Tag: Oscars

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You see, the Academy has announced that it is changing the rules, and eliminating people who are no longer active in the film industry from its roster of voters.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

 

 


The Urge to Merge

I know what you’re thinking.

“Hey, Hispanic Fanatic, wouldn’t this country be better off if huge corporations called more of the shots?”

Yes, I’m nothing if not a shill for the benefits of global conglomerates having even more control over our society. I mean, when has big business ever screwed us over?

Puppet master

 

 

While you ponder that most rhetorical of questions, I will draw your attention to a recent study that looked at media company mergers.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race analyzed media company mergers after 2008, but they focused on the Comcast-NBCUniversal deal because it was the largest and well documented.

Now, remember that one of the many arguments that media groups make when merging is that their new tentacled beast of an organization will increase racial and ethnic diversity. These new companies will also make the internet free, cure cancer, and teach your dog to speak, but I digress.

So how did the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger do?

Well, the researchers found that “despite a pledge to increase Latino representation in programming, there was no significant increase in diversity behind the camera.”

The percentage of Latino directors went up a meager 0.8% after the merger. But the percentage of Hispanic producers, executive producers, and writers all actually decreased.

Yikes — that ain’t so good.

To be fair, the study also found that the percentage of Hispanic actors onscreen increased from 6.6% before the merger to 7.3% afterward. That’s good news, right? Well, even that mild improvement comes with a caveat, as deeper analysis shows that this increase “was accompanied by a significant rise in Latino stereotypes on NBCUniversal. Latinos who appeared as maids, janitors, [and] inmates” nearly tripled from 2008 to 2014.

Basically, more shows were hiring more Hispanics to appear as servants and thugs.

Yay for progress!

By the way, before the merger, Comcast and NBCUniversal had no Latino executives. But today, 4 out of 130 senior executives are Latino, accounting for 3.1% of upper management. However, only one (yes, one Latino executive in the whole company) holds a position outside of Telemundo.

Now, one can look at this study and link it to the current uproar that Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans are a combined 0-for-40 when it comes to recent Oscar nominations for acting.

When we do that, we must come to the conclusion that, as the researchers so diplomatically put it, “The agreements and promises made before the merger [aren’t] really panning out.”

But I’m sure things will be different when the next big media merger happens. Next time, all their promises will magically come true.

Yup.

 

 


I’d Like to Thank the Academy

I’ve written before about the poor representation of Latinos at the Oscars, and in the world of cinema in general.

So I was pleased to find out that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the people who hand out the little gold men) have recently decided to get on the Latino bandwagon and throw open the doors to more Hispanics.

The Academy just released its list of new members, and of the 276 additional people who will get to vote on Best Picture, there are 22 Latinos.

Among the new members are Jennifer Lopez, Rosario Dawson, Michael Pena, and, yes, Danny Trejo.

trejo

That’s right, Machete himself is now a member of the Academy.

How cool is that?

 


Locked In

In America, you can be anything you want to be, and everybody has unlimited potential…

Well, if that were really true, the entire population would be nothing but rock stars, senators, Oscar-winning actresses, and NFL quarterbacks.

To continue reading this post, please click here.


A One-Two Counterpunch

Despite my cynicism about the Academy Awards (see the previous posts), two recent bits of pop culture have convinced me that the infiltration of Hispanics into the mass media is indeed continuing unabated.

First, I was pleased to see that on “30 Rock” (the best comedy on television), Salma Hayek has a running guest-star role as a nurse. This is a step up from the usual maid-nanny-junkie roles that most Latina actresses are relegated to. It’s still not quite a doctor, however, so there’s room for improvement.

Of course, I was a bit surprised to see Hayek, a Mexican actress, portraying a Nuyorican character. I would imagine that both Chicanos and Puerto Ricans would be up in arms about the cross-cultural portrayal, but maybe we can all agree that getting a Latina on television is for the greater good. More likely, we can all agree that Hayek is a talented actress who deserves more work and is, you know, rather pleasant to look at, regardless of the circumstances.

Second, I saw the movie “Hamlet 2,” a comedy about a hapless high school drama teacher. The film is biting and funny, but for the purposes of this blog, my emphasis is on its cast. Many of the struggling thespians are Hispanic teens, and the movie doesn’t shy away from milking cultural differences for laughs. I don’t recall seeing a movie where multiple Hispanic teens appear onscreen, yet aren’t a scary gang coming after the white protagonist. Along those lines, it was also refreshing that one of the Latino kid’s fathers is an intellectual rather than a gangbanger. This is incremental progress that we shouldn’t get too excited about, but it’s positive nonetheless.

Of course, if “Hamlet 2” is going to be remembered for anything, it won’t be for the scene where the prissy white girl says, “I’ll show you why, vato,” and throws herself at the Latino guy she’s been lusting after for the entire movie. As good as that interaction is, the movie will always be known as the source of the “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” number:



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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