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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Race & Race – Part 2: Four Suggestions To “Fix” The Academy

So… if The Academy needs to change, how can it be effectively changed?

There are all kinds of theories out there. I find that most of them are a bit random and hope that A + B = C, but have no empirical evidence to suggest that it actually will. It is the perverse nature of life and free will that causes reverse engineering to fail in most attempts to achieve specific intended goals.

Many at The Academy thought that expanding the Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 would create a place for quality films with bigger box office that might boost the award show ratings. And indeed, it left space for animated nominees Up and Toy Story 3 and an exceptional action film (District 9). But mostly, it turned one of the consistent dynamics of Academy voting – the need for a certain level of box office success – into a non-issue. Instantly.

In the 10 seasons prior to the expansion, the #1 or #2 box office grosser had won ever single year. When The Hurt Locker, which grossed only $17 million, won Best Picture, it seemed like a fluke. But it has turned out to be the new normal.

There has been no Best Picture winner since then that has ranked higher than #4 in gross amongst the nominees. (This bodes well for The Big Short or Spotlight.)

There will be an exception. It could happen any year. But the trend shifted. And it shifted in a way that no one saw coming.

The Academy made another change to the Best Picture system in 2011. Instead of just having 10 Best Picture nominees, the number of nominees would be determined by a rather complicated system that kept films without a certain amount of the most passionate support from being nominated. Pretty much everyone aside from The Academy sees this system as a disaster. But it has been kept, leading to 9 Picture nominees for three seasons and 8 nominees in the last two seasons.

It’s hard to say exactly what the result of this shift was, except to say that no animated film has made the cut in the five seasons since the change and while the top grosser of the year made the cut in those first 2 years of 10 nominees, only American Sniper has made it since (and in that case, it only became the top grosser after the Oscars had been presented.)

Unintended consequences.

So if you believe that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would get the Oscar show better ratings and you want that, go back to a flat 10 immediately.

In terms of race, it is hard to make a clear line through these last 5 seasons. In the 10 seasons prior to the change, there had been 1 film nominated for Best Picture with a Black lead, Ray. Asians had led Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Letters from Iwo Jima and there were multicultural casts in Traffic, Crash and Babel.

Since 2009, we have seen films with Black leads nominated in 2009 (Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), 2011 (The Help), 2012 (Beasts of the Southern Wild), 2013 (12 Years a Slave), and 2014 (Selma).

In the “off” year of 2010, there was only 1 acting nominee of color (if you consider Spanish to be “of color”), Javier Bardem and there were no other representatives of a film connected to any people of color in directing, writing, or acting.

Looking through the last 7 expanded seasons, another reality has been that the films that have made it to Best Picture are mostly from former nominees or very well established first-time nominees. There seems to be room for a film by a couple new directors most seasons. These have been Neill Blomkamp, Lone Scherfig, and Lee Daniels (2008), Tom Hooper and Debra Granik (2009), Michel Hazanavicius and Tate Taylor (2010), Benh Zeitlin (2011), and Jean-Marc Vallée (2013). Last season, we had Morten Tyldum, Ava DuVernay, and Damien Chazelle’s films all find Best Picture slots. Only 4 of these 12 directors got nominated, never more than 1 in a season. 2 of those 4 won the prize.

And this season, we had 3 “new” filmmakers in Adam McKay, Lenny Abrahamson, and John Crowley, all of whom are actually veteran filmmakers and all of whom didn’t have any kind of awards profile in Hollywood before their films this year. Amazingly, 2 of them got Best Director slots.

My point is, the door seemed to be a little more open this year than it has been in the past five… yet not for director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and Creed.

In any case, this is where we are… the 3rd season in the last 6 without a “Black” film or Black actor nominated.

That was background… here is the foreground. Three small but perhaps important suggestions about how to “fix” the problem at The Academy. And then one last suggestion that I think may actually be the most actionable and helpful of the lot.

