#OscarSoWhat?

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oscarBWA lot of press has been given lately to the claim that the American Academy Awards, or Oscars, have continued to snub black actors; #OscarsSoWhite has been the rallying hashtag this year, and pundits in and out of the industry have chimed in with responses.  Black-white relations in the U.S. has found yet another front to start yet another of their ongoing battles against each other.

I’m not going to regurgitate the discussions here, and here’s why:

Racism is certainly an issue in the U.S.; but calling out Hollywood for being a mostly-white cadre handing out awards to mostly-white people is, in fact, a waste of everyone’s time.

From the Facebook post:

Keep in mind three things: First, Hollywood is an old-fashioned money-making institution. Everything they do is with the express purpose of building profits. The money-makers don’t care about artists, social norms or mores, other institutions, politics or history, except to the extent that making movies on those subjects will make them money. And as long as a spreadsheet somewhere says that certain movies and certain subjects and certain actors will make them the most money… that’s the way they go, pretty much blindly. Oh, sure, they’ll occasionally allow the odd “art” film to be made, but only because it improves their cred in the industry, and allows them to make more money elsewhere.

Tom Cruise

Hey, it’s not just white guys going to see his movies.

Second thing to remember is this: That money they make is from the public going to see their movies. The public, therefore, can influence Hollywood in the movies they make… and don’t make. Suppose, as an example, Hollywood makes two action-adventure movies: One stars a famous and popular white guy; and the other stars a famous and popular black guy. The movie starring the white guy makes $5 mil from an audience that is 60% white-identifiers and 40% black-identifiers. (We’ll assume other races identify with one race or the other, for this example.) The movie starring the black guy makes $2 mil from an audience that is 10% white-identifiers and 90% black-identifiers.

When, next year, Hollywood is asked to make another action-adventure movie, they will remember two things: One, that the white guy made them more money; and Two, that the black guy’s movie had significantly less diversity. They, being money-makers, will make the obvious choice when choosing their next movie and their next star. And I point out that it was the audience’s reaction to the movies that prompted their decision… they bought the tickets.  So the public has a major influence over this situation, not just the attitudes of Hollywood moguls.

Third: The Oscars are privately-held self-back-slapping events. Why anyone outside of the industry even cares about them is beyond my ability to ken.

The public has succumbed to Hollywood’s favorite gag of allowing themselves to be distracted by the smoke-and-mirrors, and missing the fact that there’s no point in debating racial proportions in an industry that employs intentional trickery and blatant psychology to create idealized versions of reality, specifically to entice the maximum number of Americans to buy movie tickets.

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So many things wrong, in one place.

So, here’s an idea: Instead of wasting time lamenting about the incredibly unimportant issue of whether the Academy’s members pat as many black backs as white ones… why don’t we talk instead about showing our mutual distaste for the stereotypes that Hollywood continues to portray—again, for the express (and successful) purpose of getting you to buy a movie ticket—and whether that deserves some attention.

Let’s talk about the black street kid who’s poor, tough and savvy; let’s talk about the genius Asian grade-schooler; let’s talk about the Muslim who distrusts all Christians; let’s talk about the blood-sucking lawyer, the working-class girl who would give up a career for a six-packed husband, the doughnut-eating cop, the date-raping barfly and the corrupt politician.  Those are Hollywood’s stock-in-trade, the stereotypes with which they try to represent America.  The worlds of Superman and Mayberry and Bedford Falls, contrasted with Watts, Harlem and The Jeffersons.

Lucy Liu as Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes on Elementary

Lucy Liu as Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes on Elementary

And while we’re at it, let’s also discuss how significant it is that Hollywood’s television arm can take a role originally designed for a stuffy old white man… and give it to Lucy Liu. And how phenomenal Liu is in the role of Joan Watson.  And how actions like that should be the real meter of progress in American cinema and TV.

Not the state of an actress’ dreadlocks.

Call me an irresponsible dreamer, but… in my novels, I refuse to accept that Black America and White America will continue to stand apart, any more than I will accept any other stereotypes.  This is why I have to pass on so many novels that seem to be set in any mono-racial or dominant-racial atmosphere—nor would I write one; even as they try to claim that they support racial equality, they are in fact an attempt to further stratify the races, a continuation of the lack of real outreach, cooperation and trust that the world needs.  The real future of this world is The Melting Pot—and no matter how many races or nationalities we are or claim to be, we are, and will always be, One People.

Given this, maybe a more appropriate tag would be #WeArentHelping; we need to recognize that while the nation continues to obsess over race relations, it spends all of its time kvetching in the family room, while the work that needs to be done is out on the street.  Another would be #OnePeople, to remind everyone what the desired outcome is supposed to be: Not criticism, but affirmation.

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