Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Are the Academy Awards racist?

It pains me to even think such a thing the morning after the announcement of an extremely diverse slate of Oscar nominees, but the Best Picture snub of "Dreamgirls" just made me mad when it was first announced, and time has not softened my ire. (And, just for the record, I am an increasingly ornery white dude who, as far as I know, has suffered no racial bias in my thus-far fairly pleasant life.)

That said, I can't help but wonder: If I'm this angry, there must be millions more people who feel the same way and worse. Can you imagine the reactions of all the black people who lined up to see "Dreamgirls" when it went wide on Christmas Day? Who applauded this gift several times during its unveiling, even offering a standing ovation after Jennifer Hudson's signature song?

How in the world could this movie be treated so coldly? For the record, it did get the most Oscar nominations, eight, including the expected supporting acting nods for Hudson and Eddie Murphy. And Hudson will win. And so will Forest Whitaker (I hope) for "The Last King of Scotland."

So I'd be willing to let the Best Picture slight go if it were an anomaly. A one-time omission that could be excused with an "aw, shucks, we'll get it right next time." But it's not. It's part of a proven pattern of racial bias when it comes to the giving out of nominations and awards for Best Picture.

Can you think of even one Best Picture winner with an all - or even mostly - black cast? There isn't one.

The most obvious oversight is Spike Lee who, with both "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X," created two pictures well worthy of Best Picture love. Instead, they each got two nominations, none for Best Picture. One of the nominations was for Danny Aiello in "Do the Right Thing," who, the last time I checked was an even older white dude than me.

But the most egregious slight would have to be "The Color Purple." I didn't care a lick for what Spielbergo did with this great novel by Alice Walker, but how could it possibly get 11 Oscar nominations and walk away with none? And what won Best Picture that year? Of course it was the colonial drama "Out of Africa."

It's a sorry, sorry, record which only continues with yesterday's big goof. I haven't seen Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima," and apparently I won't anytime soon, because amazingly enough, a nomination for Best Picture isn't enough to let it go wide enough to reach my little corner of the world. It at least has to be better than "Flags of Our Fathers," a fairly standard war flick ruined by a disastrous ending.

But I wasn't happier at the end of a movie in all of 2006 than I was after watching "Dreamgirls." It's a real accomplishment, and now this will go down in history as a real shame.

Whew. So much bile really does leave a bitter taste in my mouth so early in the morning, so let's switch to what was great in yesterday's nominations. And there was plenty of it.

All the nominees for Best Picture (again, assuming Clint's movie doesn't somehow just suck) are worthy movies. There's not a "Driving Miss Daisy," "Forrest Gump" or even a "Crash" in the bunch. I'm hoping either "The Departed" or "Little Miss Sunshine" pulls it out.

And as the rather excited Salma Hayek pointed out, it certainly wasn't "A Day Without a Mexican." Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" getting six nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay, was nothing I could have predicted. I just wish the third amigo, Alfonso Cuaron, had gotten just a little love for the best movie of 2006, "Children of Men," which just got a big middle finger and nothing else.

And the best race to watch? Definitely Best Supporting Actor. I'd be very happy if Eddie Murphy ekes this out, but even happier if Alan Arkin somehow pulls an upset.

But I've certainly gone on long enough. "Dreamgirls" ill will aside, it was a fascinating morning. And please, if anyone wants to tell me I'm full of it about "Dreamgirls," which I certainly encourage you to do, I only ask that you please keep it civil. Remember, it's all about the love.


Anonymous said...

I thought the same thing. Happy to see Ryan Gosling's performance get recognized.
And, yes, Dreamgirls got 8 noms, but 4 in the same category? Its really like they only got 4 which is pretty lame. (Truthfully, tho, I thought Dreamgirls was pretty tepid.)
And Alfonso Cuaron was recognized in the Best Adapted category--but I'm picking Little Children to win that. (Although, Notes on a Scandal should win.)

Reel Fanatic said...

I missed the nomination for Alfonso Cuaron in that Category, Jeremy ... I'll have to be cheering for him ... The screenplay categories always seem to pick one otherwise snubbed nominee, and they sometimes even triumph

Anonymous said...

While I absolutely agree about the Academy's attitude to movies with predominantly black casts, I'm not entirely sure that Dreamgirls is the movie to rally around in that respect. For all the acclaim it's gotten, there is a growing feeling of the movie being overrated. I didn't have the chance to see the film but several family members did and the verdict was "good, not great."

