Tag: Academy Awards

Fading Into Insignificance

This weekend, Chris Rock will host the Oscars, during which he will — maybe, possibly, in all likelihood — address the fact that the last 40 acting nominees have all been white. He may also mention that the track record of behind-the-scenes nominees (e.g., writers, cinematographers, and so on) is even more dismal.

Now, many people have hyperanalyzed the reasons why the Oscars are so white, and why the film industry lags behind other art forms in projecting America as it actually exists, and whether or not this is all a misunderstanding or deeply ingrained racism.

I’m not going to recap all the backlashes and counter-backlashes that this mess has conjured up. But I do want to point out one very telling, almost universally ignored aspect of this controversy.

BRENTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Nate Sanders displays the collection of Oscar statuettes that his auction company will sell online to the highest bidder on February 24, 2012 in Brentwood, California. (Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images)


You see, the Academy has announced that it is changing the rules, and eliminating people who are no longer active in the film industry from its roster of voters.

This has predictably riled up those long-time Academy members who are in the twilight of their lives, many of whom are crying, “Ageism!” They may have a point.

But what I find interesting is that, in the reasons and justifications for their opposition to this rule change, more than one Academy member has said that it is unfair to ethnic minorities. As many commentators have noted, “if there’s a black Academy member out there who agrees, please do get in touch.” And yet, many people still embrace the idea that altering the status quo to increase diversity is actually a bigoted response.

What does this tell us?

Well, for starters, it shows once again that people who are accused of being racists will often turn around and shout that their opponents are the real racists. It’s a nifty bit of swift-boating.

It also reveals that acknowledging an institution’s biases — and by extension the touchy topic of white privilege — causes people to freak the fuck out and get more than a little defensive.

But more than anything, it serves as direct evidence that white people in positions of privilege, such as rich Hollywood types, feel that they can pontificate on any issue and shout down any viewpoint different from their own.

Think about it. Here you have a wealthy white person deciding what is and isn’t fair to ethnic minorities. He or she isn’t concerned with whether or not ethnic minorities perceive it that way. Privileged individuals are used to having their voices heard, so why should this subject be any different?

In this way, they prove, unintentionally of course, that there really is a racial problem in Hollywood. After all, this is a case of rich white people saying, “There, there, all you struggling blacks and Latinos. We’ve decided that your proposed solution is actually harmful to you, and in our great magnanimity we’re going to fight against it — for all of you, of course.”

It doesn’t get any more arrogant.



Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.


That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.


An Unexpected Backlash

Let me thank Profe for commenting on my previous article (“Donde Esta Mi Oscar?”). Thanks also to everyone who responded to it on the Huffington Post… well, maybe not everyone.

You see, despite the dozens of posts I have written, I still have a hard time gauging which articles will get the most response or what the reaction will be. So I was surprised when the previous post, about the lack of Latinos with Oscar nominations, went beyond simple pop-culture observation.

In short, my point about Hispanic representation in Hollywood was more or less ignored in favor of an ax-grinding issue: Namely, who is or is not Latino?

Several commentators insisted that Oscar winner Javier Bardem and Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz are Hispanic, despite the fact that both were born and raised in Spain. Of course, I don’t agree, and I offered my definition of Hispanic (ie, people who are from, or have their roots in, countries south of the Texas border and/or the islands in that general vicinity).

Now, one can make a valid argument that Cruz and Bardem are Hispanic. It’s not crazy or stupid to think so. Maybe we can agree to disagree?

Well, maybe we can’t. I received several snappish comments about my opinion and was informed that my viewpoint is as “preposterous as it is plainly wrong.” People demanded to know where I got my definition or stated that I had no idea what I was talking about.

I also discovered that when it comes to pinpointing Latino countries of origin, “Spanish-speaking is the key word and qualifier.” This means, I suppose, that Spaniards are Latinos but Brazilians are not (they speak Portuguese). In addition, one person replied, “I guess I’m not Latino cause I’m North American,” a sarcastic aside that I can’t even pretend to decipher.

When I wasn’t being assailed for my insensitivity to Spaniards, I was being called out for my own hypersensitivity.

