One Approach To The Recent Controversy In Hollywood
#OscarSoWhite is quite the controversy these days. And I get it, with 94% of the Academy voters being Caucasian it seems like a biased system. And African-Americans have received much more love and recognition from the Academy than other minorities. In the 88 year history of the Academy Awards 14 African-Americans have won an Oscar but only 5 Latino Actors, 3 Asian Actors and 1 Native American have received the same honor. But the Academy isn’t the only one awarding just one segment of the population. Did you know that 94% of Studio CEOs are Caucasian, and 100% are male. (According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.) So leading roles, for the most part, aren’t given to minorities, and few stories are written about their experiences. These statistics scream for change and most Hollywood actors, directors and technicians agree. Even the head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sheryl Boone Isaacs, who is the first African-American to lead the organization, stated that change is coming. By the year 2020 there should be a more ethnically diverse and balanced Academy.
While these statistics and facts are important and are leading to change, they are not the artwork and in my opinion the Oscars are not the point. We have glorified that small golden statue when the real prize is the art of a well told depiction of something truthful. What we, the fans and film buffs should hope for are more opportunities to hear those true stories and watch a diverse cast share something real with us. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the Oscars, it’s a night full of glamour and a life that seems surreal to most people. And it’s fun and right to celebrate when something’s completed and done well! But the goal is not the award, the point is what’s accomplished.
There are many other points and obstacles involved and I get lost in the details. But with all those opinions and thoughts swirling around in my head, I thought it best to watch a few films this week. I watched Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Dope, Training Day, Gone With the Wind, In the Heat of the Night and Boyz n the Hood. So here’s the thing, I’m a white woman and most of the time I’m not diverse in my film selection. I stick with what I know and change is hard. And while I think it is cool to watch foreign films I have avoided movies by American artists that depict life that I cannot relate too. This is unacceptable on my part. The point of this self assignment and article was not to critique these films but to watch and enjoy them, “Ya Dig?” (I totally fell head over feet for Virgil Tibbs played amazingly by Mr. Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night.) Oscar might be “So White” but I can learn from and appreciate the African-American artists in the film industry.
I enjoyed every single film, and two of them have become favorites. 1967’s In the Heat of the Night reminded me so much of the little town my father grew up in Edgefield, South Carolina. Home of Strom Thurmond, the only man to run for president as a Dixiecrat, Edgefield and Sparta Mississippi are comparable. Watching Virgil Tibbs’ heroic choice to stay and wrestle with the people of Sparta was gut-wrenching. He’s trying to do a job! He’s trying to help out a town! He’s trying to find a killer! All the while the white folks are trying to kill him because he’s black. I’ve never experienced anything like that, I’m praised and helped for mediocre work. I know my own hardships but I will never understand the opposition that African-American’s faced in the South. PS… The fact that Sidney Poitier was not nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 is scandalous! His work in To Sir, With Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, all released in 1967, is first-class and Oscar worthy! Also, the music for In the Heat of the Night is SO GOOD! Quincy Jones composed the soundtrack to the film and Ray Charles wrote an amazing title song, both were over looked by the Academy.
I saw Straight Outta Compton much too late in the season. It should have been on my Top Ten List. It’s a fascinating look at the group NWA throughout the 80’s and 90’s. I did not listen to NWA as a 12 year old girl going to a private Christian school. Shocking, I know. Nope, I was listening to NKOTB and Carmen’s “The Champion”. Straight Outta Compton is the captivating true story that starts with kids in a tough neighborhood and ends with mega innovators Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. DR. FREAKING DRE, who just sold Beats to Apple for $3 Billion! Again, watching the struggle these men faced from the outset because they are young black males was upsetting. NWA’s music doesn’t represent my life but I can learn so much from their story. And the issues that the United States faced during those years, e.g. Rodney King, are completely current, e.g. #BlackLivesMatter. Also, It’s really cool to see Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr. play Ice Cube in the film. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
This is just the beginning for me. Next on the To Watch List are Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X and I’m going to re-watch The Color Purple. (It’s my mom’s favorite film!) My hope is Hollywood, not just The Academy but Studio Executives as well, will be diverse and not so exclusive. And I hope the same for myself with my film choices. Is #OscarSoWhite? This year the answer is yes, but that doesn’t have to be the case next year. We do choose what movies we watch and we can hope for change! So check out one of the films mentioned above, I recommend them all. PS… Straight Outta Compton should have been nominated for best picture, that’s my two-cents opinion.