The excitement is building for this year’s Academy Awards on Sunday, but the national conversation about why some films with predominately black casts were largely snubbed and the lack of inclusion in Hollywood generally has also not quieted down.
A recent University of Southern California study highlighted the extreme lack of racial and gender diversity, not just on the big screen, but also in production roles and in industry boardrooms as well. And on the heels of that study, a Washington Post report published Tuesday revealed that some unnamed, elderly Oscar voters wouldn’t even consider watching the acclaimed 2015 hip-hop biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” while another rejected the blockbuster film after just watching part of it for being “too loud.”
As the controversy over the second straight year of all-white acting nominees at the Oscars has begun to die down, the focus has shifted to just how few woman and people of color have power in the industry. “The heart of the problem isn’t who gets nominated. The heart of the problem is how the industry works,” Jennifer Warren, an academy member as well as a director, actress and founding member of the Alliance of Women Directors, told the Post.
According to the Post, minorities made up close to 50 percent of all the movie ticket buyers in 2014 (although they comprise just 37 percent of the general population as a whole) and yet they are not being represented in proportionate numbers on screen, getting directing jobs or playing a significant role in the development of big screen projects. A recent New York Times piece, which looks at the experiences of artists in front of and behind the camera who aren’t straight white men, reveals incredible prejudices and insulting experiences that even A-list talent routinely face.
Actress Teyonah Parris was once told she talked too “ghetto,” and actor Wendell Pierce was told he couldn’t be in a Shakespeare film because they “didn’t have black people then.” Eva Longoria was encouraged to speak with an accent and to darken her skin because she didn’t appear “Latin enough,” and Oscar-winner Julia Roberts once had to fight to avoid appearing in a scene wearing a micro-mini skirt.
On the other hand, actor Jamie Foxx, who won the Best Actor Academy Award in 2005 for his performance in “Ray,” thinks that underrepresented groups in the industry doth complain too much. “All these Oscar talks, I don’t even trip about that,” Foxx reportedly said at the American Black Film Festival awards on Sunday. “I mean, what’s the big deal? I was sitting at home with my Oscar, like ‘What’s all the hubbub?’”
He allegedly later added: “Me and Denzel were like, ‘Hashtag what’s the big deal? Hashtag act better.’”
And while the uproar has prompted calls for a boycott, reforms to Oscar voting, and even calls for a black-run major studio, some black filmmakers and artists are pooling their resources to make a difference outside of cinema altogether.
According to Buzzfeed, “Creed” director Ryan Coogler, widely seen as one of the overlooked filmmakers of color this year, is organizing a free benefit event for the embattled population of Flint, Michigan, that will feature an all-star line up, ironically on Oscar night. Flint has been reeling from a tainted water crisis that has grabbed national headlines and inspired a great deal charitable of celebrity action.
Coogler has recruited comedian Hannibal Buress to host. Musical artist Janelle Monae, “Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams, and “Selma” director Ava DuVernay are all scheduled to appear at the event too, which will be live-streamed on revoltTV, entitled “#JUSTICEFORFLINT.”
“With the #JUSTICEFORFLINT benefit event we will give a voice to the members of the community who were the victims of the choices of people in power who are paid to protect them, as well as provide them with a night of entertainment, unity, and emotional healing,” Ryan Coogler told BuzzFeed News. “Through the live stream we will also give a chance for people around the world to participate, and to donate funds to programs for Flint’s youth.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday night, millions of eyes will be on the host of this year’s Oscars, comedian Chris Rock, to see how he will address the embattled state of Hollywood. Rock famously once called the film business a “white industry,” and has reportedly re-written his entire opening monologue to address the #OscarsSoWhite debate. Although his first Oscar hosting stint 11 years ago polarized Hollywood insiders, he may be the one person who can redeem them now.