They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Stage Three Begins With a Bang and a Whimper

By J. Don Birnam

January 18, 2016

Yep, we sure are all pretty white.

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The ink was not completely dry on the 88th Oscar nominations when the now-infamous hashtag that made the rounds last year, #OscarsSoWhite, reared its head. Then, on Sunday night, the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) gave their yearly kudos in the 21st Critics Choice Awards and named Spotlight their Best Picture. Today, we weigh in on both developments and on my favorite topic of all: what the nominations tell us about the Academy, the industry, and ourselves.

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The Bang: #OscarsSoWhite Redux

One of the reasons I, and I suspect many others, enjoy following the Oscars, is because, however improbably, we glean from them some wider meaning about our culture, and therefore ourselves. Indeed, look no further for proof that the Oscars matter on a personal level to people than to the fact that the Oscars, too, have befallen to the incessant cacophony of online sniping culture wars that have come to define the age of social media.

Last year, we noted that the Oscars had come under criticism, with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, for nominating 20/20 white actors, in particular given that the obvious black actor who gave a magnificent performance, David Oyelowo from Selma, was not nominated. This year, too, much has been already made on the blogosphere about the race of the nominees (no Idris Elba, no Michael B. Jordan), the Best Picture miss for Straight Outta Compton (though its two [white] screenwriters got a nod), and the shutout of Creed (except for the nomination of the one [white] star, Sylvester Stallone).

Lest we hide our head in the sand and ignore what is happening in the world of entertainment right now, we must briefly weigh in, however redundantly and unnecessarily, into this controversy.


On the one hand, there can be no doubt that, as a simple matter of numbers and math, the Academy and the Oscars skew white. The L.A. Times’ now infamous expose revealed that over 94% of voting members are white, and the nominations, this and last year’s included, follow a similar pattern.

But it would be incredibly reductive, not to mention pointless, to parlay those facts into a conclusion that the Oscars or the Academy are racist, prejudiced, or somehow unfairly predisposed against minorities. The Academy, if anything, has been making persistent efforts to grow its ranks in more inclusive and diverse ways, and has sponsored several initiatives aimed at increasing the role of women and minority filmmakers and stars in Hollywood. My yearly defense of the Oscars - reserved usually for the day after the broadcast, when the (hopelessly trite and predictable) accusations of predictability and boringness of the show emerge - has come early, it seems.

To accuse the Oscars of prejudice is like accusing the floor for being wet after it rains. The reality is that they like what they like. We all do. It is not a matter of rejecting or disliking other groups. The fact that a group of mostly white old men pick movies that appeal to white old men is not racism, it is the intractable nature of humans.

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