Breaking Down the #OscarsSoWhite Blowback

When the Oscar nominations were announced earlier this month, people were once again stunned. For the second time in as many years, all the nominees for the acting and directing categories (with one exception) were white. Same goes for the Best Picture nods, which all centered on stories revolving around predominately white casts. As you can imagine in the social media age that we live in these days, the blowback was as swift as it was predictable .

Within hours the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was trending and a number of people in and outside the Hollywood industry were being asked to opine on the topic at hand. I found it interesting the number of ‘mainstream’ news organizations that were quick to lambaste the Academy Awards for their lack of representation, when in fact many of their own newsrooms aren’t exactly beacons of diversity either. Hey Pot, say hello to my main man Kettle.

This issue of a lack of diversity at the Oscars is hardly a new one. The fact that only a handful of black folks (not to mention Latinos and Asians) have won an Oscar since Hattie McDaniel became the first to do so back in 1940, is sadly not surprising. What is surprising is that The Academy (the group of individuals that vote and determine who is nominated and who wins an Oscar) still does not see the error in its ways.

For starters, The Academy’s membership is overwhelmingly white and male and older than the general population. That right there should tell you something. Now current Academy president Cheryl Boone Issacs (the first person of color to hold this title), was dismayed at the lack of diversity and recently pledged to implement some changes to address the issue. The fact remains however that the Academy Awards are simply a reflection of the Hollywood industry. Which is to say that as the industry currently sits, many people of color simply are not getting the opportunities in front of, as well as behind the camera that many of their white counterparts have no problem acquiring. Much of this can be attributed to who runs the major studios and who they decide to bankroll.

It’s no secret that there is not a single person of color in Hollywood who can Greenlight a film. By Greenlight, that means they have final say on whether or not a picture is made. So when people wonder about the paucity of roles for black folks in the studio system, there’s your Exhibit A. Many of the directors and producers within the studio system just so happen to look like the people who head these same companies, so it’s a bit of an ‘Old Boys Network’ if you will. That’s not to suggest that Hollywood won’t take chances on black actors or directors, they’re just simply not as likely to when compared to whites in the same positions.

Outside of Stallone, CREED was shut out of the Oscars

The old Hollywood system is slowly changing however. While often feeling like their stories weren’t being told, or being told in a way where whiteness still occupied the frame, many creatives of color have been using different avenues to get their material out. One such avenue has been the independent route. Ava DuVernay started AFFRM (which is now called ARRAY) which markets and distributes films by people of color, many of whom whose stories don’t fit the traditional studio model. Groups like ARRAY help amplify the voices of members of communities who for far too long have had their stories silenced for a number of reasons. Speaking of independent projects, “Dope,” one of my 2015 movies of the year, was an independent film.

As much progress continues to be made by black and brown creatives outside the realm of Hollywood, the question must be asked when will they truly be welcomed in from the wilderness so to speak? I don’t have a concrete answer to that, but clearly Hollywood and the The Academy will be tasked with finding the appropriate solutions. Perhaps the studios should start sending some recruiters to HBCUs, like their Silicon Valley brethren have recently started doing. Or maybe investing more in the local communities in the Greater Los Angeles Area to get kids from various backgrounds in the studio pipeline. For before you can get nominations, you need opportunities, and Hollywood right now is failing at both.


Super Producer Will Packer Offers Words of Wisdom

To say these are good times for Will Packer would be an understatement. Between movies and now not one, but two, new TV shows on deck, Packer is definitely making moves within the industry. It’s good to know however that he isn’t above sharing some wisdom with the public.

In an informative and revealing interview with New York hip-hop radio station Power 105.1, Packer discusses how he got started in the industry, the current projects he’s working on, and gives some advice for aspiring filmmakers and producers.

60 Years Later, Same Questions Still Being Asked

I had a brief Twitter discussion the other day in regards to Will Smith’s later feature film titled “Focus.” Based off the trailer, Smith plays some sort of con man and brings in a young woman (Margot Robbie) under his wing, who together they try to swindle the wrong guy and all hell breaks loose. Being that this is Hollywood, it seems fitting that Smith’s character and Robbie’s have some romantic dealings with each other over the course of the film.

What’s striking about this to me is that once again Will Smith, one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, (save for a few duds) has a white woman as his romantic interest. Some of you may be reading this wondering what exactly is the problem with this in 2015? The problem is that we still see far too few examples of black men and women loving each other in major Hollywood motion pictures.

Will Smith himself lamented about this very issue 10 years ago when the film “Hitch” was released. In that film, Smith plays an elite level matchmaker who meets his equal in his female counterpart played by Eva Mendes. Smith said something along the lines that Eva Mendes was chosen as his love interest because had they cast a white woman in the role, it may not have gone over too well here in the States, and had a black woman been cast, the movie might not do well in Europe with two black leads. So the studio decided to play Solomon and chose a Latina instead.

This has been an issue time and again in Hollywood and it’s something that still persists at a time when the Oscars are as white as they’ve ever been going back to 1998. I remember Gina Prince-Bythewood mentioned that when she was originally pitching her 2014 film “Beyond The Lights” to some of the major studios, they pushed her on why did she have to have two black leads. Why couldn’t she just cast Channing Tatum in the role that ultimately went to Nate Parker?

