A couple of weeks ago, the 2020 Oscar nominations were announced. And while I’m extremely happy that the film I’m rooting hard for — Joker — received 11 nominations including a Best Picture nod, it’s also a huge bummer that once again, the Academy Awards is rather white, especially when we look at the women’s acting categories. Now, I’m not saying we should nominate people of colour for the sake of it, but surely Lupita Nyong’o deserves a nomination for her stellar performance in Jordan Peele’s Us. What about Awkwafina, who won Best Actress – Musical/Comedy at the Golden Globes for her work in The Farewell?
In fact, this has been a disconcerting problem with The Academy since forever. Now, in an opinion piece on The Washington Post, legendary author Stephen King (It, Doctor Sleep, The Shining) criticised The Academy. He said:
For answers to why some talented artists are nominated and some — such as Greta Gerwig, who helmed the astoundingly good new version of Little Women — are not, you might need to look no further than the demographic makeup of those who vote for the Academy Awards.
It’s better than it was, certainly. Only eight years ago, 94% of the 5,700 voters were white, according to the Los Angeles Times, 77% were male, and 54% were more than 60 years old. This year, women make up 32% of voters (up only 1% from last year) and minority members equal 16% of the total.
King also went on to talk about how voters have the habit of not watching films in serious contention despite it being their job. He questioned if a majority-white and old voting body would care or understand a nuanced film about the black struggle.
Here’s another piece of the puzzle. Voters are supposed to look at all films in serious contention. This year, that would be about 60. There’s no way of checking how many voters actually do, because viewing is on the honor system. How many of the older, whiter contingent actually saw Harriet, about Harriet Tubman, or The Last Black Man in San Francisco? Just asking the question. If they did see all the films, were they moved by what they saw? Did they feel the catharsis that’s the basis of all that artists aspire to? Did they understand?
The next part of Stephen King’s essay made me bang my table and say “thank you!” like Steve Carell in The Office. You see, every time I write a piece celebrating diversity in films (i.e. MCU to feature more LGBT characters), I get a barrage of comments either from heartless extremists who say “LGBT sucks, you soyboy!” (which is easy to ignore) or people who say, “don’t make movies for the sake of diversity. Just make good movies.” Here’s what Stephen King has to say:
The response reflects my overall attitude that, as with justice, judgments of creative excellence should be blind. But that would be the case in a perfect world, one where the game isn’t rigged in favor of the white folks. Creative excellence comes from every walk, color, creed, gender, and sexual orientation, and it’s made richer and bolder and more exciting by diversity, but it’s defined by being excellent. Judging anyone’s work by any other standard is insulting and — worse — it undermines those hard-won moments when excellence from a diverse source is rewarded (against, it seems, all the odds) by leaving such recognition vulnerable to being dismissed as politically correct.
Stephen King is absolutely right. In a perfect world, we should be blind in celebration of art. Art transcends all — race, creed, sexuality. In fact, that’s how we should view art right now. When I review a movie, I don’t give bonus points for diversity or give a pass to bad films that are diverse.
However, we should always celebrate diversity in films (like when Marvel Studios say they’re going to feature more people of colour or LGBT characters) because, for the longest time, the industry has been systematically rigged against minorities. The pendulum has been swung so far in one direction that we have to swing it back and level the playing field first.