1. Expanding Back To 10 Nominees – This is something I advocate for based on the basic argument of clarity. There is no upside to having 8 or 9 nominees instead of 10. No one is judging based on that. Some would prefer to go back to a flat 5. But that is a different conversation.

Would this expansion help get more people of color into the mix? Well, we had 1 year of 10 when there was more representation and 1 year where there was none, like this year.

If there were 10 Best Picture nominees this year, would 1 of the 2 additions have been Creed or Straight Outta Brooklyn or Beasts of No Nation? No one, except the accountants, know the answer to this. Sicario and Ex Machina were the other 2 PGA nominees, aside from Compton, that didn’t get Best Picture nominations. There is also Carol, which many expected to be nominated, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which some thought could be nominated (but as noted earlier, statistically unlikely), and even less likely, Inside Out and Ex Machina. And who knows what else could have popped up unexpectedly, from Steve Jobs to Son of Saul?

I think there is a good chance that 1 of the 2 studio movies would have gotten in with 10 slots. No way to be sure.

2. Changing Voting Rights Of Current Members Based On Age Or Ongoing Employment – I could not be more against this. To start, there is no proof of any kind that older members are responsible for the vote going any particular way. We can all think of our grandparents and make assumptions, but that would be yet another bias added to a conversation about bias.

Also, who gets to define “work?” If you have been trying to get a script made for a decade, have you been working or not?

What is the actual goal of taking the right to vote out of the hands of people who earned the right to be Academy members (whether you personally approve or not)? Is it because there is some moral determination to see a better Academy or is it just in the hope – with no evidence it will change anything – that the vote will come out in a way that would make many people more comfortable?

And who, really, are we trying to get rid of? Though some glibly claim that large percentages of members are unworthy hangers on, I have not seen evidence, documented or experiential, of this.

How deeply ironic would it be for those seeking to enfranchise a community that doesn’t feel it has a full place at the Academy table doing it by disenfranchising others?

I don’t have a problem with a rule taking the vote away from members who do not vote. But that should be the rule already. And obviously, if they are not voting, they are not causing the vote to go any which way.

3. Academy Regains Control Of Phase I – What we call “Phase I” is the period of campaigning before Oscar nominations close. It’s about 4 months long these days. And The Academy has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards it for years now.

There are debates about what The Academy can control or cannot control. History tells us that though people will always seek to push the limits, they will tend to stay within the rules if The Academy does its job and enforces its will… not its law (especially in an era when SCOTUS says businesses are people). But The Academy can make an angry face and send people scurrying. This is a game of perception. No media outlet wants to lose access. And no studio wants to be publicly accused of cheating just to feed another free meal to members. Suggestions by The Academy have the effect of law.

I would disallow sponsored – meaning, revenue producing – screenings… period. If Variety or LAT or The Wrap wants to do a screening series to pump up their ego, great. No making money on it. In fact, I wouldn’t even let the studios pay for the space. If the studio is paying for the space, they can hire whatever moderator they want. It should not be a commercial event.

And The Academy should screen more. A lot more. Big official Academy screenings aside, they own the Linwood Dunn on Vine. They should make a deal with Aero in Santa Monica and and maybe the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills or a screen in one or two of the Arclights and run full day schedules of contending movies for the entire months of October, November, and December. Play hookie, go during lunch, come from work, go at night or on the weekends… but have The Academy become the source – not just the peripheral beneficiary – of screening all these movies. Create community. Create consistency. Make it about the movies.

Deadline’s The Contenders… out. It is nothing but a marketing event and, again, another way of a media company using Academy members to generate profits. Moreover, it is a drain on every studio, which jump through the hoops because they don’t want to miss being a part of something, even if it gives them the smallest edge. Media must stop driving the process of the season.

That said, there should be a Contenders weekend… in January, controlled by The Academy. Whether it is the nominees or a shortlist, imagine a day with talent from all parts of a given film, coming together to talk about the work. Maybe do it around The Globes… one day before and one day after. Videotape it for membership and the world. The idea of all of this is to promote movies and the love of movies, right?

