Thursday, January 14, 2016

Whitey Oscars Darken Hollywood

Alan Rickman?

Nope.  Never heard of him.

Not until this morning, that is, as some talking heads on the radio were lamenting his death, and recounting what they considered to be his iconic Hollywood roles.

As today has marched on, I've seen tributes and memorials all over the Internet to this fellow.  Who knew he was such an important and admired actor?  Well, just about everybody else on planet Earth but me, apparently.

I've told you before that I rarely go to the movies.  Hollywood doesn't seem to make what I want to see.  I'm not into science-fiction.  I don't want to be frightened when I pay money for "entertainment."  I don't want Hollywood to preach to me - as if their morals are any better than mine.  When I want to be entertained, I simply want to laugh.  Which is why Airplane! (the PG version) remains my favorite movie of all time.  Slapstick?  It's not annoying to me; it's refreshing.

"By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?"
"You can tell me.  I'm a doctor."
"And don't call me 'Shirley.'"
"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."

Oh - they get me every time!

Still, I know that most people regularly get their kicks from the movies - all sorts of movies - which is why they know who Alan Rickman is - or, was.

But our society's collective remorse over Rickman's death illustrates more than simply my disconnect with pop culture.  This morning, this year's crop of Oscar nominations was announced, and considerable murmurs have begun to stir across the social media firmament about what a white-out it is.

None of the twenty spots for actor nominees went to anybody other than a white person.  And this is the second year in a row that Hollywood has gone all-white.

Kinda odd for an industry that claims to pride itself on political correctness, don't you think?

Now, on the one hand, perhaps it doesn't mean anything that the Academy thinks this year's industry output doesn't have any stand-out "minority" actors in it.  Of all the art forms, it seems as though high-quality movie acting is one of the most subjective.  Since I haven't been to the movies in years, I'm not sure I'd know what modern Hollywood - and its audience - considers good acting anymore.  But even though I'm not a movie buff, it's hard for me to believe that all the best actors this year were white.  And if that is indeed the case, then Hollywood has a lot of explaining to do, and a lot of apologizing to do.

After all, we've heard about how insular Hollywood can be, even with these popular "indie" projects that are purported to be so avant-garde and non-mainstream.  We've heard about how studios like to go with proven formulas and proven actors, even though the suffocating star system supposedly is history.  We've heard about how hard it is for females and non-whites to make it big behind the screen, as producers and studio executives.

Remember that cringe-worthy video of white actor Matt Damon trying to explain diversity to a black female filmmaker last September?

Even if, in the purest, most objective sense, plenty of Hollywood insiders simply did not detect any nominee-worthy non-white actors for this year's coveted Oscars, and there wasn't a shred of racism at play in their selection of nominees, isn't that alone something worthy of discussion?  Were all of the "good" movies about white people?  Why might that have been?  Or, are we supposed to believe that there were simply no good non-white actors working in all of Hollywood in 2015?

Accusations of racism have dogged the film industry for years, and some insiders shrug their shoulders and blame their audience, saying that filmmakers are only creating a product they know will sell... which means moviegoers mostly want to see white people in their flicks.  But that's a silly claim to make, isn't it?  I'd suspect that moviegoers primarily go to the moves to enjoy a good story, or fast-paced action, or amazing special effects.  How many people pick the movie they want to see based on the skin color of the actors in it?

This is a big deal simply because of how so many people are reacting today to the death of Alan Rickman, a white British guy.  He was not a super-star, or the iconic leading man.  But if you've gone to enough movies over the years, you've been exposed to his body of work.  Which means that you've been exposed to the body of work of many actors.

Duhh, right?  But think about what this means:  For many people, movies exist as a forceful component of their life experience, emotions, memories, and frame of reference.  So the people who act in these movies, in some way, become a part of the lives of people who pay to see them act.

And if most of these actors are of a particular gender or skin color, can you see how, for their audience, the world can get skewed a particular way, however indirectly?

For all its pompous bluster about political correctness, Hollywood needs to get this racial thing right.  After all, people are watching.

1 comment:

  1. Observation: In the midst of this lack of racial diversity, note that two of the films favored in the nominations focus on LGBT issues and characters (The Danish Girl, Carol). Seems a bit unbalanced to me. Discuss.


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