Saturday, 17 January 2015

Black People Can't Act & Diversity Sucks

2015's Oscar nominations caused a bit of an uproar didn't they? And quite rightly. All of the 20 nominated actors and actresses were white. Of the 10 writers nominated not a single one was a woman. And yep, you guessed it, no female directors received any gongs either.

Everyone jokes about the Oscars being racist and sexist, but how true is it actually? And how far does this extend into the rest of the industry?

Just saying it now: I disagree with the idea of "diversity" and here is why...

The Hollywood Reporter says an all-white nominations list has not occurred since 2011, and before that 1998. Are we supposed to be comforted by those stats? I'm not - I find it even more worrying actually because that means this has happened at least 3 times in my relatively short life.

The Golden Globes, arguably second biggest film awards, did not seem to snub diversity quite as much and David Oyelowo (actor, Selma) and Ava Duvernay (director, Selma) were nominated. But then apparently racial and gender diversity hopes were all pinned on this one film.

Why are there not more films with a diverse cast? Why so few female directors and writers?

Let's pretend for a moment that the Academy is not racist or sexist. Yeah I know it's hard, but let's imagine that they are a completely objective and impartial judging panel, just for a moment. If that is the case, then the blame lies with the film studios and producers.

Now these studios and producers want to win an Oscar - it's a great marketing tool and "Oscar-fodder" is a term we are all familiar with. Perhaps then you could argue that they aim to produce films that are more likely to win. If you look purely at the numbers, probability of winning is mathematically more favourable if you have a white male lead, a male director and if it's written by a man. So perhaps they are just copying the formula.

Except shit, sorry, we're pretending the Academy isn't racist or sexist and so of course there is no "formula" for winning an Oscar.

Producers will tell you they would love to work with a more diverse cast and crew but that there is a lack of talent available.

The blame is with the actors and writers and directors then, surely? Maybe black people can't act, women can't direct and films written by either party won't sell? Maybe only white men are able to make films?

Well we know that's bullshit.

Let's put that to one side then and say that the producers and film studios aren't racist or sexist either. Why is there a lack of female writers & directors in film? Why are most successful actors and actresses white? Reminder: these are facts - inarguable, hard facts backed up by numbers. There is a lack of diversity in the film industry.

The argument over why is long and well-covered in wider media. Some argue that women willingly leave the industry to have children before they make it big, others that women are actively deterred by producers who don't want to invest time in a woman who could get pregnant. Others blame a lack of opportunity (through poverty, education or cultural restrictions) for the lack of diversity in upcoming actors/actresses. The list goes on...  

If that is the case, then a cultural shift is what's needed to bridge the diversity gaps in film. And I think we are fast approaching one - it is evident in the hullabaloo on Twitter. People want equality and eventually (and I hope sooner rather than later) this will seep upwards. We will have more female writers/directors and actors/actresses of every colour, producers will have more talent to choose from and the Academy will just award Oscars to the best in those films.

Except no, I forgot! We were pretending the Academy weren't racist or sexist. Because in reality, of their 6,000 members, 94% are white, 77% are male and 86% are aged 50 or over. How could they possibly, successfully judge the biggest global film awards when they represent such an anorexic slither of the audience?

Simply put, the Academy needs to evolve and adapt, and we all know old men don't like change.

However, in defence of Hollywood's pantheon, there is someone else to blame. And it's us - the audience. We need to support the independent films more. We opt to see the latest Marvel film at the cinema (because Disney just don't make enough money) and illegally download the rest.

To touch on it from another, more sensitive angle... Did anyone feel all films featuring a black lead have been a bit similar? 12 Year's a Slave, Django Unchained... and now Selma? I understand that it is really important to recognise and speak about the oppression and suffering of black people, of the slave-trade and segregation. It's a hideous, bloody stain on the history of mankind. But, naturally, audiences don't want to be weighed down with it all the time; we go to the cinema for escapism, after all. I don't excuse it, but that is part of the reason behind it.

Can black actors/actresses only appear in films about race? I see more of a problem in this than I do in the Oscar nominations themselves. Why couldn't they have cast a black actor in Birdman, for example? (To be fair to the white actors nominated, 4 out of 5 were for roles in biopics: you couldn't cast a black actor as Stephen Hawking... But, again, what does it say about our culture that we have so few stories of black men and women worthy of film?)

I would love to see a black actor nominated in a film that had nothing to do with race and inequality. I would love for a woman to win Best Screenplay and no one remark on her gender. Surely that should be the aim?

Personally I hope that one day we will stop talking of diversity altogether. The word is wrong to me - diversity signals differences. We should stop looking at our differences and just see everyone as the same: human.

It's the same as those "Equal Opportunities" pages at the end of job applications. Surely by asking for a person's race, gender, religion and sexuality, these "equal opportunity" employers are giving weight to those labels? For a truly equal and fair system we should reject this categorisation of one another.

Imagine if, then, the Academy wasn't told who directed or wrote each film - if they didn't know the race/gender of these filmmakers, would their nominations remain the same? Only then would the judging be completely impartial. For actors such a method would obviously be impossible, but I do wonder what will happen when eventually a transgender person is nominated... I look forward to the Twitter storm over which category they belong in.

I doubt it will be long and my bet's on Conchita Wurst. Then maybe they will stop separating the awards into Best Actor and Best Actress too. Instead, there will simply be a Best Performance award. ...In a perfect world *sigh*.