Robb Report Singapore‘s raving reporter Andrew Leci dissects tokenism at the Academy Awards
Who can forget the Oscars back in 2015? When the nominees were announced, it was brought to the world’s attention that there was not a single person of colour in the categories of lead or supporting actor.
‘#OscarsSoWhite’ was coined by April Reign, a writer, editor and former lawyer, and it went viral in less time than it took for the members of the Academy to clench their teeth before uttering a collective “oops.”
Hollywood reacted – as Hollywood does – decisively and with the subtlety of a flying mallet, ensuring that future editions had more ethnic and cultural diversity by throwing gongs at pretty much every group of people they could think of.
Was it knee-jerk tokenism or an attempt at greater representation?
The answer is like a gasket; manifold. In a nutshell, a bit of both. Ultimately, it doesn’t much matter, because a road paved with good intention was embarked upon, and while the final destination is a long way off – there are plenty of potholes to be navigated along the way – we are now in a better place than we were.
The 2019 Academy Awards has reached an almost unprecedented level of diversity, which is good for the bearers and the wavers of flags alike. It’s also good for the soul of the Academy – undoubtedly the product of some serious searching within that soul. The problem is that the questions are being asked by a very different group of people from those who are entrusted with providing the answers.
Despite a new ‘selection process’ in 2016 that saw the induction of 683 new members – 46 per cent of whom were women and 41 per cent of whom were people of colour – the 6,000-odd members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are almost 70 per cent male and just under 90 per cent Caucasian. The average member is above 60 years of age and, allegedly, only 15 per cent of those responsible for dispensing the delightful statuettes are below the age of 50.
While this is not nearly as diverse as the nominees in the post-2015 years, it’s not difficult to see why certain choices have been made and why worthy projects and performances were ignored in the past. No matter how learned, experienced and objective an individual may be, a 65-year-old white man is probably going to have tastes that differ from those of a 20-year-old black woman.
Who will be this year’s big winner?
Generally speaking, I only like to make predictions after an event has taken place, as this reduces the likelihood of looking like an idiot. While it’s difficult to second-guess more than 6,000 people, I would suggest that the Best Picture award will not go to Roma, despite the movie being a frontrunner and having already picked up a barrel-full of accolades and shiny trinkets at the recent BAFTAs.
While Roma is the kind of film that wannabe film enthusiasts would love to love, it’s also, unfortunately, not that good, in my opinion. Cinema lovers appear to be divided into two camps: those who are complimenting the emperor on his magnificent new clothes, and those who realise that he is naked. Academy members may love to think that they might vote for it – it’s studied, arty and slow, and a self-conscious, self-reverential labour of love.
What may be even more important, however, is that its director, Alfonso Cuaron, is Mexican. Should Roma win, it would be tangible, unspoken proof that the Academy disagrees with the negative stereotypes typically associated with the Mexican community, particularly those made by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential election campaign. It would also, in some sense, further the argument for not building a border wall between the two countries at a cost of US$5 billion.
I would stake my reputation on the fact that the majority of Academy members don’t vote Republican, and this would be just the kind of slap in the face they would be happy to deliver to the incumbent US administration. It’s an interesting variation on the political correctness that everyone seems so keen to embrace. No one would accuse the Academy of lacking objectivity, either back in the day or now. I am sure that in their hearts, they are doing, and have done the right thing in terms of tiptoeing through the minefield of political correctness.
The fact that they have to be mindful of this informs the tokenism/representation debate, but it’s one that can no longer be swept under the red carpet. The move towards greater ethnic and cultural diversity has gained momentum and is changing the landscape of cinema and beyond, for the better, and it’s about time.
The world expects a good showing on February the 24th in Los Angeles; let’s hope that the next hashtag that goes viral is not, #OscarsSoSo.