A Guide to Avoiding #OscarsSoWhite: Instructions For Academy Voters Before Filling Out Their Ballots

⊗ Film is supposed to be inclusive. But if you can’t see yourself on-screen, do you feel as if you even exist? One-third of our lives is spent at work, and the artists who express their creativity through cinema deserve to have their work seen, and not just because of the color of their skin or their gender but because when you are exposed to an experience different from your own, your creativity grows. Take a moment to review this list of eligible films, putting a check mark on the ones you have seen from this year. Ideally, that will leave you with a clearer picture of how you are contributing to cinema’s evolution with your votes.

Your goal should be to watch all of these films, but let’s be realistic. Try seeing at least 60% of them. All meet the Academy’s diversity requirements — in front of or behind the camera — that will go into effect in 2024.

 

 

 

 

Women Filmmakers (15)
Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix)
Garrett Bradley, “Time” (Amazon Studios)
Sofia Coppola, “On the Rocks” (A24/Apple TV Plus)
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, “Our Friend” (Gravitas Ventures)
Mona Fastvold, “The World to Come” (Bleecker Street)
Nisha Ganatra, “The High Note” (Focus Features)
Patty Jenkins, “Wonder Woman 1984” (Warner Bros)
Miranda July, “Kajillionaire” (Focus Features)
Gina Prince-Bythewood, “The Old Guard” (Netflix)
Tara Miele, “Wander Darkly” (Lionsgate)
Marjane Satrapi, “Radioactive” (Amazon Studios)
Dawn Porter, “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
Julie Taymor, “The Glorias” (Roadside Attractions and LD Entertainment)
Autumn de Wilde, “Emma.” (Focus Features)
Robin Wright, “Land” (Focus Features)

 

SCORE: ________________
45-50 = A
40-44 = B
35-39 = C
30-34 = D
UNDER 29 = Watch more movies before filling out your ballot.

It’s important to say what this form is NOT.

It is not a demand that you vote for these films.

It is not a guide for a diversity quota so more people of color are represented in the film industry.

It is not a document made to make a voter feel guilty about liking “Green Book” more than “Roma” or preferring “Crash” to “Brokeback Mountain.”

It’s deeply believed that if industry voters have enough films of diverse and inclusive voices, there will never be a need for any quota or mandate, as people fear or suggest. To go further, Hollywood executives and producers will see the return on those investments with box receipts. Films like “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” ($116 million) and “Get Out” ($176 million) were smash hits with modest budgets, with the latter winning an Academy Award for best original screenplay (Jordan Peele).

All voting members of all organizations need to know this. If you did not score a minimum of 29, it’s not that you’re racist. The first step in all of this is recognizing there is a problem.  We don’t want to force you to see “us” – In this time, where the world is as painstakingly divided, I’m reminded of one of my mentors’ words. “Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand.” You can attribute this to Donald Trump’s presidency or simply look to the “founding” of the United States of America. We are delaying the evolution of film by failing to fully support a multitude of voices from the medium.

There is indeed systemic racism in the entertainment industry, and Asians, Black, Latinx, Indigenous People, LGTBQ, People with Disabilities, and Women are grotesquely underrepresented in the space. While this year provides a historic representation for cinema on many fronts, there is still lots of work to do.

It’s been far too easy to blame the Academy Awards for the issues facing Hollywood. In the 92 years that the Oscars have been handing out statuettes, white or Caucasian actors represent 99% of best actress winners and 93% of best actor. When #OscarsSoWhite made headlines, many focused on the omission of POC from the acting categories, but we are now looking at film overall, both in front and behind the camera. When the Academy announced its representation and inclusion standards, anonymous AMPAS voters shared their outrage feeling as if they “lost their freedoms” and could no longer make the films they wanted. Looking through the Oscar nominees for best picture going back to 2000, no nominee would have been excluded under the proposed guidelines set to take effect in 2024.

At the time of the announcement, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson told Variety, “we don’t want the minimum met. We want them to meet all these thresholds.” A dialogue can begin to occur between the creator and the consumers that see a version of themselves on screen. It’s incumbent on the Academy to identify, nurture and continue to fill the pipeline with cinema’s next artist that will evolve with the medium.