Also, I think the bigger problem is the lack of Oscar-caliber black films. There have been more exceptions to the rule as of late (Dreamgirls, Ray, Hotel Rwanda) but the majority of films with predominantly black casts are more mainstream fare. If you factor in the Oscar-caliber films made by black filmmakers (all of the above-mentioned films were by white directors), the list gets smaller.

I think the Academy has gotten to the point where they will honor great performances by black actors and actresses. If more quality films with black casts are made, they will finally start to take notice. If the Academy can get over its hatred of fantasy films and honor a LOTR film, they can one day honor a black film with Best Picture.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you're right about progress being made, Sterfish, but I still think the omission of "Dreamgirls" was an amazing oversight ... It's just my personal opinion, but except for the one scene with Eddie Murphy in that knit cap trying to look like Marvin Gaye, the movie was just great in my book

FrancesDanger said...

I must respectfully disagree about Dreamgirls and racism in the Academy. I learned long ago as a Native American woman that while some slights are based on race, sometimes I'm just not a good fit. I find that in a year where 3 out of 4 favored to win actors are African-American calling the snub for BP racist is disingenious.

Who exactly would be standing at the podium accepting the Oscar had it been nommed and won? Bill Condon and David Geffen, two gay white males. That fact alone proves that the argument is invalid.

I too am ready for a predominently minority cast to sweep the thing, but this is not the year, and Dreamgirls is simply not the film.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't go calling the Awards racist because of DREAMGIRLS. The white director got snubbed too.

And frankly, I didn't think it was that good of a film anyway. Especially from the screenplay standpoint (where it also didn't get a nomination). A very unfocused film.

If you read some of the Hollywood tracking sites, the buzz has been on the decline each week since it was released.

If they are racist for anything it is the lack of a nomination for Alfonso Cuaron's CHILDREN OF MEN. An infinitely better, and more challenging, film.

Chris said...

OK...I didn't like Dreamgirls so I'm not terribly upset that it didn't get nominated. I considered the possibility that there was racism behind it, but it doesn't explain why a movie like Ray got nominated, just two years ago, and why the movie Crash, all about racism, not only got nominated but won.

I can understand the frustration when you love a movie and it seems to be a clear Best Picture nominee, and it gets seemingly everything except that, but I can see how it was left out. Look at your "locks": Departed, The Queen, Babel (Babel, by the way, has many aspects of racism and was helmed by a Mexican director, who got nominated). That leaves room for two more, and everyone loves Clint so Letters was an obvious inclusion (and it has an almost exclusively Japanese cast). Then you probably had a neck-and-neck competition between LMS and Dreamgirls and the sweet n' funny pic won out.

If anything, the more I thought about it, this is the most decidedly un-racist Oscars I think I've ever seen. With Cruz, Barraza, Kikuchi, Murphy, Hudson, Hounsou, Smith, and Whitaker (40% of the acting categories), all nominated, including one for director Inarritu (17 total noms went to Inarritu, Cuaron, and Del Toro's movies), I think I can go to sleep at night with no worry about the Academy being racist. I think Dreamgirls got lost in the shuffle, and it's regrettable that it has an all-black cast and it opens the Academy up for these kinds of arguments.

renee said...

I was surprised that Dreamgirls wasn't nominated for Best Picture, but only because it has gotten so much buzz. Letters from Iwo Jima was my favorite film of 2006 and I would have been outraged if it was left off. Personally, I didn't think The Queen was that great and that's probably the one I might have left off. Great performances by the leads, but I'm not sure the rest of the film is worth of Best Picture. I haven't seen Dreamgirls yet, but I'd agree that Little Miss Sunshine was probably chosen in the "Dreamgirls spot" and I'm very happy that's nominated.

Anonymous said...

I think you have point about racial bias on the part of the Oscars, but then I think it reflects an overall pattern in the film industry. Consider how many serious black dramas are out there any given year compared to those with predominantly white casts? Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't help but suspect there is something to the idea of racial bias in the film industry.

At any rate, it is good to see Pan's Labyrinth got a lot of nominations, even if I won't get to see it until it comes out on DVD....

