The accusation the Motion Picture Academy purposely excluded minority actors and films from their rightful recognition is the equivalent of saying the performances of those nominated were merited by skin color and not according to their unique gifts and efforts. In short, it’s incredibly insulting. Hollywood, perhaps more than any other institution in America, has more often than not set the curve in terms of embracing those subject matters and individuals caught in the spotlight of societal scorn. Although I do not always agree with the supposed cultural relevance and moral climate of the cinematic industry, their ranks are hypersensitive to any hint of discrimination and acutely aware of the most opaque social slights. How else did ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘MILK’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ or ‘12 Years A Slave’ soar to the fabled heights of immortalized Oscar glory; because voting members were homophobic, misogynistic supremacists who catered to racially cognizant celebrities that could not delineate between jealousy, sour grapes, and true injustice? Paid victims…aren’t they all.
If I was Jada Pinkett Smith, fatally wounded by her husband’s Oscar exclusion, or Spike Lee, who always aspires to do the black thing, and viewed the totality of life through the myopic lens of color, I’d selfishly decry that over 90% of the NBA is black and there have been only three white MVP’s in the past 30 years. Or maybe most are simply better at basketball. Likewise, I’d also protest the fact 13% of the population – or a healthy 15% of the film industry – commits 50% of violent crime in America only to watch the press selectively demonize law enforcement on a daily basis. Naturally such raw, unadulterated logic has been relegated to French Sudoku subtitles. Or maybe, just maybe, the fewer number of blacks in film and a lack of quality roles, not the choreographed catcalls of racial conspiracy, is the root cause for the obvious discrepancy. Ironically, the demographic with the greatest disproportionate representation in Hollywood, Latinos, is also the most silent or undemanding. Sometimes reality, regardless of our personal expectations or political agenda, doesn’t reside on the pregnant litmus test of political correctness. In the black and white world of mathematics, probability is exactly what it is; like it or not
Excuse my non-gender specific commas, but do perpetually offended critics actually believe Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep didn’t really earn their proverbial stripes, while Hattie McDaniel, Omar Sharif, Morgan Freeman, or Denzel Washington were merely given participation trophies in lieu of being respected and beloved for their transcendent talents? If so, then by all means segregate that theater, pawn those pale statues and dismiss over 50 years of progress; Sophocles loves a good incestuous drama. I’m sure most of this year’s “straw man” nominees – consisting of both first time candidates and seasoned veterans who never had the privilege of shaking Oscar’s whiteness – would love to unapologetically digress. After all, it’s not like they “earned” it.
In this never-ending quest for affirmative action, or more specifically cinematic reparations, just remember that those brave black Americans who defined the struggle of the civil rights era, endured racism on a systemic scale, never sought special treatment, exclusionary rights or to be summarily reduced to the genetic hue of their ancestor’s bartered flesh. They prized opportunity above all else. These pioneers persevered through real oppression and inescapable derision for the faintest hope of being judged by the content of their character, endeavoring to grasp the ladder of equality with their own calloused two hands, instead of clinging to any shipwrecked notion of entitlement weeping on the rotting docks of lost perspective. Truly, there was no greater disservice to their memory or sacrifice. Celebrating excellence, individual achievement and universal artistry does not require monochromatic glasses, a guaranteed treasure map or a personally autographed excuse for self-pity; it’s a never-ending tale of human dignity that thirsts for a mature protagonist foreshadowed by the priceless virtues of grace, altruism and humility. If only life imitated art.