First things first, there’s obviously a lot of racism in America. Whether it be police brutality in Detroit, neo-nazi rallies in Arkansas or Eminem using the ‘n-word’, we all know its there. For anyone suggesting that racism in America is dead, I refer you to Donald Drumpf’s polling statistics.
So what institutionally racist superstructure is on the menu today? Maybe we should deconstruct the prison system, or address job creation in minority areas? Perhaps we should look at the GOP, Fox News or the entire state of Utah? Wait…the Oscars?
I’m not saying that there’s no racism in Hollywood (far from it), but I feel that the situation would benefit from a little statistical perspective. 13% of America right now is African-American, while in the last couple of years African-Americans have had 14% of Hollywood’s roles. 3 out of 5 of the highest-grossing actors of all time are African-Americans, whilst they boast 30% of the Best Actor winners in the 2000s. Contrast this with Latinos (17% of the population, under 5% of the roles, one 2000s nomination) and women (51% of the population, 12% of the protagonists in 2014), and the focus on African-Americans becomes actively troubling.
Obviously statistics don’t tell the full extent of the story, and when Will Smith, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Devito, David Oyelowo, Don Cheadle and Snoop Dogg are all telling me there’s a problem, then it’s not for me to tell them that they’re wrong. So who’s to blame? The Academy?
Let’s examine this purely critically for a second. The black candidates now touted are as follows: Will Smith in Concusssion (an NFL movie that had no critical momentum pre-#OscarsSoWhite) Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation (a charismatic portrayal that required no emotional range whatsoever), Michael B Jordan in Creed (a decent debut performance in what was effectively Rocky VII) and Straight Outta Compton (a movie literally about its producers). Last year we had the almost criminal passing over of Selma, but this year the Academy have made no such blunders. I feel most sorry for poor old Leo – he’s finally gonna win his Oscar and no one’s going to care.
So yes, there’s racism in America; yes, there’s racism in Hollywood; and yes, there may even be racism at the Academy Awards. But are African-Americans really the most under-represented group, and is it really the fault of the Oscars? Amplifying the grievances of just one minority and then foisting them on the Academy is a quick way of diluting what is clearly a serious grass-roots issue. Perhaps Spike Lee should pipe down.