Not a day goes by without someone new “weighing in” on the Oscars So White row. Yesterday it was Obama’s turn, today it’s mine. Say what you will about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but they know how to keep entertainment hacks busy. The diversity in opinions crowding for attention since the nominations were announced a fortnight ago has ranged from timely reflections on the state of the film industry to ignorant drivel (here’s looking at you Charlotte).
What has been surprising isn’t the existence of blinkered prejudice in the entertainment world but the widespread expectation that the Oscars are meant to be representative in the first place. Rather, the world according to Oscar has always been more 50s country club than state of the nation. It believes male and female actors do different things and can’t possibly compete against one another. The tradesman’s entrance acting award is surely the ‘supporting’ category – supporting what exactly? And why does a whole country get awarded the foreign film Oscar (a category that is surely outdated in a globalised world)?
There is an argument that the Academy isn’t the cause but the symptom of scarce opportunity across the industry. “Shame on us” proclaimed Variety in a powerful editorial this week that lambasted all levels of the system –from out of touch white studio execs to narrow-minded talent agencies to esteemed media mouthpieces that go along with it all.
All worthy stuff. But don’t let the Oscars off the hook too easily. They’ve long since forfeited any claim to awarding cinematic excellence (Forrest Gump better than Pulp Fiction, really? Driving Miss Daisy better than anything in any year?). At best the Oscars are a PR showcase for keeping Hollywood relevant. However, as the Academy’s makeup currently stands -94% white and with an average age of 63- any attempt to maintain its fantasy will unravel. Not only is diversifying this constituency essential but there are also reasonable grounds for instating a quota for BME talent. Many baulk at this but are not the actress categories also a form of positive discrimination that means not only that more women are recognised but also that more challenging female roles are created by awards hungry studios? BME quotas may be dismissed as stunt and are obviously imperfect but until the atavistic hierarchies and entrenched exclusions within the film industry are stamped out such measures can only be helpful. Even stunts have been known to make a difference.