I find it intellectually interesting that just a few days after the country celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King, that we have such a forceful issue dealing with his message. Normally I couldn’t care less, or desire to comment, about a circular firing squad emanating from Hollywood, but I feel compelled today for some reason.
Lots of reasonable people can read these words different ways:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
But to me, when King says he wants people not to be judged off the color of their skin, I’m pretty sure he means he doesn’t want people to be judged off the color of their skin.
Yet today’s professed problem with the Oscars is that they’re judging people based off the color of their skin. Titan-of-Humanity George Timothy Clooney says Hollywood is “moving in the wrong direction“.
But what are the Oscars anyways? The organization has been a panel of white man slime since its existence. For instance, all those old Hollywood legends of how they treated young women didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Which has always kind of made me wonder why so many people take the Oscars so seriously.
What exactly is supposed to happen here? If the Academy doesn’t nominate black performers it’s not diverse? So should they have just thrown in two or three black performers, just to keep the controversy away from the panel?
What about Asians? How many is the Academy required to nominate each year? What about lesbians or gays? How many each year is an acceptable number? Is there a set quota that will scratch the itch of every interest group, racial, ethnic, religious, or gender background? And while we’re at the elimination of gender roles, why do the Oscars even continue to nominate based off male or female categories? Shouldn’t we force the Academy to create a single category for all performers? Or at least create a category for all 17 of these newfangled gender roles? You can really take this craziness down a long road to which there is no end.
So to me, the solution simply comes back to King’s dream: judge by character, and nothing else. Which occasionally, yeah, it might mean no performer of a particular identity gets nominated.
So some of you would make the argument that the Academy is not judging by character, and that if it did, there would be more black nominees. Eh, perhaps, but almost every article I’ve read on this issue mentions skin color first as the issue at hand, and not character. I also get that the business is the business. And in the Hollywood business, if you have an Oscar you’re a freaking legend, and if you don’t you’re not. Which is why the Oscars are so important an issue.
But still, at any rate, whatever the situation, I now offer a few belligerent solutions:
1) Stop pretending the Oscars are a meaningful benchmark
Is this the pinnacle of filmmaking? Why? Because the Oscars been around since 1929? So they’re the true benchmark of success because they’re old? These are the judgmental jackasses who picked Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan and gave a best director award to an acknowledged child rapist. I’m not sure what a proper replacement is, but at a certain point maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the opinions of a bunch of faceless big shots doesn’t equal what’s actually a great performance.
2) Stop going to the Oscars
The one thing I’m very okay with regarding this latest round of shouting is that folks are actually putting their actions where their mouths are. Usually Spike Lee just complains but then goes on like nothing happened. This time he’s not going. Good on him. If you truly believe in something, don’t participate. It removes the element of hypocrisy. As I wrote above, I don’t necessarily understand how Lee and the others are going to get the result they want, but at least they’re showing they mean what they say
3) Create your own benchmark
If you’re a young white/black/etc/etc/etc filmmaker or performer then what’s your definition of success after say 40 years in the business? I submit, if your benchmark is, “I won an Oscar”, you’re missing the point. Just as if a writer’s definition is, “I won a Pulitzer”. Those things might be neat, but they aren’t life and they certainly aren’t art. They’re just the voting intentions of a panel of other human beings. Good movies, literature, art, are all things that transcend silly little voting exercises. Art at its best is composed of the things that define the “content” of our character. If you ask me, if you want to move in the right direction? Forget fixing the Oscars. Create your own benchmark. Create your own dream that isn’t based off an award chosen by others. That’s the right direction to go.