Simon Williamson

Oscars - boo, hiss

2015-01-30 09:25

Simon Williamson

In the modern day we are getting better at excising from the world the sole authority of groups of white men who dictate many of our every waking minute. There remain, of course, billions of steps to take down this particular path, but we’d be denying progress if we didn’t at least admit that we’re getting better at challenging hetero-orthodoxy, US-centricity and general fat-catted crapness of the people who dominate our boardrooms, governments, decision-making bodies, media companies and banks.
However, we can’t seem to get past the Academy Awards, which manage to prove every year how insufferably redundant they should be. It is amazing that, even in the modern cynical day, if you put some pretty people in clothing named after French people, and parade them in front of a series of Billy Crystal jokes, the world forgets the event’s institutional and historical bigotry, displayed more consistently than the blade of Hashim Amla’s bat.
Not even Helen Zille’s cabinet of concubines is as palefaced as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which, according to the LA Times (in 2011), is 94% white and 77% male, with a mean age of 62. I know what you’re thinking: a vast majority of the Academy is made up of Riaan Cruywagens. And therein lies the problem. When there is no diversity in an organisation, it becomes a circle-jerk of opinion.
This is how a total of zero black women have ever been nominated for best director. These zero black women are joined by three black men to total the number of black directors nominated for the top award in their field at (I am sure you can add three and zero) three.

Stop pretending this is a real contest
Black men have received seven Best Actor nominations this millennium, while their Supporting Actor peers have a grand total of six. For black women those numbers are four and nine respectively. That’s a total of 26 black nominees out of 320 in the acting categories since Y2K did not destroy the world; 8.125%, nearly a matric pass in South Africa but rubbish in every other context. In fact, blacks have received a total of less than 70 acting Oscar nominations since 1929, which correlates sweetly, in fact, with the speed at which they received civil rights.  
Since black people hardly exist in the Academy’s milieu, how have white women fared? Outside permission for their fair skin to dominate acting categories, not well. Four have been nominated for Best Director, with one win for Kathryn Bigelow.
Which makes this annual procession of movie royalty whiter than the obsessive quest for everyone else to be punctual. Less diverse than the British royal family. As varied as the roles played by Jennifer Aniston. As different as all of the well-known Vanilla Ice tracks.  As demonstrably distinguishable as the lines of humour in Wackhead prank calls.
Like a Heyneke Meyer game plan, this act plays out over and over again. Like something sung by Taylor Swift, it is taken seriously by many people for a brief amount of time. But, like Steve Hofmeyr, it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.
So let’s stop this faux-legitimising of white people being better than everyone else and stop pretending this is a real contest of who did the best in what movie. We should pour disdain on the fact that such a homogenous group of people are in charge of deciding what is best. And in the modern age we can.
Instead of giving a hell about the results of the Academy Awards, you are most welcome to join me as I tweet shit about them in a few weeks. Let’s stop worrying about the decisions they make, and rather create spiteful jokes about the people that take their whitewashed decisions seriously. Scorn-Twitter: that’s where the Academy Awards have value.
- Simon Williamson is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. He previously worked on the campaign of Michelle Nunn, a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s US Senate seat in 2014. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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