Whitewashed Oscars

The next Oscars night will be white, but it will not be tranquil. Infuriated by the absence of black actors nominated in actor categories, director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, two African-Americans, have decided to boycott the ceremony.

At the root of the movement is The Los Angeles Times, which last Friday put the photos of the 20 nominated actors and actresses on its front page and crowned it all with the headline: “Where’s the Diversity?”

Spike Lee followed it by announcing a boycott of the awards evening. Ever since, reactions and support have come from all sides. Will this call have serious repercussions at the Feb. 28 event, hosted by Chris Rock, who is himself black? We shall see.

In the meantime, they’re taking things very seriously within the organizing committee. The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the African-American Cheryl Boone Isaacs, has said she is “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion” of black actors. When she began her presidency two years ago, she promised change. Last June, she named 322 new members, including women, African-Americans and Europeans, to diversify the vote.

These efforts don’t seem to have borne fruit. After Lee’s announcement, Boone Isaacs hurried to promise more radical changes to promote diversity among the nominees.

Changes? But What? Quotas for the Voters?

Let’s remember that the 6,000 people in the movie world who have the right to choose Oscar winners are 94 percent white. It would be difficult, even impossible, to right the balance because only the members of the Academy can admit new people after a long sponsorship process.

A new system of categories? Can you imagine categories for black or Latino actors? Does it have to come to that? No, that would be completely ridiculous.

In this respect, I still don’t understand why in 2016 we have a category for best actor and a category for best actress. Why couldn’t Cate Blanchett and Leonardo DiCaprio be evaluated in the same category? It seems absurd to me.

Deep down, I can sense pretty well why these two categories still exist after 88 years. With men comprising 76 percent of the voters, the actresses know very well that if they were judged with their male counterparts, they wouldn’t win very often.

That said, I don’t believe for a second that cosmetic changes would fix the situation of racism at the Oscars. The real problem is found in the heads of those who hold the ballots — and in our own heads.

Those voters are us. This situation at the Oscars sends us back to the serious problem of racism in general. It sends us back to the nomination of people of color in leadership positions, to the hiring system in businesses, to the way that we evaluate foreign students in schools.

I am convinced that after having seen the films, the voters have the same love for the performances of white, black, Latino or Asian actors.

It’s at the moment of marking an X that everything plays out. That X goes naturally to the side of a white person. It’s what we call quiet or unconscious racism.

Tuesday, on social media, I saw the same phrase a lot. One that said basically this: “It’s not a question of color but of talent. We should choose actors for their talent.” I find this thought a nice refuge for laziness.

Lee is right to shake up the sacrosanct Hollywood world. I hope that his call for a boycott spreads and that it includes not only black people, but also all of film’s artisans.

I hope that because of this boycott, the room will be full of B-rated actors you hardly recognize, anonymous bimbos who will serve as window dressing, and old farts who can’t even remember that they made movies.

During this whitewashed evening, I hope to see grand gestures by the dozen and hear impassioned speeches meant to wake up the country that has known its share of race riots in the last few months.

This way we will be able to have a real understanding.

You think I’m a hopeless optimist? You’re right. But I remind you that the Americans who nominated white actors this year are also those who elected the first black president.

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