media driven, viral culture, it’s not uncommon for a singular story to dominate the news cycle, only to be completely forgotten about shortly thereafter. If you haven’t overdosed on flakka or been poisoned by lead, think back to a couple of weeks ago when Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee announced, via their Instagram accounts, that they wouldn’t be attending Sunday’s Academy Awards over the exclusively eggshell pigment of the nominees.

Thanks to social media, their boycott then became a movement with momentum. #OscarsSoWhite, the movement’s popularly elected Twitter banner, was trending for a matter of weeks – which is basically the highest validation something can receive nowadays. Joining their call for more diversity in films were: black people – tired of not being represented in films, black actors – tired of being racially type casted, and white actors – apparently tired of being over-represented.

The movement to boycott the Oscars got so popular that some called for Chris Rock (the man doesn’t need an introduction), to join the cause and step down as host. As a result, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, issued a statement saying that she was “heartbroken” over the lack of diversity and that she would do everything in her power to fix it.

All of this and more, came to a head Sunday night at the ceremony. Leonardo DiCaprio’s prayers were answered and Chris Rock showed up, making the event a go. This was despite George Clooney among others, but namely George Clooney, being absent.

With his opening monologue, Rock wasted no time in addressing the racist elephant in the room. While his opening monologue was comedically brilliant, it will be remembered as the best opening monologue of all time because it summed up the current state of diversity and representation in the entertainment industry so well. Like much of Chris Rock’s comedy, the genius of it lay in between the lines. Sure the punch lines slayed, but the subtexts made you really think.

In regards to the show’s opening sequence, which included snippets from many of the year’s snubs, Rock said, “Man, I counted at least 15 black people on that montage. I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White people’s Choice Awards.” In this choice line, Rock prophetically calls out the Academy for its after-the-fact attempts at diversity. I say it was prophetic because it just so happened that every commercial belonging to an Academy sponsor featured a mixed race or black family. However, the most painfully contrived example of pandering came at the end of the show, when Public Enemy’s Fight The Power played over the credits. My eyes were rolling so hard, I almost passed out.

After letting the initial shock, caused by directly calling the Oscars racist die, Rock pointed out the inherent irony of the #OscarsSoWhite movement by saying: “Why are we protesting? The big question: Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know? It’s the 88th Academy Awards. It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. O.K.? You gotta figure that it happened in the 50s, in the 60s — you know, in the 60s, one of those years Sidney didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say ‘62 or ‘63, and black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time, you know? We had real things to protest; you know, we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”

This is what makes Chris Rock a genius. His comedy operates on multiple levels. What he’s saying, most clearly, is that the Oscars have never been diverse. But what he’s really getting at is the systematic racism in Hollywood. Through further implication, he’s also exposing the nearsightedness of people who don’t agree with the #OscarsSoWhite message. People in other decades never protested the obviously racist Oscar ceremonies, because they had other things on their plate like trying not to be killed. But that doesn’t make the Oscars any less racist.

That being said, the Oscars aren’t diverse because Hollywood doesn’t offer good roles to black actors on a regular basis. Not because the voters are racist. When he hilariously pointed out that he “didn’t want to lose another job to Kevin Hart,” the implication was that as two comedic black actors, they’re offered the same roles. It also says that there aren’t enough jobs in Hollywood for the both of them. He revisits this point later when he says that Jamie Foxx was so good in Ray that Hollywood killed the real Ray Charles because they “didn’t need two of these”.

Rock then offered a caveat to the criticism of the Oscars by specifically addressing the people who started the movement. “But what happened this year? What happened? People went mad. Spike got mad – got mad, and Jada went mad, and Will went mad. Everybody went mad, you know? Jada got mad? Jada says she not coming, protesting. I’m like ain’t she on a TV show? Jada is going to boycott the Oscars – Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited. Oh, that’s not an invitation I would turn down.”