Fewer parties in Phase I. They put a cap on Phase II parties and events. Do the same in Phase I (and loosen the cap in Phase II, where the competition is more focused).

If you want the field to be more even, then even the field. Don’t allow it to be about who can spend the most, hire the most extravagant room, etc. You have to allow for creativity, but The Academy should also be working to widen the door on the event side too.

This may cost some money. The Academy makes money renting out their theaters, for instance. But if this is really important, drop a million dollars a year – of it costs anywhere near that – to take back control of the season. It is an investment in the future.

4. Create A Best Picture Short List – This is what I think is the best idea I have considered in the last week or so of lingering on this. I have discussed it with some Academy members, who have offered suggestions and poked holes in some of the details. No question, there are still going to be holes. But I think there is something here that creates inclusion, but does not demand exclusion as a price.

On the dates when The Academy now votes for all categories – last week of December, first days of January – every Academy voter is asked to vote only for Best Picture. Top 5. Straight weighted ballot count. (#1 = 5 pts, etc)

From that vote, select the top 17 movies of the year. In addition, like the Foreign Language Committee, set up a Gold Star Committee (President, CEO, 3 Governors) that can add 3 more films the night before the announcement that the committee feels were wrongly excluded. Never, ever tell anyone which ones were added by the Gold Star Committee.

Announce the shortlist with a ton of fanfare. Here is The Academy’s Top 20 for the year.

Screen all 20 movies in the course of 2 weeks, 1 each weeknight, 2 on Saturdays, 3 on Sundays. (slotting by lottery) Encourage studios to plan for this and have Academy-run Q&As for each.

Two weeks later, the second round of voting occurs. Best Picture again, perhaps weighted as it is now, perhaps not (I prefer not). And, of course, all the branch-voted categories.

Then, sometime on the last week of January, announce the nominees… same as they do now. Vote 2 or 3 weeks later.

Welcome to the 3 Phase Academy season.

In this way, you have an Academy-voted/sanctioned short list that has a safety valve for inclusion, not just regarding race, but perhaps gender, foreign language pictures, docs, animations… anything.

If in a year like this one, Straight Outta Compton and/or Creed and/or Beasts of No Nation gets in to the 17 short list, so be it. The committee might add an Inside Out or an Ex Machina or a Son of Saul. Or the vote and Gold Star Committee might leave something out that still upsets some people. This is likely.

Whatever movies are left out, there will be complaining. But this could offer a mechanism that pushes aside the distraction of what tends to be a 50 film race and also gives branch members a chance to refocus on all the work with an Academy-driven reminder of work they might want to consider if it isn’t top of mind.

Instead of allowing the December “precursors” to remain the mechanism that causes The Great Settling each year, create an Academy mechanism to do the same thing. Remember, very few people really thought Straight Outta Compton was getting a Best Picture nod until SAG voted it in for Best Ensemble (and no individual nominations). The PGA nomination then confirmed it for some more people. But The Academy’s only word on the film was, “nominee or not a nominee.” (And please note… this is not a comment on the quality or box office of the film, but a simple truth of the award season. The subtext can be further argued elsewhere.)

And I don’t see this as a step of tokenism because no one knows who got the extra boost from the Gold Star Committee, but everyone knows what films made it to the Shortlist. It’s a primary. And not just for Best Picture, but as an extension, for all the other nominations that may be part of those films.

One problem that was brought up to me was that films not on the Shortlist might feel hamstrung in terms of other categories, like acting or screenwriting. And yes, there is a reality to that. But every year, there are nominees in these categories who are not Best Picture nominees. This is another hurdle, though I don’t think it is so significant as to turn a likely nominee into an also-ran. And of course, movies like – this year – 45 Years or Trumbo, might well make the Top 20 while they didn’t make the Top 8 this year.

