Oscar 2016 — Changes and Controversies

Posted on February 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm

This year’s Oscar broadcast has an important innovation.  Nominees have been asked for their list of people to thank, and those names will run at the bottom of the screen so they can — we hope — say something more thoughtful and interesting than the usual frantic jumble before the music cuts them off.

Chris Rock’s hosting comes at the right time, as the #oscarssowhite campaign once again draws attention to the unconscionable snubs to performers and filmmakers of color.  The Washington Post has an excellent story about “The Staggering Numbers that Prove Hollywood Has a Serious Race Problem.”   The Oscar voters are “89 percent male and 84 percent white, and roughly half are 60 or older.”

“The academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy president and a black woman, in a statement. Isaacs was not made available for comment for this story, but at an Oscar nominees luncheon this month, she said, “This year, there’s an elephant in the room. I have asked the elephant to leave.”

The failure to include a single non-white nominee in the acting categories this year — again — has put some pressure on the Academy and the industry. Stories like this one in the New York Times about What It’s Like to Work in Hollywood (If You’re Not a Straight White Man) does something Hollywood rarely does — it allows people from diverse backgrounds to tell their own stories.

And in another Washington Post story, Dan Zak goes behind the numbers to note, for example, that Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman account for a quarter of all nominations for African-Americans.

Other kinds of exclusions are also being raised. A transgender nominee is unhappy that her nominated song is being excluded from the show. I was glad to see that stunt creators are seeking recognition by the Oscars. With movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road” nominated for Best Picture, it is long past time to recognize stunt coordinators’ work in telling the stories that audiences find most compelling.

And even the insiders are getting tired to the promotional bonanza that is the “swag bags” given to some nominees and all of the presenters, most of whom are already vastly wealthy. With the current market value of $230,000 for items including first-class travel (a $55,000 trip to Israel in this year’s bag has already sparked complaints from Palestinian groups) and electronics, the Academy is fighting to have its logo and implied affiliation removed from the press releases.

My friend Nell Scovell has the most thoughtful assessment. She does not try to pretend to understand all the concerns or have all the answers, but she raises some interesting questions about a range of issues of equality of opportunity to give everyone the right to do his and her best work. For example,

The Women’s Media Center (co-founded by two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda) recently reported that in the past decade, women have received only 19 percent of all non-acting Oscar nominations. This year in cinematography, directing and editing, only one woman made the cut. This article makes the case that Sixel is the Imperator Furiosa of the editing room.

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8 Replies to “Oscar 2016 — Changes and Controversies”

  1. It makes you wonder when we can “get this right” and offer more diversity and also authenticity for roles and movies. I disagree with some of my disabled friends who want roles like Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” to be played with utmost authenticity by a similarly disabled person. They would prefer the CGI be used to show the disabled person as walking, seeing, etc. rather than have an able-bodied person adopt the sometimes awkward and stereotypical affectations they do. However, too many movies, like “The Fundamentals of Caring” use able-bodied people when there is amazing opportunity to hire disabled actors. (I know many aspiring actors with muscular dystrophy who would have brought so much to that movie.) Until we make the effort and insist upon more inclusion in movies, Hollywood will adhere to the white, male, able-bodied, cisgender formula that still rakes in the money.

    1. . . . one problem with using an actor with DMD in the role of trev for “the fundamentals of caring” was 12 hour shoot days at remote outdoor locations in 30 degree weather . . . as a former caregiver (and the author of the novel the film is based on) i know how problematic this could have proved . . . the young man (case levenson) whom the character is based on would be the first to agree with me in this instance . . . a number of affected actors were, in fact, auditioned for the role, but nobody quite had the chops the director (rob burnett) was looking for . . . work conditions could have been dangerous with somebody in case’s condition . . . on the upside, case was with me at the sundance premiere, and received a standing ovation from 1500 people . . .he had an amazing weekend . . .

      1. As a person with a severe neuromuscular disability, very familiar with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, who also has their film degree, I completely disagree with your misinformed belief that people with neuromuscular disabilities would all be unable to handle 12 hours on a set. This is often an excuse used in Hollywood to keep disabled actors from even being allowed to audition for roles.