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad this has sparked some debate, even if I have come under some friendly fire as a result ... Perhaps what I should be instead arguing for are rewarding movies that both were critically loved AND entertained the masses ... by those standards, I think Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed are the best fits, but I also loved Babel and The Queen quite a bit too ... The fact that all five movies are quality flicks really says a lot of good things about 2006

* (asterisk) said...

Being stuck in the Third World when it comes to movie releases (i.e., the UK), I've not seen hardly anything nominated this year, but a Dreamgirls question for you. That track "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going", which everyone says is a standout scene in the movie: how come DG gets three Best Song noms but not that one?

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the film, but from what I've heard and what I've read here, it seems like the movie really isn't deserving. I think sometimes deciding between a great film and a film that makes you feel great is where things get confusing. Again, I haven't seen the movie, but Dreamgirls seems like a movie that makes you feel great. Much like Forrest Gump did, and I don't believe that movie deserved best picture at all.

I'm still reeling from Washington not winning for Malcolm X and the movie not getting a nod for best picture. Now that's a crime.

Sadie Lou said...

Okay, were you absent in 2002 when Halle Berry won for Moster's ball? Denzel Washington won for Training Day and Will Smith was nominated for Ali. Woopie Goldberg was the MC.
So it can't be that the academy is racist. It has to be because the academy just didn't like Dreamgirls all that much.
Frankly, I'm thrilled that Beyonce wasn't nominated. That woman has enough ego in her pinky to supply millions of young, black women with confidence.
The last thing she needs on her mantle is an Oscar.
I also do not think Alan Arkin should win. He has done much more noteworthy work in Slums of Beverly Hills, Glenngarry Geln Ross, etc.
Do we really need to award him for his small, perverted role in Sunshine?

Reel Fanatic said...

How in the world that song wasn't nominated, I have no idea, Mr. * ... it's not only the most powerful moment in that movie, but easily one of the best scenes of the entire year

I was indeed watching when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won the big acting prizes, Sadie, and I have to admit it filled me with mixed emotions at best ... They were both fairly bad films, and each of those actors have
much stronger performances ... Denzel Washington, in particular, should have won for both Malcolm X and The Hurricane

Chris said...

The "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" is an easy question to answer. It has to be a song originally written for the movie. That song was in the original Broadway production, hence, it could not be nominated.

Similar confusion came when musicals like Moulin Rouge came out and didn't get a single song nom, because it either covered old songs, or as in the case of the "original song" "Come What May" was at first written for Romeo + Juliet but not used, but still not eligible.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with most of the comments, Dreamgirls not getting nominated for Best Picture is not racist. It's wise. It was a good movie, but utterly boring when Jennifer Hudson wasn't of screen. I mean come on you have to admit the screen seemed empty without her!

Her nomination is well deserved, and although she was technically the best actress, Helen Mirren would have kicked her ass, so I'm glad that she'll be able to get her Oscar on her very first movie! That must be a record or something!

Anonymous said...

If anything, Keith...I think you're giving the Academy way too much credit. Seems pretty clear to me that they just don't think all that much. I mean, while I'll disclaim and say that I haven't been able to see most of the nominated flicks, I've been around the biz long enough to know that it just looks like a typical round of Oscar. That is, they spread the nominations out over as many movies as possible, with not much in the way of rhyme or reason as to who's getting what nomination.

How they determine these things seems to have much more to do with which movies have the best buzz and marketing campaigns than it does with actual worthiness. In my humble opinion, Oscar's largely a load of bullsh*t anymore, so I'd say it's not even worth wasting brain cells over.

Reel Fanatic said...

That certainly is one good thing, Michael .. Dame Mirren would have taken her to the woodshed, so awarding her the Supporting Actress works for me

And though you're more than a bit jaded on the Oscar, Lori, I tend to think more and more every year that you're right ... However, I'm a geek who gets way too obsessed about a lot of things that are probably bullshit, and I probably won't be able to change my habits anytime soon

Mad.J.D. said...

If you're keeping a tally, here's another vote for 'Dreamgirls is overrated.' Big up to Jennifer Hudson, though. She definitely showed how wrong American Idol fans were for voring her off prematurely.

Most every observation I would make has been posited, so I'll just address Spike Lee. It's a sad fact (and an inherent flaw in the Academy system), that people who are unliked get snubbed, and that people who make waves are often unliked, especially by the conservative old guard that makes up much of the Academy. Spike Lee is a famous rabblerouser, and the price he pays is sometimes not getting mainstream love.