The point of all of this is to celebrate films. So celebrate 20 films before you celebrate 10 (or 8 or 9 or whatever, if they insist on keeping the current system for nominations). All 20 films will feel like they were legitimate parts of the conversation. Then… when the final 10 are announced… people will still be pissed… but there will be a sense of forward motion.

As for potentials complaints about the Gold Star Committee… personally, I don’t care what they select. If they want to pick all foreign films or all Black films or all women’s films or all White Guy films… all fine by me. I am looking for ways to create an opportunity for inclusion and I choose to trust the leadership of The Academy to act in the organization’s self-interest. Ultimately, the nominations will still be decided by a vote of Academy members, as it should be.

Does it change the shape of the season? Yes. Does it matter if the Oscars are never moving much earlier than the last week of February? It does not. In fact, it would give The Academy a bigger, clearer footprint on the season and slow the whole thing down a little.

No matter what changes are made, the responsibility for inclusion in Hollywood is not on The Academy… it is on the industry. Whether it is more films about people of color or more films about women or so many films of so many cultures, this conversation will no longer be needed.

Burning down this institution will not save this institution. A firmer hand at the wheel and some new structures to make the playing field less driven by commercial considerations over the artistic will help.

If you have ideas of your own, please feel free to e-mail me at If there are enough interesting ideas, I will do a follow-up column before the Governors meet on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.

Thank you for your attention. I hope we can all find a way to refocus the Oscar conversation back to the celebration of film without pushing the legitimate concerns about inequity to the side, forgotten until the next explosive event.

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23 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: The Race & Race – Part 2: Four Suggestions To “Fix” The Academy”

  1. CTR says:

    If the AMPAS aspires to be a good…
    – private club (it fails)
    – PR wing of a big industry (it fails)
    – marketing firm for what studios actually produce (it fails)
    – reflection of the actual great cinema of a year (it fails)
    – process of recognizing art in a way that makes logical sense (it fails)
    – reflection of American religious, ethnic & economic sociology (it fails)
    – polticial lobbying group for studio interests (well, there it succeeds)

    Knowing this, the only reason I can think some take Oscars seriously is because it’s the same way religious nuts take magic seriously: Our parents and grandparents taught us to.

  2. brack says:

    Academy Board Endorses Changes to Increase Diversity in Oscar Nominees and Itself

  3. YancySkancy says:

    So number two happened (no pun intended). Wonder if the older members who are affected will file a class action lawsuit, as I believe some were threatening if this came to pass.

  4. js partisan says:

    The older members, were running the Academy into the ground. If they kept letting them have power: Harvey would keep getting his damn way, and they’d go three years without nominating anyone of color for an acting category. We could even fucking go through the whole fucking fact, that a best actress/supporting actress award, gives said actress absolutely NO BOOST TO THEIR CAREERS, but that’s a rant for another day.

    The fact, that they didn’t learn their lesson from last year, is astounding. Hell, the moment these members, awarded The Artist with Best Picture. They should have lost their voting privileges on the fucking spot. Their niche voting, is an embarrassment, and I am glad the Academy has decided to cut them off.

    Now, maybe, we will get movies that are not so niche, getting nominated, and maybe winning. That would be fucking something. I am just glad, that after almost ten years of going on about this, that the Academy came to the conclusion… I’m right :D!

    Also, let me state, that awards for art are dumb. We all get this, but that little goofy statue is supposed to mean something, and it’s supposed to represent our most enduring cultural creation… cinema. Sure. That’s asking a lot from an Academy and it’s members, but that’s the way they market the fucking thing.

    If they want to keep their show, the thing that keeps them paid, and their award meaning something (let along the fucking ratings). They had to do what they did today. Will it change everything next year? Who knows? You just can’t keep being the AWARD SHOW TO END ALL AWARD SHOWS, and have members continually make stupid, shithead moves, year after year after year. This. This may begin to make things right.

  5. Lynch VanSant says:

    I would make it a standard 10 best movie nominees and allow members to vote a list of 10 movies as well…and get rid of the preferential voting system so as to avoid the similarity of the top vote getters and those others who were voted by the same people. That would allow differing views of people who like other types of movies to be able to get in, not just the safest typical Oscar bait dramas.