While he agrees with Jada and Spikes’ message, he’s a comedian and cultural commentator, so he’s paid to tell the whole truth, even when it’s unpopular. Jada is basically a television actress who is paid millions of dollars. Will, her husband, is an actor who has reaped the rewards of being the most bankable black actor in Hollywood – not the most prolific. The Smiths are not a relatable family with relatable problems. Moreover, Concussion is also not exactly the movie to scream “racism!” over either. It’s a PG-13 Sports drama – not exactly Oscar material. That being said, Rock doesn’t mention Spike in any of this because Chiraq was a great movie. But Spike Lee is well…Spike Lee. His films are too controversial, too real, to win Academy awards. I’m not saying that it’s right but the Academy doesn’t often reward risk takers.

Rock then goes on by saying, “Not everything is sexism. Not everything is racism.” The Academy’s membership is mainly comprised of old, wrinkled, white men. So what’s happening here isn’t exactly police brutality racism, it’s more, old-lady-clutching-her-purse racism. It’s the summation of unconscious bias and the result of archaic perceptions of highbrow art.

This is what an organization that is totally out of touch with the public, looks like. This is what Rock is getting at when he points out that Hollywood is home to the nicest, most-liberal, white people; they’ll vote for a black president, yet they won’t hire black actors. Despite their liberal sensibilities, their whole way of thinking about entertainment has been shaped by an archaic system that deals in “white stories”. After all, the institution they’re part of still refers to movies as “motion pictures”.

How many old people do you know saw Straight Outta Compton? How many old people you know of, know who the hell the N.W.A. are? As for Beasts of No Nation, yeah, it’s possible Oscar material, but it’s also a Netflix movie. Why the hell would the Academy of Motion pictures nominate a film that’s made by the same company (Netflix) that’s ravaging their industry, for anything? Oh, that’s right, they wouldn’t.

Despite the Oscars boycott, the general point of the #OscarsSoWhite movement is accurate. As Chris Rock puts it: “We want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.”

It seems that the only way a black person can be nominated for something is by playing a “mammy” or a slave. While it’s truly fucked up, it’s nothing new, and blaming The Academy misses the point.

Who we should really be mad at, are the studios. The studios decide what gets made and what doesn’t. They’re the ones who only want to make films dealing in the stalest of stereotypes. They’re the ones who only want Soulplane quality movies made with all black casts.

When Rock talked about Paul Giamatti playing someone who hates black people one year and playing someone who loves black people another, he’s inferring something about the industry. He later says it out right: white actors get great roles, real roles, all the time. Black actors don’t. They are confined to the archetypes and stereotypes created by the older generation.

Only in a Hollywood that’s racist can an insane monologue about fucking fried chicken happen ina movie that won a bunch of Oscars (The Help). Only in a totally out of touch Hollywood could that god-forsaken movie about that white guy who saves the inner-city black kids from themselves, keep being made. You know the movie that I’m talking about. The one with that white guy the black kid’s don’t trust him at first, because of their rough upbringing and all that bullshit, so they treat him badly. But eventually he wins them over and they learn to trust him. He then teaches them about the beauty of learning or creative expression. He gets them out of the projects, they teach him how to dance. These movies are tired, embarrassing, and insulting.

However, the studios are only interested in making money, so they don’t care about the cultural or societal repercussions that their trash movies are having on America. They’ve been doing it for so long that these stereotypes have become embedded in movie-watching language without most people even knowing it.

It’s not an accident that we don’t have an Asian American or Native American Ryan Gosling type of actor. To these old, white, wrinkled men, white is the “norm”. White culture and white people are considered the mainstream audience, which is where most of the money is to be made. That’s why the media has labeled Eddie Murphy and Kevin Hart, two of the biggest actor-comedians of all time, “cross-over” artists. As in, they successfully crossed over from the niche (black) market to the mainstream (white) market.

Getting mad at the Academy Awards is pointless. Yes, they’re celebrating their craft but it’s also an award show of made-up importance. All it is, is an event where beautiful people, who are already worshipped by the culture, further exacerbate their self-importance by giving each other golden statues of no inherent value. It only takes about $100 to make one of those creepy things. Giving them any more attention than that is a waste of time and energy.