Sunday, February 26, 2012

DISCOVERED: THE Reason Viola & Octavia May not Win Tonight!

So tonight is Oscar night and you can count me as one of the millions who will be watching (37 million last year). I watch for pretty much the same reason others do - the host, the speeches, who will be best actor, actress and which will be voted best picture.

But I also have another reason. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have been nominated for best actress and best supporting actress, respectively. 'The Help' of course, is nominated for best picture. Will they win? As I've written before, I'm somewhat ambivalent and it has to do with the nature of the film, the roles and the historic futility of black actresses, actors, films, directors, etc. when it comes to nominations and selections.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think that bad films or bad actors should be nominated or win. But, let's face it, its not like bad actors or bad films have never won before. Or bad songs (I'm STILL wondering how 'It's Hard out here for a Pimp' EVER was even considered for Best Song, let alone win!). But from Hattie MacDaniel to Mo'Nique, what has been clear is that films and actors have had to be exceptional. Clearly a look at the list of Oscar winners in whatever category doesn't include exceptional performances or productions every year.

There may be a number of reasons posited for the lack of recognition of films with themes that may attract predominantly black audiences or roles by black actors, producers and directors. But maybe there's a more obvious reason than simply industry bigotry, prejudice or the market.

Maybe its the make-up of the people who vote on the Oscar winners. The Los Angeles Times reveals a little known fact - there's just no diversity among the voters!

"A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%."
"Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership."
"The academy calls itself "the world's preeminent movie-related organization" of "the most accomplished men and women working in cinema," and its membership includes some of the brightest lights in the film business — Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg, among others. The roster also features actors far better known for their television acting, such as Erik Estrada from "CHiPs," Jaclyn Smith of "Charlie's Angels" and "The Love Boat's" Gavin MacLeod."
"The academy is primarily a group of working professionals, and nearly 50% of the academy's actors have appeared on screen in the last two years. But membership is generally for life, and hundreds of academy voters haven't worked on a movie in decades." 

And of course, the status quo is vigorously (if not ignorantly) defended...

"Frank Pierson, a former academy president who won an Oscar for original screenplay for "Dog Day Afternoon" in 1976, said merit is the primary criterion for membership."
""I don't see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That's what the People's Choice Awards are for," said Pierson, who still serves on the board of governors. "We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn't reflect the general population, so be it.""
Read the rest of the article here...
So, I'm wishing Ms. Davis (who really is exceptional)  and Ms. Spencer well tonight. But all the talk regarding why black actors, directors and films tend to be ignored, will be repeated next year, if more people of color and women excluded from the nominating and voting process...

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