  6. greg hoey says:

    David; VERY nice and VERY balanced and well-researched piece with ACTUAL well-researched readily doable suggestions. A pleasure to read and actually learn something after so much of the uninformed dare-I-say biased vitriol filing the internet.

  7. captain celluloid says:

    David; VERY nice and VERY balanced and well-researched piece with ACTUAL well-researched readily doable suggestions. A pleasure to read and actually learn something after so much of the uninformed dare-I-say biased vitriol filing the internet.

  8. Katz says:

    #2 seems very nuanced and complex, yet at the same time – Not.

    If we are to make equivalences of trade bias (toward the included) with bias (of the proclaimed excluded but factually included, as per your “doesn’t feel it has a full place at the Academy table”), we need to ask:

    If older voters have earned their right, what are the terms for newer voters to earn their right – that aren’t largely arbitrary and subjective? If much of this “right” of membership is down to non-objective appraisal, isn’t membership rather a “privilege”?

    Hanger-on is highly emotional language, and rightly so from POV of whom weather the brutal nature of their fields in the industry.

    Suppose it’s misguided to scrutinize AMPAS membership as reflecting all who actively participate (within a reasonable, yet arbitrarily determined, window?) in the economic processes of the industry. Suppose we ought to see older voters’ expertise, hard-earned wisdom in casting votes as comparable to artistic exchange.

    So much so, that older voters are AMPAS’ guiding (as majority) light, that any minor change equates “burning down this institution”. Then we may ask, if so much the “right” is arbitrarily bestowed “privilege”, comprising of a powerful “institution” that shapes career windfalls (if the industry jobs exist for winners), then what’s wrong with extending that “privilege as right as institution” to others *actively participating economically* yet quite different from the older voters?

  9. js partisan says:

    Katz, it’s Logan’s Run. This is what the Academy is now, because the older voters have made this thing worse. Seriously, go look at nominations when there were five movies from like ten years ago. Go back 16 years. The older voters have gotten even more insular, and even more prejudiced to the world outside their gated communities. Now, they have to deal with being phased out, because they are too old to get how the world is beginning to work. The times… they are… a changing.

  10. Movielocke says:

    I wonder if the voting change is going to affect the pledged donations to the museum

  11. leahnz says:

    probably the funniest thing chris rock could do at this point is say not a single thing about any of this, subvert expectations in his hosting stint, just play it straight, charming, dorky slightly mischievous suave rock and let the irony of his hosting gig speak for itself.
    looking around at admittedly just a little of the reaction to all of this it reminds me of lewis’s law, but for race/racism (i couldn’t seem to find the proper term for it), more irony i guess: how the commentary that follows any article/situation/discussion focusing on racism ends up proving its existence, insidiousness, and the need to end it, good grief

  12. YancySkancy says:

    The only thing this new rule is gonna do is alienate a bunch of the membership. They’re basically being told “We’re assuming the lack of diversity in the acting nominations is your fault. Sure, some of you probably vote for plenty of diverse folks; heck, some of you may not even be white yourselves, but oh well, some babies get thrown out with the bathwater. We’re thinking of the greater good here.”

    I don’t know what percentage of the membership will lose their voting rights, but if the Academy intends to double the number of women and “diverse” members over the next four years, why not just see how that works first? After all, the “problem” of older voters is a self-correcting one, because people die.

  13. leahnz says:

    what are the ‘aliened’ members going to do, exactly, as revenge, vote for shit they haven’t seen? hate to break it to you but they already do that

  14. YancySkancy says:

    Well, most of the “alienated” members will no longer be able to vote at all because of the new rule. At any rate, I didn’t say anything about them “doing” anything. I just think it sucks for the ones who are not part of the perceived problem. Or perhaps you have info that I don’t that proves that each and every one of the affected members are among those who never vote for non-whites, whether because of unconscious bias or out-and-out racism.