It cannot be stressed enough, POC are not asking for a default or “quota” slot in acting, directing or artisan categories. We’re asking for the same opportunity to snag one of those coveted spots. Like baseball, we want a chance to swing at the plate to see if we can hit a homerun; we don’t want a “walk” in the industry.

This extended calendar year is well worth celebrating as we can make history in several categories. We could have the most nominated black producer in history (Denzel Washington with two), the first woman of color nominated in directing (Regina King and/or Chloe Zhao), along with the most women ever nominated in the category (adding in Emerald Fennell). We could see the most POC nominated in the acting categories, which has the current record at 7 from the 2006 film year. According to the predictions, we could have as much as 12 and could be tracking nine or ten.

Taika Waititi the 2020 Oscar winner for Adaptive Screenplay for JoJo Rabbit photographed by Andrew Eccles on Feb. 10, 2020 at the H Club Los Angeles, CA
Styling Jeanne Yang/The Wall Group; Grooming: Su Naeem/Oribe/Dew Beauty Agency; Tuxedo: Dior; Shoes: Tods; Cufflinks: David Yurman; Lapel pin: Nikos Koulis; Watch: Panerai; Location: H Club Los Angeles; Statuette: Oscar ® Statuette © AMPAS ®

Andrew Eccles for Variety

In each of the underrepresented areas, there’s work to do.

The LGBTQ section doesn’t just deal with the characters as films like “Falling” by Viggo Mortensen or “Supernova” from Harry Macqueen. We want to see it filled behind the camera proudly like in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” helmed by George C. Wolfe, who is openly gay. Alice Wu’s “The Half of It” takes on the LGBTQ subject from the Asian cultural perspective, something we don’t see often.

The superhero genre makes billions of dollars every year, and Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey” presents Renee Montoya, portrayed by Academy Award nominee Rosie Perez (1993’s “Fearless”), as the first openly gay character in a DCEU film.

We finally saw a lesbian rom-com with Hulu’s “Happiest Season” from Clea DuVall, garnering outstanding notices and a wonderful performance by Kristen Stewart, who is openly bisexual. The first known LGBTQ producer nominated for an Academy Award was Tony Richardson for 1963’s “Tom Jones,” where it won best picture. Only three best picture winners have been produced by someone from the LGBTQ community – 1999’s “American Beauty” (Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks), 2007’s “No Country for Old Men” (Scott Rudin) and 2010’s “The King’s Speech” (Iain Canning). To date, no identifying bisexual, transgender, queer, or gender-neutral producers have found recognition.

There are subjects classified as taboo, which can also be a synonym for issues regarding women, gender and sexuality. Whether it’s in workplace behavior (like Kitty Green’s “The Assistant”), abusive relationships (like Phyllida Lloyd’s “Herself”), gender non-conforming (like Ryder Allen’s character in “Palmer”), or the grief of losing a child (like Vanessa Kirby in “Pieces of a Woman”), we don’t allow enough of dialogue to transpire.

People with cognitive or physical disabilities is still one of the biggest areas of opportunity in Hollywood. The most prominent film on the forefront is Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal,” which not only takes on the subject of hearing loss but features many actors from the deaf and hard of hearing community.

There are only about four films out of the near 600 full-length features this year that have a disability as its central theme. Zeno Mountain Farms’ “Best Summer Ever,” Samuel Goldwyn Films’ “Come As You Are,” Netflix’s “Crip Camp” and Hulu’s “Run.” Non-verbal is touched upon in Netflix’s “The Midnight Sky” and Universal Pictures’ “News of the World.”

To date, only two disabled actors have been recognized by the Academy – best supporting actor winner Harold Russell for 1947’s “The Best Years of Our Lives” and best actress winner Marlee Matlin for 1987’s “Children of a Lesser God.” Over 50 actors and actresses have been nominated or won Oscars for portraying characters with disabilities.

There have been 116 women nominated for best picture since 1973, which is 18% of the total number of men that have been nominated. Of that 116, two are Black women (Oprah Winfrey for “Selma” and Kimberly Steward for “Manchester by the Sea”), one Latina (Gabriela Rodriguez for “Roma”), and one Asian (Kwak Sin-ae for “Parasite”).

The issue of diversity, equity and inclusion can’t just be important to the artist of color. It has to be important for all of us. Cinema will thrive when all are onboard.

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