Boycott the Academy Awards /Oscars?


So the web is all abuzz regarding the Academy Awards being biased and unabashedly lacking in the pigmentation department. And people are calling for a Boycott of the Awards, which is their right.

However as someone who sees the Academy Awards as having always been a vehicle for an insular, largely affluent, largely white, small group, to define for the mass of the world, what films are worth not just recognizing in one year, but immortalizing for future years; boycotting seems an insufficient response.

As someone who puts no value in the Academy awards, and finds its selections politically motivated at best, and bigoted and demeaning at worst I have had for decades no interest in watching or caring about these Awards.

They have always been, while paying lip-service to liberalism, a very pointedly bigoted organization, with an end goal to reinforce the status quo. Particularly notable is that when the Academy “recognizes” Black Artists or Themed films, is how they are really recognizing stereotypes they enjoy or are comfortable with.

Examples? MONSTERS BALL wins an Academy Award?? Really? In what effing world? DRIVING MISS DAISY, GONE WITH THE WIND, TRAINING DAY, PRECIOUS are not bad movies, but I don’t think they are great movies, or the performances are particularly memorable. But they are roles that reinforce stereotypes that make some people comfortable.

Black women as the White Man’s maid or the White Man’s whore or having debilitating image issues. Black Men as Butlers or violent sociopaths. These are the Black performances the Academy sees fit to not just recognize, but immortalize, and by so doing move out of the limelight films that show Black Actors or Black themes that transcend stereotypes.

COURAGE UNDER FIRE, GLORY, LILIES OF THE FIELD, MAN ON FIRE, CREED, arguably any of these performances are award worthy for Best Actor, but they don’t get nominated by an Academy filled with non-Black decision makers, who seek to recognize only the demeaning when it comes to characters and creators of color.

The answer to me, is not to try to seek concessions from a biased and historically bigoted organization, but rather realizing this, invest your time and energy into creating your own awards show, wherein diversity can be more than lip-service or a weapon. Or supporting Awards shows that already do that.

Boycott The Academy Awards? That is given them more thought, and more concern then they merit. I don’t notice them enough to care. Create instead the Muni Awards, or the Vanguard Awards, and staff it with judges whose acting you admire.

The Academy Awards is an outdated vehicle, for an outdated Minstrel Show type Hollywood. Those calling for a Boycott that’s their right, but personally I think that energy would be better served by building something new and proactive, than pleading concessions from the stagnating old.

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TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. 🙂

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” 🙂 .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —

Reasons why any self respecting person should hate X-MEN FIRST CLASS :)

“Along with me I’m gonna need a scientist, an engineer, and of course, a black person to sacrifice himself in case something goes wrong.”
– Eric Cartman, SOUTH PARK, season 9, Cartman’s Hippie Exit Strategy 2006

I don’t even like/watch South Park but that quote is funny and sad because it’s true.

Here it is 21st century and writers/filmmakers from Frank Miller (SIN CITY) to Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (X-MEN FIRST CLASS) are still crafting films that still perpetuate this bigoted vaudeville/black-face denigration of minorities, particularly Blacks as either victims/sacrifices, hors, criminals, or comedy relief or some effed up combination of the four.

I hear all these people saying X-MEN FIRST CLASS was the best movie of 2011. Are you effing on crack?! This goes to prove what Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka said in an early age… if you live all your life with lies it becomes hard to see anything that has nothing to do with those lies.

I’m saying a population that watches American Idol and thinks X-MEN FIRST CLASS is a good movie and that their country is a democracy, the cowboy on the white hat, has perhaps lived with lies too long. And therefore can’t see the concentration camps paid for with American Tax dollars, and the 24 hour propaganda machine, and how many of us are being herded into new millennium Dachaus.

I’m saying that twisted facts are easy offshoots… of twisted fictions. The dream being father to the reality.

So needless to say Matthew Vaughn’s new X-MEN FIRST CLASS movie will get as much theater money out of me as his first one, which is to say none. I’m drawing the line in the effing sand, I refuse to pay theater prices for any movie made after 1970 (revival films being excluded) that a/ has less than two characters of color and/or b/has characters in boring, tired stereotypical roles.

Which means I’m not going to see effing DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN or PRECIOUS either. I don’t need that crap. Give me instead more OBSESSED and more TAKERS and more BLACK DYNAMITE and more BLOOD AND BONE. Any of those movies are worth a dozen times predictable crap like X-MEN FIRST CLASS (I caught it on DVD from the library, if anyone was wondering).

And what makes me the maddest about that movie is it plays lipservice to liberty and inclusiveness, using Kennedy’s speeches for God’s Sake, and invoking the age of the 1960s, while presenting a completely 50s based message of ethnic characters ‘get in the back of the bus’. And the horrible thing is so many eyes can see this film, and not see it, not see its messages, its bigotry, its failings. Can honestly crank out odious crap like that and think they are somehow being liberal??? Absolutely amazing.

It concerns me that a whole generation is growing up, somehow blind to how off the beam America isn’t just getting… but is. Even to shows like COMMUNITY (see my discussion of) which is dazzlingly bigoted. And the onus isn’t just on the creators, it has to be on the stars. Seemingly the ethnic actors these days are devoid of the social conscience of a Poitier or a Belafonte or a Williamson, and this new generation just takes roles without any larger conversation/consideration about being used as a modern step and fetchit.

Sure you risk being fired if you speak up, but you risk something worse if you don’t. Your soul. You risk walking around like all these sheep, raised and reared on lies, and unable to see anything… if it has nothing to do with those lies.

Here endeth the rant.