    It just seems likely to me that at least a few people will lose their vote despite a record of diverse voting. Moreover, despite the overwhelming whiteness of the Academy, are we sure that NONE of the people losing their vote are nonwhite?

  15. leahnz says:

    it wouldn’t surprise if this has been on the agenda for a while and being implemented now in expediency, it’s not like there hasn’t been on-going criticism of the acedemy for some time (and it’s not without precedent, membership rule changes, it’s happened before). they implemented it quickly, too quickly maybe for something completely off the radar as a possible plan previously. (funny how this option doesn’t address or effect the money-go-round shitshow campaigning industry, the old band-aid-on-cancer approach)

  16. palmtree says:

    ^^^Ding ding ding!

  17. js partisan says:

    Actually, it does effect the money go-round shitshow, because those damn old fogies love, LOVE, that Weinstein money!

  18. leahnz says:

    looking around at more of the reaction to this oscar controversy, one thing seems clear: white male hegemony goes down hard and whiny. looking at the US specifically, since the oscars are US-based and the latest impetus for a spotlight on representation, clearly it’s past high time to ask: why is it that, looking at US demographics wherein caucasian boys/men make up about 31 people out of 100 in the population, mainstream film/pop culture depicts them as the hero/main character so overwhelmingly, so massive is the disparity and over-representation of a minority group in a self-perpetuating cycle of aggrandisement as the majority and the heroes/protagonists, so common is this narrative that over time it has become normalised, the default – so much so that any heroes/protags from other groups are seen as an anomaly and basically stick out like a sore thumb.

    how many times in a white guy’s life does he watch a movie where the hero/protagonist is a white guy – hundreds, perhaps thousands over a lifetime? imagine for a moment what it’s like, for instance, to be a hispanic/latina girl or boy having grown up never having once seen a hero/lead character in a movie at the multiplex who looks like themselves, where even a protagonist of their ethnicity is so rare as to be virtually non-existent (yet each of their demographic represents around 9 out of 100 americans, 18 out of 100 people combined – and statistically out of those 100 americans 45 – nearly half – of movie ticket buyers are not white).

    what does this say, what does this teach. as a species it’s crucial to teach empathy, open-heartedness and -mindedness, to embrace and relate to people who look different from ourselves as part of life’s rich tapestry, part of feeling our communal place in the world. this is a key component of our humanity as defined by our supposed higher consciousness, intelligence and awareness in our self-appointed dominion over this planet. looking at the important role of popular culture in social and cultural conditioning (and specifically movies as one of the most pervasive mainstream art forms in popular culture, the images we show ourselves are powerful), what does such white male dominance in movies teach?

    something happens with the people who are not white boys/men – the clear majority as it happens: we are so relentlessly inundated with white guys as the hero/protagonist of pretty much every movie that we learn to relate to and empathise with heroes who don’t look like us. we go on their journeys, relate to/see things common to the human condition in their experience, we see them depicted as varied individuals and characters – and ultimately we all internalise white guys as the default heroes because that’s what we are fed en masse. (and when the very few and far between white women heroes of popular culture come along – ripley and sarah connor and katniss [who wasn’t written white originally] and maybe furiosa and rey, we’ll see – boy are they like shining beacons, icons, when they should be but delightful drops in a bucket-full of multi-coloured heroines for everyone).

    what does this same paradigm teach white boys/men? they are simply not conditioned to do the same, to learn to empathise and relate to heroes/lead characters who are different from them through exposure and normalisation. from a sociological and psychological standpoint this most certainly has ramifications, to see yourself portrayed as the main character around whom others orbit, the hero of the story so often it’s simply the norm.

    it appears a noisy faction of white guys (which doesn’t mean the majority by any stretch, at least i hope not) view themselves as hard-done-by and somehow vilified because their massive over-representation as a minority group is being pointed out, questioned and ultimately challenged in a wave of cultural rebellion against the bizarrely skewed status-quo, and serving as a window on just how deeply engrained white male hegemony is. it’s fascinating from a detached empirical standpoint but disturbing and even a bit scary from the standpoint of humanity and how we exist together, and what our future holds. cultural under-representation breeds resentment; cultural over-representation breeds entitlement. we need balance if humanity is to progress, even survive, let alone flourish.

