Tag: acting

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You see, the Academy has announced that it is changing the rules, and eliminating people who are no longer active in the film industry from its roster of voters.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



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.

The Injustice of It All

At my day job, we recently had a brainstorming session. We had to come up with ideas for an industrial video to illustrate abstract psychological concepts, which is primarily what I write about for my company. It’s a niche living.

The videos are set in white-collar environments, and we try to make them as diverse as possible. This is why each vignette is so perfectly balanced in regards to gender, race, and ethnicity that viewers are forced to marvel at this workplace nirvana of cultural harmony.

Still, it has led to some borderline deceitful behavior. For example, our last Hispanic character was played by a very dark Jewish man. We simply couldn’t find a local Latino thespian.

In any case, we were discussing casting for the latest video when the Bitca informed us that we were running short on older, white male actors. It seems that we’ve used them all in previous videos.

I found this shocking. How can you run out of old white guys? Is there a shortage that I haven’t been informed of? Are they endangered within the general population?

We discussed having an open casting call, and this caused me to picture hordes of white men in business suits, hanging around parking lots, all of them just waiting for that truck to drive up and offer them acting gigs for the day. The men would jostle each other for the opportunity to be trabajadores, and they would climb into the back of the truck, where someone would hand them fake IDs and tell them the job was cash only, under the table. And then they would sweat under the hot lights of the set, avoiding the suspicious glares of the director and sound technicians and boom operators. Then they would do it all the next day.

Ultimately, it’s true: these guys are just taking the acting jobs that no one else will take.

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