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Just How Out of Touch Are the Academy Voters?

By Vivian Kane | Miscellaneous | January 5, 2016 |

By Vivian Kane | Miscellaneous | January 5, 2016 |

The Golden Globes are this Sunday, and while that event seems to have snuck up on most of us, we still have more than enough time to analyze, predict, and rage the Oscars to death. And while we may (and definitely will) tire of our own criticism— because it IS exhausting to be so exhausted— it’s not unnecessary. Especially when the exact same issues come up year after year. Issues like— just as a perpetual, ever-present for instance— the underrepresentation of minorities among the nominees. That underrepresentation is what spurred the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite last year, and from the sound of it, the Academy is worried about a resurrection of that hashtag and the criticism it represented.

Last year, of course, all 20 nominees in the acting categories were white, which Neil Patrick Harris acknowledged with his too-true-to-be-funny quip, “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.”


After that, the Academy let in 322 new members, its largest and most diverse class of additions. And now, with only a few days left before voting closes, members have started speaking about their opinions, expectations, and thought processes behind their choices.

The members’ thoughts on the matter seem about as varied as you’d expect. One voter, who spoke with the LA Times anonymously, said what probably the vast majority of us are thinking.

I don’t see how you can nominate another group that doesn’t include any actor of color and think you’ll be taken seriously.
Others, like Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray, maintain that race and politics have nothing to do with voting.
I’m not going to allow politics to influence my judgment because then that defeats the purpose. That’s not how I make movies and it’s not how I’ll vote. If something moves me and touches me, that’s probably the direction I’ll go.
Of course, in an ideal world, everything— every award, job application, salary, fundamental opinion we have of strangers, literally everything— would be fairly placed and based entirely on merit. But, as the Times points out, “Voters can’t nominate what doesn’t exist.” If the entire industry and system in place is still behind the times in terms of nominating people and works about and by women and people of color, it doesn’t do anyone any good to ignore that fact.
“There can’t be many nominees until people are given the opportunity in prominent, meaningful roles,” said Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. “The Oscars are the end of the line. When those opportunities come at the front end, then the nominations will probably flow accordingly. And if they don’t, then you’ll really have a pushback.”

The industry does seem to be making some slow but important progress, but the feeling coming off of the Academy looks to be a deep-set fear of criticism, with no real idea of how to make the kind of real progress people want to see. Word is, “close observers” predict that fear may influence voting in what seem like near-arbitrary ways.

“If [the Oscars are] all-white again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” said USC history professor Steve Ross, author of several books about Hollywood politics. “It has to be a good performance, but, for some, if they’re deciding between Will Smith and somebody else, they might just go for Will Smith because of what happened last year.”
Is that where we are? Stuck between backlash and tokenism? There really have been some encouraging strides lately, with various initiatives launched on a wider inclusion of women and minorities at all levels of the entertainment industry. Sure, the Academy has always seemed to be a few years (at least) behind the progression of the rest of the industry, but it does feel like this is a bigger lose-lose than usual.

Via LA Times.