There was a calm, reasoned request that I “get a life” and the demand that I “quit crying.” Other outbursts of maturity included “Oh boo hoo” and “JFC!!!” One reader said that I had indulged in a “stupid and pointless exercise,” but I didn’t have the heart to point out that she/he had stooped to my moronic level by taking time to read the post and issue a furious reply to it.

Other readers insisted that I was calling for a quota system, and one threatened that “some day, people will learn awards ceremonies are not places where equal representation is (or should) be considered.” That sounds ominous to me, sir.

Naturally, I find it interesting that the simple act of pointing out racial or ethnic discrepancies elicits charges of whining or accusations that people are gunning for quotas. Such attacks are designed to get people to shut up and not point out uncomfortable facts. I have serious doubts that it ever works.

In any case, all this had very little to do with my original point, which is that it would be nice to see more Latinos on film. As a truce to my many critics, let me say that regardless of whether you think Pedro Almodovar has made a Latino movie or a European one, go out and see it. And while you’re at it, check out an Alfonso Cuaron or a Robert Rodriguez flick. There’s a lot of Latino talent out there, however you define it.

Donde Esta Mi Oscar?

First, belated thanks to all those who commented on my piece “Sprechen Sie Deutsch,” both here and on the Huffington Post. Judging by the sheer number of comments (over 100 combined) it is the most popular post I’ve written yet. The article will soon be reprinted in “Aqui” magazine.

Second, thanks (of sorts) to Lulu, who commented on my previous post, “A New Start?” Lulu’s words are either this blog’s first stab at post-Bush ironic joking, or one of my few pieces of legitimate hate mail. Either way, What a Laugh had a good rejoinder.

On a much lighter note, Oscar nominations came out this week. Once again, the list is so chockablock with Latinos that we can assume the ceremony will be telecast in Spanish.

Actually, I’m being facetious. None of the twenty acting nominees is Hispanic. And with the exception of Spain’s Penelope Cruz (who is European and therefore not a Latina), an accented name is hard to find on the list of anyone nominated for anything.

Now, I’m certainly not denigrating the talent of this year’s Best Actress frontrunner, the lovely Kate Winslet (for the last time, I am not obsessed with her, no matter what my wife says). But the dearth of Latinos, despite our standing as the biggest minority in America, is glaring. More telling than the actual scarcity of nominees is the fact that few people even notice that we’re underrepresented.

To prove my point, simply browse any list of Oscar trivia, which will reveal the names Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, and Halle Berry – all the first African Americans to win Oscars in their respective categories. It was even big news a few years ago when Denzel Washington became just the second black man to win Best Actor. When one thinks about it, that is quite the specificity.

In contrast, the first Hispanic to win an acting Oscar in any category was… well, anybody know off the top of their heads? In fact, acres of Google research are required just to find out which Latinos have been nominated.

My admittedly crude investigation uncovers that, in the eighty-one years the Academy has been handing out awards, just fourteen Hispanics have been nominated for acting Oscars. The last was Adriana Barraza in 2007 for “Babel.” That year was a supposed watershed for Hispanics, with over a dozen Latinos nominated for Oscars in various categories. The sublime “Pan’s Labyrinth,” from Mexican  auteur Guillermo del Toro, even won a couple that year. But in the two years since then, finding a Latino at the Academy Awards is as common as seeing a low-rider bounce past while blaring Aimee Mann.

So why aren’t more Hispanics getting into the winner’s circle, or even receiving invitations to the party in the first place? Well, many filmmakers seem to believe that the only appropriate settings for cinematic drama are upper-middle-class suburbia or Victorian England. As such, Gael Garcia Bernal just isn’t going to pop up that often. An openness to other stories, especially ones that reflect the actual twenty-first century, is an important first step to seeing more Latinos onscreen.

Still, we can’t ignore the progress that has already been made. After all, we’re long past the days when Charlton Heston was deemed suitable to play a Mexican (it’s true; check out “Touch of Evil”).

By the way, the last Latino to win an acting Oscar was Benicio Del Toro in 2001 for “Traffic.” And since you’re probably wondering, here are the first Hispanic winners in each acting category.

  • Best Actor: Jose Ferrer, 1950, “Cyrano de Bergerac”
  • Best Supporting Actor: Anthony Quinn, 1952, “Viva Zapata!”
  • Best Supporting Actress: Rita Moreno,1961, “West Side Story”

No Latina has ever won Best Actress.

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