  19. YancySkancy says:

    I mean, I guess this is all anecdotal and depends on what we’re all reading, but it seems to me that most of the defensive reactions to the OscarSoWhite brouhaha aren’t denying the under-representation of nonwhites, but are rather pointing out that the problem lies more with what gets made (or not) than what gets nominated (or not). I haven’t seen anyone defending the status quo, but there are definite disagreements about how to achieve the desired change of more diversity. Several older Academy members affected by the new voting rule have released open letters to the trades, in which they not surprisingly reject the idea that their age or current working status should disenfranchise them. Some of these people are women, or gay, or both, and see a certain irony at work.

  20. leahnz says:

    way late but TBC my comment above was meant as a wider sociological/philosophical look at movies in the context of popular culture (not just the oscars) after reading some unsavoury comment threads about this issue on a few other movie blogs and culture sites with my ‘goddaughter’ (which i don’t normally do but she’s a bit more tuned into the social media stuff and i wasn’t quite aware of the toxic type of commentary the issue has brought out. she’s of mixed race heritage and i’m conscious of her experience, how gender and race impact the way she’s treated and valued in society, esp in contrast to the relative ease with which my son goes through life as a light-skinned blonde-haired guy).

    clearly the academy’s systemic bias (and i find taking gender out of the equation highly suspect in terms of examining systemic/institutionalised exclusion) is a reflection of a greater problem in the industry, but that doesn’t mean voters should be immune or excused from the role they play in awarding and perpetuating such a narrow demographic. i guess we’ll see how it plays out, if oscar voters being disenfranchised based on the new voting criteria in conjunction with new memberships creates more diverse, out-of-the-box nominations over time, maybe the middlebrow ‘fuddyduddy-ness’ will also take a hit. like i said before the new measure seems like a one-note ‘solution’ to a corrupted system with multiple problems.

    it’s striking how those driving the discourse on industry diversity in the mainstream media/public eye appear to be predominately a bunch of white dudes as ‘critics’, ‘bloggers’, ‘journalists’, ‘culture observers’, whathaveyou, which is revelatory and highly ironic. it brings to mind a weird form of regulatory capture wherein the people who deign to evaluate and steer ‘discussion’ in the mainstream on topics of gender and race are overwhelmingly the very group who benefit from the institutional white male bias that deems their voices somehow ‘worthy’ while the voices of women/non-whites are in the sharp minority and exist mostly on the fringes/out of the mainstream media, thus playing out the EXACT same paradigm of white male hegemony being ‘examined’ in the film industry. it’s quite absurd.

    another thing i’ve seen is this idea that the film industry is ‘liberal’. individuals in the film industry may be liberal but as a business, when it comes to $, the industry is way conservative, and also completely devoid of logic. the rationale, without fail, is always: ‘it’s a business after all and unfortunately white guys are what sells as the heroes/main characters so that’s what gets made, sorry.”.
    ok, based on what exactly? if there was some actual precedent or proof, something upon which such a rationale could be substantiated then this oft-regurgitated meme may at least have a degree of plausibility, but it’s a hollow excuse. where are all the examples of non-white people cast in mainstream films as the heroes/protags that have failed at the box office. i’m trying to think of some examples, trying to think of just ONE good example to account for the ‘non-white/woman protag panic’ but i’m drawing a blank. and yet somehow non-whites/women have managed to become movie stars on a regular basis so i guess some strange voodoo must account for this since lead characters who aren’t white dudes are supposedly box office poison. it’s funny how it works: if you pretty much only make movies with white guys as the main character, then movies with white guys as the main character will be the ones to make $, it’s nonsensical circular reasoning/logic and serves only one purpose, the status quo. what’s the root of this fear of non-white/female heroes? clearly it is NOT commercial, there’s no basis for it, and in the US almost half of movie ticket buyers are NOT white. so what’s really going on here.

