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Oscar Blackout Alert: The Academy Awards could be very, very white this year

Monique Very few stories about the Oscars actually grab my attention, but the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday had a truly depressing story on its website suggesting that, as Gregg Kilday and Matthew Belloni put it, "for the first time since the 73rd Oscars 10 years ago, there will be no black nominees in any of the acting categories in the February ceremony." The article quotes filmmaker John Singleton, who says, "It's more difficult than ever to get a picture made with any serious subject matter -- let alone an ethnic-themed one."

Ouch! The Reporter makes a solid case that if the current awards-season films (think "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "The Social Network," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Hereafter") have anything in common, it's that they don't have any African American actors in any leading roles, much less any black filmmakers behind the camera. I'm sure Lionsgate is hoping it could stage an awards campaign for Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls," because it has a classy theatrical pedigree and loads of African American talent in the cast. But it remains to be seen if Perry, best known for his ribald comedies, can deliver the kind of drama that would be Oscar bait.

So why are the Oscars so white? Was last year's respectable representation of black actors just a fluke, thanks to "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," which earned six nominations, one of which yielded a best supporting actress victory for Mo'Nique? You certainly can't blame the academy, which has been willing to hand out nominations to deserving African American talent, even giving Singleton a best director nomination on his first film, "Boyz N The Hood." (Although I'm sure Spike Lee would still say, and rightfully so, that he and Denzel Washington got robbed on "Malcolm X.")

The problem actually starts at the top. You have to remember that dramas, not comedies, earn Oscar nominations. And if there were more black executives running the studios, the studios would be far more likely to not only make low-budget, low-brow African American comedies, but make an occasional black-themed drama. But because the studio executive ranks are lily-white, there's no one on the inside lobbying for that kind of material. And there are also shockingly few African American filmmakers in the indie film community, which is the breeding ground for most of the indie dramas that end up as awards hopefuls.

It's a vicious cycle. If there were more African American talent making movies, we'd see more black actors making the rounds at Oscar time. But studio chiefs still believe that a drama with an African American cast is box-office poison. And until someone proves them wrong, the Oscars are going to continue to feature a lot fewer people of color than we get to see in the rest of today's society. It's time for a change, but I've got to say that when it comes to Oscar opportunities for black talent in Hollywood, change has been far too long in coming. 

Photo: Mo'Nique, pictured with her best supporting actress trophy, at the Academy Awards. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (15)

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That's a far leap. The movie industry is (supposedly) one run by people that are Jewish...yet I see no Jewish-themed movie in your prediction list. At the end of the day, it's about films that will recoup their cost. Perhaps the ones that made it all the way to release this year just happened to not to be African-American themed ones.

What's the tragedy here? Would this story be titled "Whiteout Alert" if no whites were expected to be nominated? And what of Indians, Hispanics, Asians and other actors of color? Oh the injustice!

It's simple math folks... the majority of actors, writers, directors and movie goers in this country are white. If it isn't racist for a black filmmaker to cast all black actors for a story that was written about a black family/community/group, why is it inferred (yes, that's what this story is doing) to be racist when white filmmakers do the same for a story about a white family/community/group?

I'm sure Lionsgate is hoping it could stage an awards campaign for Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls,"

Gee...I wonder how this article would read if there were a white filmmaker that was about to release a film called "For White Girls"?

I guess Asians and Hispanics don't even register on the injustice scale. Or maybe there's no real injustice/conspiracy here and it's simply that the majority of the industry and buying public just happen to be white...

why would a person of colour necessarily have to be in an "ethnic-themed" story?... i thought we are beyond that. we live in a multi colored world, so storyline should reflect the mix of everyday lives -- not ethnic theme. if an actor happens to be black, brown, white or any other color should have no impact on the basic story line... why all this delineation? why does the author feel compelled to say that this is very depressing? it's unfortunate maybe but not all choices are purposely based on racial bias -- at least that is what i like to think.

In reading the other comments, its amazing how the majority population constantly and consistently try to justify their position. The article and the message is crystal clear-no one in the decision making ranks of Hollywood care if movies are produced, directed or star people of color. They can make tons of box office duds starring any number of flavor-of-the-month blonds but getting one African-American themed drama to a green light is next to impossible. Even "Precious..." was made outside the system. There are good scripts out there that will attract audiences but executives are simply too lazy or too afraid to make and market the films with the same energy and resources they afford the rest.

Even with the success of "Precious" and its numerous nominations and wins at the Indie Spirit Awards, Hollywood only reflects what its makers see in the mirror. They don't think outside the color line. And scripts that could easily be adjusted to include Latino, Black or Asian characters - i.e. blind casting - aren't even considered when they can get a "name" white actor to play the role.

Also most moviegoers aren't White. In LA more Latinos fills those theater seats and there is little support for those comedies and remakes that fail to draw audiences.

Hollywood is myopic and uninterested in telling real stories about the multi-cultural society we live in. Is that any surprise?

my blog post for AOL's Patch.com 2 days ago was on this topic

regarding the film: Wall Street 2

http://westhollywood.patch.com/articles/oliver-stones-new-movie-all-white-no-lgbt-characters

Why should the people in the decision making ranks of Hollywood care if movies are produced, directed or star people of colour? What difference does it make to them? Their job is to make films that 1. Make their studio/company/shareholders lots of money 2. Entertain the masses - which should lead to making more money 3. MAKE MONEY!! This is a business, and in this business it seems pretty obvious that the movies that make money are action/CGI/animated films that tend to have sequels. These movies seem to appeal to the greatest proportion of the population - black/white whatever.

Are you saying you don't think Denzel will get the nomination for UNSTOPPABLE? Or Morgan for RED? What's the world coming to?

Those in positions of power (studio and crew) will tend to look within their circle of associates when looking to hire. The larger issue is that anyone not within those circles - whether it's due to the color of their skin, they are not alumni of recognized schools and thus not networked, their life path has kept them out of sight of the powers that be - will continue to be underrepresented in the business.

You can say those outside those circles need to network to break in, stop whining, so forth. Easy words, but the hearts and minds of those in positions or power still make no move to change.

I think it's a calculated falsehood to say the majority of the "buying public just happen to be white." We need artists of vision to see beyond the obvious, and bring the production world with them.

Davyjc is correct, there are many box office duds that don't recoup their cost, yet that doesn't cause studios to cease production on similar films.

 
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