It’s questions like these that bring me to the photo above. It’s a magazine cover from 1955 depicting Harry Belafonte and the magnificent Dorothy Dandridge. ‘When Will Hollywood Let Negroes Make Love,’ was the pertinent question at the time. 60 years later, the answers aren’t any more clear.

A Look Back at 2014

2014 was a year of progress and one of resolve for me.

It was during that calendar year I really upped my camera equipment game: camera mount, overhead light, microphone, and a new tripod. On top of all that I got some editing software as well. Even picked up some books on producing in the process.

In terms of covering films and Hollywood, I was happy for Lupita Nyong’o winning an Oscar at last year’s Academy Awards. I made proud to see another woman, and former movie of the year winner on this blog — Ava DuVernay — receive critical acclaim across the board for her film “Selma.” Not to mention Gina Prince-Bythewood and her moving film, “Beyond The Lights.”

In 2014 there was the continued rise of the web series and we can began to see web success spill over into the more traditional medium of television. Issa Rae is working on a show for HBO and the creators of BlackandSexyTV are doing a show for HBO as well. TV shows like “Blackish” and “How to Get Away With Murder” showed network TV executives (again) that shows featuring characters of color can not only succeed, but thrive, especially in the realm of social media.

Despite this progress, most films released from the major studios are still overly white and male focused. That old door however is being pushed against harder and harder every year. People want to see themselves on screen, and in 2014 people of color are making that happen through many different forums. Let’s keep this going in 2015. Let us continue to get educated.

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: Sony Pisses Off Wrong Dictatorship

It’s been a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad week for Sony Pictures Entertainment. From being hacked last month and having numerous memos and internal documents leaked, to cancelling press for their film, “The Interview,” to shutting the movie down altogether, it has indeed been a week to forget. Oh and there were those rather crude comments about President Obama and some movies he might like.

As amusing as this fodder might be, it’s worth noting that a major Hollywood film is not coming out because of serious threats made against it and its parent company — Sony. This sets somewhat of a dangerous precedent as it has been argued what happens if someone else makes a movie that pisses people off? Is that film also going to be pulled from theaters? George Clooney gave a very interesting take on the matter.

The United States has implicated North Korea in the hacking scandal but the real question is what happens now? Sony is poised to lose millions of dollars in advertising and production already spent on “The Interview,” and they’re not getting those funds back. That’s a serious hit for any studio. Let’s see how this one plays out.

Chris Rock on Working in Hollywood

With the release of his latest film, “Top Five,” last week, Chris Rock has been on the press junket giving interviews and publicity in support of his movie. Rock was recently interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter and gave some candid quotes on his experiences as a black man working within Hollywood. The whole article is definitely worth a read. Below is a quote Rock gave on what exactly it means to cross over.

If someone’s people don’t love them, that’s a problem. No one crosses over without a base. But if we’re just going to be honest and count dollars and seats and not look at skin color, Kevin Hart is the biggest comedian in the world. If Kevin Hart is playing 40,000 seats a night and Jon Stewart is playing 3,000, the fact that Jon Stewart’s 3,000 are white means Kevin has to cross over? That makes no sense. If anybody needs to cross over, it’s the guy who’s selling 3,000 seats.

When Shirley Temple Met Bojangles

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America lost perhaps its most famous child star in cinematic history when Shirley Temple Black passed away last week. Shirley Temple rose to fame in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression and entertained audiences with her charm and smile. But it was her relationship with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson that was unique to not only Hollywood, but America at that time as well.

Bill Robinson, better known by his stage name of ‘Bojangles,’ was a well known tap dancer in the early 20th Century. He played before white and black audiences alike, while making a living literally on his feet. When he first began working with Shirley Temple, ‘Bojangles’ was already in his 50s and had been a legendary tap dancer at that point. The pairing between ‘Bojangles’ and Shirley Temple would not be without its critics however.

Though ‘Bojangles’ and Shirley Temple shined well together on the big screen, their roles were anything but equal. ‘Bojangles’ — true to the form of how Hollywood viewed blacks at the time — often got stuck playing Shirley Temple’s butler. His singing and dancing may invoke some unkind parallels to the stereotypical roles another famous black actor at the time, Stepin’ Fetchit, had to play, but it’s worth remembering that these guys were at least getting work. In 2001, Gregory Hines would go on to portray ‘Bojangles’ in a movie by the same name. Below is the famous stairwell dance scene between Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Shirley Temple.  R.I.P. to both.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs Makes History

Last month Cheryl Boone Isaacs made history by becoming the first black president of the The Academy. Yes, the same Academy who votes on Oscar winners every year.

Considering the dearth of diversity in Hollywood and the lack of recognition black actors and actresses have received in regards to Oscar recognition, this news is significant indeed. Boone Isaacs has been working in the entertainment industry for a number of years now and has certainly paid her dues. Kudos to her. For more info about Cheryl Boone Isaacs you can check out this Entertianment Weekly article.

The Root Talks With Louis Gossett Jr. on Post Oscar Blues

A very good interview with Louis Gossett Jr. on the triumphs and challenges of winning an Oscar and then struggling to find work in the aftermath. Gossett speaks glowingly of working on the groundbreaking TV mini-series “Roots,” how he started out, battling alcoholism, and his current work with his foundation Eracism. Definitely worth the read.

Check it out here.

                                        Image courtesy of The Root