Wednesday, January 20, 2016

oscars so white : why it matters

We should care about what's going on with the Oscars two years in a row.

Will Smith was not nominated for his knock-out performance in "Concussion."  Idris Elba and Abraham Attah were overlooked for their critically acclaimed roles in "Beasts of No Nation."
"Change is coming, but it's going to take its sweet time," Eldris said in a speech to the British Parliament in a packed hearing yesterday. This is not just a North American issue.
 Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan were not nominated, in spite of  their powerful performances in "Creed."

Someone asked me if I thought it was intentional. As if there was a party going on and someone was not invited because they were Jewish, or blind, or gay.  This is how many white people think. Well did they do it on purpose? When did the movie business become a club that gets to pick who is invited?

Ever since certain standards of beauty began to rule our world.
Replace Jennifer Lawrence with a character actor, say someone with dark frizzy hair, non -smoldering eyes, a schlumpy body and non-sultry voice.  Would that actor have a chance for nomination with the script exactly as is? Would the mop-inventor the movie was based on have a chance to rise to the top "against all odds" if she had not been blonde and attractive according to this same standard of beauty? And what if we had a movie about an African American mop-maker--would that be a box office hit?

How many African American actors have been nominated for a movie where race was not a relevant factor or at least subtext? How ironic that anyone should suggest race does not matter, least of all in the movie industry. Imagine if every white actor played only in movies about race, and all the romantic comedies and epic adventures and science fiction films were cast exclusively with Asian, Hispanic and African American actors.  

Exclusion may or may not be intentional, but inclusion--or more specifically, the genuine state of being an inclusive human being, is a quality that can be learned and cultivated, and in some cases we choose to set a standard for inclusion, otherwise we will revert back to the oh, whatever mode of operation. Perhaps inclusion is not the opposite of exclusion but simply a crafty variant, because the very word implies that there is a group that makes the choices about inviting or dissing.

To many,  it is a question of honoring those who deserve to be honored. Period. To some white people this is a no big deal non-situation. (Just like Katrina!) It just happened! Right? Why is everyone so hurt about it? 

But the exclusion of people of  diverse background and race from an American Institution is about more than offended feelings; it's issue of human rights. 

I've been thinking about this issue and writing about it for days, and have become humbled. Each aspect opens another door and raises another question, and at the core is a rotten root that I personally can not speak about clearly or eloquently, either in illuminating the issues or offering solutions. I can only turn the light of inquiry onto myself. I can only say I feel crushed about the state of  inequality and the lack of justice in our world and the cruelty and the exclusivity, every time I witness it in the world at large or fall victim to it, as a member of a variety of subcultures. It is obviously not just feelings or careers but lives which hang in the balance when it comes to issues of racism, prejudice and inequality.

All I can do is become accountable for my own actions and reactions and come to be aware of my own choices. Become willing to be conscious of what I am doing and why I am doing it, and witness whether my action bring unity or division. And learn.

I learned a lot in my mostly white hipster town when I stood for a few hours last summer with a sign that said #blacklivesmatter. The racist filth that was spewed from the mouths of more than one bystander as well as the support of other onlookers who took up signs, was not that surprising; what was most surprising is that when I repeated the story, many were shocked: not in our town! Yes in our town! Perhaps even in your own mind!

What many white people don't understand and never will, is that there is not a level playing field.

Here are some areas where there is a level playing field for people of all races, cultures, genders and sexual and religious preferences, and all mental capacities and physical capacities:

We all are born, we all die; we all bleed and breathe.

If only we all had the same potential to suffer and to feel compassion, to be open to new ways of
thinking and acting so we might live lives that are more meaningful, useful, enjoyable and manageable. Some say we do!

It's taken me half a century to get to the point where I can stop making excuses long enough to listen and consider other's ways and other's rights, and the effect my actions and words have on others--in a healthy way. I'm not talking about shoving down my feelings or the truth of my heart and wisdom, but saying yes to life, yes to positive action, yes to achievement. One turning point for me has been to turn to the goal of unity and diversity and to turn to solutions rather than proving I'm right or having my way.

Some things are deal breakers. I can't say yes to physical and mental abuse. But physical and mental abuse is threaded through our world in so many subtle ways. I can't dictate what the powers that be--(of the Academy Awards crew, or of the heads of corporations or states, or even my landlord)--should do, only make a choice about what I will do today.

I appreciate that there is a controversy happening over the all white Academy Awards nominees
and that the Academy president has issued a statement about the lack of diversity and plans for the future. This opens the door to discussion and inquiry and we hope, fresh air, better movies and justice for more if not all.

1 comment:

Norman Bacon said...

Jeez, so eloquently put, thank you