It’s awards season in Hollywood and whereas normally this is a time for navel-gazing and back-slapping, something interesting has happened this year. Last year there was an outcry when all of the best actor/actress category nominees were white. This year it happened again and the outcry has grown to dominate the media regarding the Oscars and has, surprisingly, seemed to have forced some changes to the way the Academy decides the nominees.
There’s been some interesting articles on the issues, which are really just a microcosm of the issues faced in all industries, but what has been most interesting is the blindness exhibited by some people. They’re expressing views that are expressed by many people, but because they’re famous their comments get published and get discussed in a way that rarely happens. It’s fascinating seeing people like Charlotte Rampling put her foot in her mouth by saying that the discussion is actually ‘racist to white people’ and then not-apologises by saying that her ‘comments could have been misinterpreted’ despite not explaining really how that would be possible. Or Michael Caine saying that because it had taken him “years to get an Oscar”, black actors should be patient, completely misunderstanding that one person waiting ‘years’ is in no way equivalent to an entire race* having to wait years for a single person to get an award. One article highlights comments from Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto film festival, who asked,
“If Rampling was willing to say this in a formal interview, how many in the film industry think it privately?”
The Oscars are an American institution but the fact that Rampling and Caine made such tone-deaf comments means that the discussion has broadened from being about the American film industry to including the British film industry as well, which has allowed the fact that the British industry is even less diverse than the US to get more publicity. The outcry has also led to a closer examination of the industry as a whole. There’s increasing recognition that the industry is institutionally biased and comes hot on the heals of a report that shows that British primetime TV is still dominated by men. It seems that whether it’s film TV or books, stories about white men are ‘prestige’ and of interest to everyone while stories about anyone else are ‘niche’ and aren’t worthy of wider audiences.
*I’m hesitant to use the word ‘race’ as it’s scientifically dubious (the Infinite Monkey Cage recently had an episode on race which was fascinating and showed that it’s essentially bunk, but I don’t know what else to use.