  21. Stella's Boy says:

    I’ve been disappointed by some people’s reaction to this. Many have been on some serious Twitter tirades lambasting the Academy for their recent actions and squabbling with others, always arguing on behalf of existing Academy members and against the Academy’s decisions, even though no one has been kicked out of the organization. They act outraged by all the diversity talk and complain that it’s overdone, as if none of it is genuine, as if it’s only relevant to non-white folks. Consciously or not, they appear to side with the status quo, because they spend so much time criticizing the Academy. It’s so easy for a middle-aged white male to be exhausted by talk of diversity in the Academy and in the nominations. Too often it seems to be the only perspective these people care about.

  22. leahnz says:

    i don’t read twitter hardly ever (once in a blue moon something on the MCN main page feed will catch my eye) but it seems like a terrible place for proper rants and arguments – like, ‘part 1 of 16’ of my point…

    possibly the grossest aspect of the ‘discourse’ on this topic is white guys practically tripping over themselves in it seems every thread i’ve read with a great deal of concern about ‘quotas’ and ‘affirmative action!’.

    the film industry is a cesspool of white boy cronyism so pervasive, so entrenched, so steeped in favouritism it oozes out of every pore and orifice – the result of which is a mainstream industry rife with mediocrity, homogeny and a lack of imagination in no way, shape or form reflective of a ‘meritocracy’ – and yet the suggestion that the industry needs a shake-up and to take steps to seriously broaden its sights from its very narrow current purview going forward in a changing culture results in OMG QUOTAS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION OMG THE END OF WHITE DAYS QUOTAS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION!!! whiny hysteria because the academy has changed its voting criteria (which it’s done before, a couple times, in an attempt to modernise).

    gee very concerned white guys, where’s all the OMG WHITE GUYS ARE HIRING OTHER AVERAGE TO SHITTY WHITE GUYS BECAUSE THEY’RE WHITE AND COMFORTABLE AND ‘TRUSTWORTHY’ AND MAKING MOVIES ABOUT MEEEEEE!!!!! movement? oh no wait, that’s a ‘meritocracy’! hahahhaha yeah right, this shit is so fucked up it’s insane. as usual the only people who can’t see what’s really going on are members of the group who disproportionately benefit from the lopsided status quo.

    but don’t fret, poor white dudes, i’m sure the industry will be heavily invested in whispering ‘you are the heroes of the story!’ seductively in your ear for a good long time yet. shh, don’t worry poppets, there there now, you are the heroes… you are the heroes… you are the heroes… (see all those other people out there in the world who aren’t like you and far outnumber you, never mind them, YOU ARE HEROES 😉

  23. YancySkancy says:

    Clearly there are plenty of idiots out there who don’t understand the fundamentals of this issue and whose only take-away from the debate is “Gee, I guess these diversity freaks want quotas!” But there’s a spectrum here, and I’m not sure why we have to assume that these very vocal morons are more pertinent than the reasonable folks (of all ages, races and genders) who have expressed caveats about the particulars of the new voting rules. Among those folks, quotas are generally only mentioned in the context of “How in the heck do we ensure that the nominations become more diverse, short of quotas?” That’s hardly the same thing as accusing people of *calling* for quotas. The “solutions” proposed by the Academy raise some inconvenient issues of fairness in regard to ageism, as has been expressed by numerous voters who are assuming they will be affected by the change. The big answer from those in favor of the change, if they address it at all, seems to boil down to “You gotta break eggs to make an omelet” or something. Cold comfort to a sixty-something gay white woman who has a history of diverse voting. I’m all for hurling insults at loud-mouthed know-nothings, but I think voters like her deserve something better than miming the world’s tiniest violin.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon