Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Clooney Adds His Voice to the "Oscars So White" Movement

George Clooney in Hail,  Caesar!
If you haven't heard, The Academy Awards have a diversity problem, and a lot of big names have made their comment. Yesterday, I mentioned a handful that included Will Packer (Straight Outta Compton), Spike Lee, and Jada Pinkett Smith. As the days progress, more people add their names to the list - including David Oyelowo, Michael Moore, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and most notably influential Oscar heavyweight George Clooney. In an essay posted on Variety, Clooney doesn't suggest so much that we have a problem, but that we are actually going backwards from the progress we have made.

The famous Oscars So White debate has itself gained as much conversation as most of this year's nominees. With this being the second year of the Twitter hashtag, it seems like more and more people are coming out to decry the problem with The Oscars. Considering that Oscar President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has claimed that she's working on improving diversity, her latest comments aren't all that shocking, but definitely reflect this ideal to a T. In her letter that was posted to The Oscars' Twitter account, she claimed that:
"As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly." 
The immediate responses to the post on Twitter have the familiar disbelief that most people embracing the Oscars So White movement have adopted. On another angle is one of the first major Oscar members to speak out on the situation, who is also white. Clooney has had an impressive career, especially in the past 15 years where he has become a compelling filmmaker, producer, and actor; as well as an activist for different causes. In a piece that was published to Variety, he went on at length about how he feels that things are going backwards.
"I think we have a lot of points we need to come to terms with. I find it amazing that we’re an industry that in the 1930s, most of our leads were women. And now a woman over 40 has a very difficult time being a lead in a movie. We’re seeing some movement. Jennifer Lawrence and Patricia Arquette have made the loud pronouncement about wage disparity, have put a stamp on the idea that we got to pay attention. But we should have been paying attention long before this. I think that African Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough. I think that’s absolutely true."
He goes on to reference how The Oscars were 10 years ago, when black nominees also had equal opportunities to compete, and often made up a significant margin of the nominees. While his post emphasizes blacks, he ends by noting that things are specifically worse for Hispanics looking for quality roles (though one could argue it's worse for anyone not white or black). As a whole, his argument is one that sounds familiar if you've been reading everyone's insight into the matter. The Academy needs to step up their game, plain and simple. It makes sense, especially considering that this is now the second year in which all of the acting nominees were white - though it creates a real exclusion to every other category, of which there's four times as many.

For starters, it's nice to hear Clooney using his influence for good. While his points may be clear and noble however, I must wonder if he's in some ways to blame. Consider his efforts just from a directorial standpoint: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck, Leatherheads, The Ides of March, and The Monuments Men. As much as you can accuse most of these as being period pieces, they are all equally to blame for having a certain whiteness. It's a point made more baffling when you consider that Clooney's influence should be able to allow his own films to have diversity if he surely wanted that diversity. I won't discuss his other films (though Hail, Caesar! doesn't look any more colorful), but it's the underlying conflict that makes his own statement hard to accept. Clooney isn't a spring chicken. He's made the rounds for several decades now and has the rare influence to do whatever he wants. If you're so disappointed about this diversity problem, why aren't you contributing with your own solution?

Oscars So White will only continue to inflate in the month ahead, and may become more problematic if we hit a triple header next year. However, I'd like to think that all of this public outcry is at least convincing someone outside of The Academy to make movies with diversity that matter - if just to make the job not feel like they're singling out the one black movie. Now that we've acknowledge the problem, fix it. Sure, maybe Creed and Straight Outta Compton deserved more of a shot in some fields, but the fact that there's only a few is itself indicative of why there needs to be more. Let's just hope that if Clooney is so insistent on change, that he actually does more than complain about it.

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