All-White All Right?

Posted: January 23, 2016 in Oscars and Awards
Tags: , , , ,

Today, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AKA the Academy that handles the Oscars), announced radical changes to the process by which Academy members are chosen. The goal of these changes is to make the Academy more racially diverse.


Steve McQueen directing 12 Years a Slave.

Of course, these changes were made in response to the #OscarsAllWhite campaign, and the decisions of marquee names such as Will Smith and Spike Lee to boycott this year’s ceremony (hosted by Chris Rock, who is black). It’s actually quite absurd to think the Academy is racist as a whole. Isaacs, whose actions should be applauded, is black. These new policies will allow for a more eclectic group of folks as Academy members, but won’t make much of a difference when it comes to nominating black actors. There’s a perfectly good reason for that, and it’s not that the Academy is racist.

Let’s be perfectly clear here, you need to actually deserve an Oscar nomination to get one. The Oscars are for the BEST of the best. Not the pretty good, or even the great. You don’t get handed an award, or a nomination, just because you’re a minority. You. Have. To. Earn. It. Like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Steve McQueen did two years ago. Or Selma when it was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Song. Blacks make up about 12.6% of the U.S. population, and since 2000, 10% of acting nominations went to black actors and actresses. That means there’s a negligible difference between nominated actors and the general population. It is likely that film studios could do a better job of giving better roles to minorities, but the Academy votes based on the finished product. The Academy isn’t the problem.

The “problem” is that there simply weren’t any Oscar-worthy contenders from the minority crowd (with one exception, which I’ll get to later). We could sit around and argue all day about which actors did or didn’t deserve nominations based on our own opinions, but opinions are subjective. However, when thousands of differing opinions come together to form a consensus, it is more likely that said consensus aligns with reality.  Take Rotten Tomatoes for example. The Tomatometer measures what percentage of critics thought a movie was good (3+ stars) or not (1 or 2 stars). I’m not the biggest fan of it, but the Tomatometer is a good guideline for if you’ll like a film or not. A viewer is mathematically much more likely to like a film with an 85% Tomatometer than a film with a 15% Tomatometer. We can apply a similar test to actors and actresses by seeing how many different film organizations considered them worthy of their own award nominations. If one actor has been nominated by twenty-six different film or critics associations, and another nominated by three, its a pretty safe bet that the former did a better job than the latter. Here are some specific cases

Alleged Snub: Best Leading Actor – Michael B. Jordan (Creed), and Will Smith (Concussion)


Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Dutch Girl), were all nominated.

According to handy-dandy IMDB, their total award nominations are as follows:

  • Cranston: 15
  • Damon: 22
  • DiCaprio: 34
  • Fassbender: 30
  • Redmayne: 16

Now for these two.

  • Jordan: 10
  • Smith: 6

A note of importance is that 3 of Jordan’s nominations came from African American film organizations (Black Reel Awards for example). The same was true of 2 of Smith’s nominations. These organizations almost always exclusively nominate African Americans. In fact, the Black Reel Awards only nominated four actors this year instead of the usual five. The reason being that there was a severe lack of great performances by black actors in 2015.

So, as far as Best Actor is concerned, the consensus on a wide scale is that neither Jordan nor Smith were as good as the rest. The Academy, being made up of a lot of members, merely reflect this consensus.

Alleged Snub: Best Picture – (Straight Outta Compton)


Straight Outta Compton only received eight Best Picture nominations from film and critics societies. Three of these nominations came from exclusively black awards.

Usually, SOC isn’t really considered a snub. By comparison, The Martian garnered over 25 of these type of nominations. SOC just wasn’t worthy.

Alleged Snub: Best Supporting Actor – Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation)


The actual nominees are as follows, with the number of their non-Oscar nominations overall.

  • Christian Bale (The Big Short): 6
  • Tom Hardy (The Revenant): 11
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight): 13
  • Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies): 30
  • Sylvester Stallone (Creed): 28

By comparison, Elba received 13 nominations. Now, I do agree that this was a snub. I think Elba was more deserving than Bale for sure and maybe Hardy. However, this still isn’t based on the race card.

Beasts of No Nation had quite the journey to the big screen. It is the first ever Netflix feature film, and it was actually only shown in a few theaters around the country. Many theaters actually boycotted the film (unofficially) because it was available on Netflix at the same time as it was in theaters.

It’s likely is that the Academy is slow in warming to Netflix produced films. TV is one thing. TV shows have always been “in the home” first. And most “watch-on-demand” debuts are known for not being very good. Of course, this is a different beast entirely (pun intended), which cost it some recognition.

Agree? Disagree? Leave me a note and tell me.


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