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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