The past several days have been peppered by an enormous outcry over the acting nominees for this year’s Academy Awards. The committees responsible for the acting nominations came up with a slate of 20 white actors and actresses. “Where is the Diversity?,” hollered the LA Times on Friday morning, all too predictably horrified in the wake of last year’s predictable horror at an only marginally less white slate of acting contenders.
I write this as someone who doesn’t go to the movies, and who neither cares about, nor watches, the Oscars. If I’m going to be yelled about it in BOLD TYPE as I try to consume my breakfast, I think I have a right to offer up an opinion, not so much on the Oscar nominees themselves, but, rather, on the outrage. (True, I had a choice on the front page on Friday. There was a piece about infected endoscopes as well, but that I really didn’t want to read while consuming my porridge.)
The fact (which the outraged seem incapable of grasping) is that the answer to “Where is the Diversity?” is “who says we have to be diverse?”. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a private organization, and is therefore free to do whatever it wants to do, and to nominate whomever it wants to nominate. Those people clamoring for diversity are seeking to impose their slate of values on an organization which is under absolutely no obligation to embrace any values but those it chooses for itself. The Oscars are the Academy’s candy store. Period.
The Academy has one stated value for the Oscars: excellence. That is how you get nominated for an Academy Award, and that is how you win an Oscar. One of the many things being missed in what is largely a one-sided debate is that this single standard of excellence makes the Oscars are race-blind by definition. Moreover, if one were to impose some kind of diversity quota upon the Academy, the whole point of the Oscars would be lost entirely. The award would no longer be for Best Actor, it would be for Best Actor Within A Politically Correct Set Of Parameters Imposed On The Academy. Such a system would greatly dilute the prestige of winning an Oscar.
Since I know hockey better than recent Academy Awards history, permit me the following analogy. There is currently talk about enlarging the size of the 4’ x 6’ goal in order to compensate for a crop of very tall goalies who are making it irritatingly difficult to score. The argument against the larger net is that, by doing so, you would be drawing a line through the history of the game, and make it so that there would be no way to compare players who played with the 4’ x 6’ goals, and those who will have played with larger ones.
If you make it easier to get one, the goal (or the statuette) means less. (Indeed, one of the things which has assured the prestige of an Oscar is how relatively few awards are handed out in a given year. An Emmy means a lot less because there are so many of them to be had.)
A further point being missed in the diversity camp’s dudgeon is the logical implausibility of the notion that excellence in acting in a single year’s worth of movies should be proportional to the overall racial demographics of the population.. A greater logical possibility (like it or not) is that the five finest performances by leading actors on film for 2015 – as subjectively determined by a private enterprise – were given by white men. Let me pose the statistical implausibility in other terms: does the field of all the actors in all the movies produced in the past year reflect the racial demographics of the country (or the planet)? Perhaps in an ideal world, yes, that would be the case. But we’re not living in an ideal world, and the nominating committees can only choose from the body of acting performances which were actually captured on film, and, for better or for worse, a solid majority of those in 2015 were given by white men.
You may want to reform Hollywood because of that. You can’t blame the Oscars for it.
The principal ranting at me over breakfast on Friday was being done by Mary McNamara, whose front-page de facto editorial took the Academy to task for what she perceived as bias towards movies which centered on stories of white men in conflict. She then had the chutzpah to demand that the Academy’s voters should show a preference for what amounted to the kinds of movies she preferred (the kinds with women and minorities in leading roles.) In other words, the Oscars should be given according to Mary McNamara’s rules, which she assumes are more “equitable” (i.e. politically correct) than those which the Academy has been using since its inception.
With a presidential election ever-looming this coming fall, the citizens of our democratic republic will get the opportunity to vote to select a leader, and, as a result, the course this country is to take over the next four years. We get to vote for President. Because the Constitution says we can.
Just because we can participate in the election of our president does not mean that everything else in this country is subject to plebiscite. Why on Earth should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences adopt Mary McNamara’s values, just because she claims that they’re morally superior?
That is equivalent to saying that, because I’m a Buddhist, every restaurant in the country should serve only vegetarian food – because it is morally superior not to consume sentient beings for dinner.
It doesn’t work that way. If I open a restaurant, I can serve only vegetarian food. I cannot dictate what the restaurant next door serves.
I can, however, choose not to patronize the restaurant next door.
And that is where the people ranting on and on about diversity do have a right to enter the debate. No, you cannot change the Academy. You’re not entitled to a voice in that, no more than you can stop the restaurant next door from serving meat.
What you can do is not go to that restaurant.
So, if you don’t like the Oscars’ nominating procedures, don’t watch. Don’t even dignify them with press coverage which will increase the awareness and prestige of the Awards. Let them fade away like so many gold-plated dinosaurs.
And – here’s a novel idea – decide for yourself who is the best actor of the year.