        When I was in film school, I spent 12 to 14 hours shooting and editing films, even when people said I was unable to due to my disability. Yes, some people with DMD would be unable to handle it, anyone with another neuromuscular disability, and there are over 40 different neuromuscular disabilities, could have performed the role. The truth is nondisabled people are incapable of performing disability with any authenticity, and after years of study into how portrayals affect the disabled community, casting inauthentically does nothing but hurt the disability community.

        I completely believe that Stephen Hawking could have been played by any disabled actor with a mild physical disability, and they would have done a better job at appearing authentically disabled. I also believe CGI is a possibility, considering Hollywood has no qualms about removing limbs to make able-bodied people amputees.

        If you can’t find someone because of their acting, that is fine. Don’t make up lies about how disabled actors cannot handle the condition onset, because all you are doing is upholding the Hollywood system that continues to oppress hard-working disabled actors and filmmakers who often don’t even get the opportunity to audition.

      2. Also, as a caregiver you could never understand the true complexities of life with a disability. You are an outsider looking in, and that standing ovation is what we call inspiration porn. It was so nice you included him so people could clap for him for “being so brave.”Films like yours are not part of the solution , they are part of the problem, and they make life worse for people with disabilities.

        1. . . . sorry you saw a standing ovation for a brave kid as “inspiration porn” . . . i know that case enjoyed the ovation . . . i also know, as somebody who traveled extensively with him, and lived with him, that long days exhausted him, and that he was uncomfortable in cold conditions for long periods of time . . .

          1. That doesn’t mean that all people with neuromuscular disabilities are the same. My best friend growing up, had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and we were together Almost every day for hours, sometimes overnight, from the time we were 5 until I left for college when I was 19, a college that offered PCA care, so I could leave home, where I had many peers with Duchenne. It is clear you don’t understand disability culture, because people are not brave just for being disabled. If you want to truly include disability, work with directors to cast disabled people in your films, in parts that do not actually have anything to do with disability. That is true inclusion, and that is what will help our community rather than harmfully casting able-bodied people to reinforce the negative stereotypes, that ensure we continue to be oppressed and discriminated against.

            I can’t do anything without help physically. I can’t control my own body temperature, but I’m still fully capable of filming as a director. Just because the man this was based on cannot, does not mean every person with a neuromuscular disability cannot. My primary caregiver lives with me, and it’s worked for me for 13 years, and she would be the first to tell you she doesn’t truly comprehend my disability.

      3. Jonathan, I appreciate your responding personally to my comment. Film
        is not my area of expertise, but disability accommodation is. I am a
        former biomedical/rehab engineer, and I happen to have a significant
        disability as well. I believe your novel is written from the standpoint
        of a caregiver, with the person with a disability being a side character
        — very important but whose viewpoint cannot be fully known because he
        is not the protagonist. That is similar to “The Theory of Everything.” I
        totally understood this, and those caregiver stories need to be told —
        that dynamic is one that is deep with emotion,
        interconnection/dependence, and basic human need and dignity.

        However,
        there is so much opportunity to really look at inclusion in these films
        and authenticity of disability portrayal. Characters, settings, etc.
        are all tweaked routinely to meet various issues (as many of us who are avid readers know and sometimes lament), that it is hard to
        imagine that it couldn’t have been done in this film. For many with neuromuscular disabilities, this would have been a rare opportunity to see someone like themselves on the big screen. We need those moments to let people know that they can fulfill their dreams and not just have Eddie Redmayne have to play their parts and convey the reality of what it is to live with a disability. I enjoyed “The Theory of Everything” because I was able to look beyond the casting and the missed opportunity, but it is difficult to do so in a movie where the character has a disability throughout; it is just another missed opportunity — whether it required a significant amount of revisioning and accommodation. And if it succeeds, unfortunately for the many with disabilities who aspire to act or work in the industry, it will be more validation for those who hold the cards and make the choices that their voice matters more.

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