Isaiah Webster

Tag: Oscars

Boycotting the Oscars is pointless

The Oscars aren’t Black enough, and Hollywood’s Black community is threatening a boycott.

Since nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards were announced last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been under fire because all 20 of the acting nominations went to White people. Most Oscar observers felt Will Smith (”Concussion”) and Idris Elba (”Beats of No Nation”) were snubbed. Almost immediately, the uproar began, but it’s really picked up steam now that Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are urging a boycott.

The Academy has had a tortured history with race. Almost every year, the Oscars have faced criticism for a lack of diversity in its nominees. And even when Blacks have won Oscars — like Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” or Denzel Washington for “Training Day” — folks have complained that the winning roles didn’t project positive images of Black people.

Without question, the Academy doesn’t nominate enough people of color for Oscars. But there are two reasons for that, and it’s easily explained.

First, there are too few quality roles for Black and Latino actors. Moreover, Black and Latino people are rarely cast in quality roles where race and ethnicity is irrelevant. If people of color aren’t given quality roles in quality films, than it stands to reason they won’t be in contention for awards. It’s really that simple. The first step towards diversifying the Oscars is to diversify the people in quality roles.

Secondly, Academy members vote on who gets nominated for Academy Awards. Nominations aren’t decided by Hollywood popular vote or even by the success of a given film. In order to become a member of the Academy, you must first be nominated for an Oscar. Therefore, this creates a catch-22 for minorities. Since Blacks are few within the Academy, they can’t nominate more Blacks and thereby create more Black members. And even if the Academy suddenly did have more Black members, there aren’t sufficient Black roles in quality films that would warrant a proliferation in Oscar nominations.

It’s all a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself every few years, and leads to calls for boycotts.

Cynics might say that there are quality Black performances that are simply being ignored by the Academy. There is some truth in this. However, since human beings vote on the nominations, the Academy can’t remove bias from the nomination process even if it wanted to do so. Inherently, there’s no fairness in personal preferences; and that’s what’s happened to Oscar nominations.

For these reasons, boycotting the Oscars make little sense. The Academy is powerless to enact any significant change in who’s nominated. The Academy does have complete control of the ceremony, and this is where it has shown its commitment to diversity. In fact, Chris Rock is returning as host for the upcoming Oscar ceremony. Last year, many of the presenters were people of color. I’d expect these symbolic gestures to continue.

However, the movie studios and the casting directors have the biggest influence on who ultimately wins Oscars. It is the studios and casting directors who are passing over quality Black actors for quality roles. Boycotting the Oscars would be like addressing the symptoms, but not the underlying illness. Instead a making a big stink about the Academy Awards and who gets Oscars — we should invest our time and energy in ensuring people of color have an opportunity to be in quality cinema in the first place.

UPDATE: The Academy is changing its membership rules to be more diverse.

Countdown to the Oscars: 5 Ways to Make Sure the Show is a Winner

It won’t be long now before the envelopes are opened and winners announced at the 82nd annual Academy Awards. The live ceremony starts at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

Producing the Oscar telecast is not an easy job, but there are already signs that the people in charge of this year’s affair might offer up a show to fondly remember. The producers, Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, have already decided against having each nominated original song performed. Thank God! And unlike last year, when presenters were kept secret, Shankman and Mechanic have announced the presenters in waves to build buzz. Along with a host of young, pretty people, historic Oscar winners like Kathy Bates and Barbra Streisand have also been named presenters for the show.

It is inevitable that there will be more critics of the ceremony than people at it, but let’s face it, that’s all part of the fun. It’s unfortunate that the Academy chose two hosts (Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin) and ten best picture nominees, but there is nothing that can be done about that now.

Here are 5 ways that the producers could ensure that Sunday’s telecast is a winner:

Present supporting actress at the top of the show
Mo’Nique is a lock to win best supporting actress for “Precious.” She has won every preliminary award and everyone who follows the Academy believes that her chances of winning are near 100%. The producers should open the show by presenting the best supporting actress Oscar — even before the monologues. Mo’Nique gave very moving acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Her Oscar acceptance speech would inject the perfect emotional lift to kick off the ceremony. And even if she is upset, and what an upset it would be, the shear surprise of who wins would be a great opening to the show.

Return to tradition in who presents what to whom
Traditionally, the best actor from the previous year presents to the best actress of the current year. However, last year the Academy had five previous winners presenting each of the 4 acting awards. Does it really take 20 people to hand out 4 Oscars? Hell no! The length of the show is the one constant pitfall, so it just makes sense to limit the number of people who will be rambling on and on and on. Besides, the old tradition of a previous winner handing off to the new winner is actually quite poignant.

Limit clips to only the 10 films nominated for best picture
I have to admit that I do enjoy seeing the clips of classic movies during the Oscars, but must the show be halted every 30 minutes to show a set of clips? One of the biggest laughs Jon Stewart got when he hosted the Oscars in 2008 was when he poked fun at how they had run out of clips to show! The producers should resist the temptation to be nostalgic and only show clips of the 10 films vying for best picture of the year.

Switch up the order
It appears that we are heading into a very predictable ceremony. Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”), Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Bastards”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”) are all expected to win the acting prizes. The actors are why people watch the show, so if we already know who is going to win, it quickly becomes boring. To keep viewers engaged, the producers should move some things around. How about presenting best director during the first hour as opposed to the last 30 minutes? This change could pay off hugely, especially if “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow (pictured with best actor nominee Jeremy Renner) can edge out her ex-husband James Cameron (“Avatar”) and become the first woman to win an Oscar for directing. And who says lead actor and lead actress have to be presented, back to back, in the final 20 minutes of the ceremony? With three hours to play with, the producers could spread things out and present at least one acting award each hour. I’d roll the dice and hand out lead actor in the second hour of the telecast, while saving lead actress for later.

Bring all minor category nominees to the stage
After inviting 10 best picture nominees and two hosts, it would be cruel to play music over the people who actually win the awards. After all, Oscar night is about honoring Oscar winners. Nominees for the minor awards (i.e. make-up, editing, sound) are usually seated in the back of the auditorium behind the actors. And it usually takes them at least 30 seconds to get to the stage if they actually win. That time adds up and it slows down the ceremony. The Academy realizes this and actually handed out a few minor awards in the aisles a few years back. Bad idea. A better idea would be to invite all minor nominees to the stage. For example, there are three nominees in the best make-up category. Why not have all three nominees on stage to be recognized and the winner just steps forward to the podium after the envelope is opened? It would take all of 5 seconds! Not only would it save time, but it would also allow those who didn’t win the award to have some precious stage time. For once, everyone would truly be a winner.