For example, after last year's atrocious Best Picture result, Tony Curtis, an Academy member, said something like "I didn't see Brokeback Mountain because it's about gay people, and I would never vote for a movie about gay people anyway." How's that for unfair bias?

I've always been a big fan of the Oscars, but there are too many historically ridiculous results (Titanic over LA Confidential, Kramer vs Kramer over Apocalypse Now, How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane, Crash winning anything at all, et. al.) to take them as the definitive gauge of cinematic achievement.

Reel Fanatic said...

I suppose you're right about Spike, mad j.d., and I don't want him to change being the troublemaker ... I have high hopes for his upcoming project on the L.A. riots, but if he treats with the approach he's taken in his best flicks, that will probably be too hot for the Academy to handle too

Anonymous said...

Well, your post may not change the Academy Awards nomination process, but it definitely just bumped Dreamgirls up to the top of my "wanna see" list, so thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I guess I am pretty jaded. Sorry, don't mean to be a wet blanket or anything. You go on and geek out all you want, man. It's all good. :)

Anonymous said...

francesdanger makes a good point. Technically, it would be Laurence Mark and maybe David Geffen up on stage as producers, and they're both white men.

Dreamgirls has a legit argument, but the real test case will be a Oscar-caliber film directed and produced by African-Americans. As far as I know, that hasn't happened yet.

The only African-American ever to be nominated as a producer of a Best Picture is Quincy Jones for The Color Purple. But at least he made the cut; can't say the same for Debbie Allen (Amistad) or Oprah Winfrey (Beloved). Interestingly, all three of those films had white directors.

Spike Lee is the most prolific producer of his race, but that's because he produces most of his own movies. Even luminaries like Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, and BET's Robert Johnson haven't done much as feature film producers. Not sure why.

* (asterisk) said...

Thank God: someone else who thinks both Monster's Ball and Training Day were overrated! How I've longed to hear those words. I thought it was just me...

(And Chris, thanks for answering my song query! Makes perfect sense.)

Reel Fanatic said...

I didn't realize that about Quincy Jones, Neel ... Like I said, I really didn't much care for The Color Purple at all, but how in the world does a movie get nominated for 11 Oscars and win 0? ... As an aside, I just wanted to thank everyone who has contributed to this discussion and, as far as I can tell, so far resisted any urge to call me an idiot

Linda said...

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and it makes me mad when people sink to the level of name calling. I am impressed with all who commented here, they made valid, supported points. For the record, I don't think the Academy is racist. I enjoyed Dreamgirls, but I didn't think it would get a best picture nod in the field of films this year. I wouldn't be surprised if films like Children of Men and The Last King of Scotland were highter up the list than Dreamgirls. This was an interesting topic, well done.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there have been some egregious omissions in the past that seem very much to be linked to race--either directly or indirectly. But I'm not sure this is the problem with Dreamgirls. I loved watching the movie, but I also saw flaws that made me less than surprised it did not get nominated (my review here). I also agree heartily with you about Do the Right Thing which I think was just too scary for the Academy but is a brilliant, creative, challenging movie that remains quite under-appreciated.

Reel Fanatic said...

It definitely is, Mr. Myers ... Spike's movie was the first one that really made me get mad at the Academy Awards, so I guess there was some good in it in that it at least opened my eyes

Anonymous said...

I am a black person and am not at all angry that Dreamgirls was "snubbed". Race has a large place in American history, but Dreamgirls was an awful movie. Black cast or not, the performances were superficial, overrated, and flat. The editing was nonexistent and the plot was anemic. All of the rave reviews are what I would call racist in an indirect sort of way. This black casted movie is being rewarded in spite of its mediocrity. Rewarding blacks for doing just what whites are comfortable doing. Remember the Oscar Halle Berry won for Monster's Ball? Denzel for Training Day? Anyway, the point is that the movie was a total joke and sadly unoriginal. Did anyone see The Five Heartbeats way back when? Some of the same EXACT scenes were in that movie. Even the music seemed thrown together as a cheap filler. I don't know about anyone else, but even as a black person, I'm sick of the tired story of the black struggle to the top of the entertainment industry! Seen know the rest. Please, no more entertainment racial/struggle movies!

Anonymous said...

OOPS! I made a grammatical error above. I meant to say "rewarding blacks for doing just what whites are comfortable seeing us doing."

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