"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

The Last Black Man in San Francisco: A Review

TheLastBlackManInSanFranciscoPoster.jpg

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A unique and original film that is beautifully shot, dramatically compelling and painfully insightful.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, based on a story by Jimmie Fails and written and directed by Joe Talbot, is the story of Jimmie, a black man trying to reclaim his childhood house, a beautiful Victorian built by his grandfather in the 1940’s, that sits in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. The film stars Jimmie Fails as Jimmie, with supporting turns from Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover and Mike Epps.

Unknown-22.jpeg

Thus far, 2019 has been a pretty dismal year in terms of American film. Of the four lonely films I have recommended so far this year, all of them are foreign. Thankfully, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is like a tall, cool glass of cinematic water in the parched desert of American movies in 2019. The film, which is based upon a story created by its lead actor Jimmie Fails (who is black) and its director Joe Talbot (who is white), pulsates with a life, artistic vibrancy and intelligence that is an utter joy to behold.

On the surface the film examines gentrification in San Francisco and the consequences of it. What I really loved about the movie though is that it does not take the easy, emotionalist route in exploring this complicated issue. Although it is often lumped in as simply a racism issue, the changing face of a neighborhood is a result of a much more nuanced set of elements. For instance my white family (and extended family) were part of the white flight from Brooklyn in the 1970’s because the neighborhood was rapidly changing from Irish, Italian and Jewish to Haitian and Jamaican. It is easy to chalk this up as simply racism, but the reality is, regardless of race or ethnicity, people like to be around people who not only look like them, but have the same culture and relatively same belief system. This is why immigration is such a huge issue, it isn’t a function of racism but rather a function of cultural comfort. The same is true here in Los Angeles where black neighborhoods get really angry when white people move in because they feel the “essence” of the neighborhood is changing. That isn’t racism…it is human nature.

To the movie’s great credit it does not take the easy road in addressing this polarizing issue, but instead embraces the complexity and subtlety of it. Besides the maze that is gentrification, the film also dances through the minefield that is toxic black masculinity, black violence, myth and identity, the cancer of capitalism, self-deception, self-delusion and most especially…the importance of Truth.

Unknown-23.jpeg

Jimmie yearns to return to the house of his childhood, which has no doubt been sanitized in his own mind. His dream of a return is fueled by his tumultuous life since leaving the house and the myth that gives meaning to the structure, namely that his grandfather built the house from the ground up in a Japanese neighborhood. Unlike the greedy white people taking over San Francisco now and pushing out minorities, Jimmie’s black grandfather didn’t steal anyone’s house, he defied racial stereotypes and oppression and created one from scratch.

Jimmie’s journey is a fascinating one, and while the actor Jimmie Fails (playing a character with the same name) is not the greatest actor in the world, he is certainly likable and does Yoeman’s work as the protagonist. Fails succeeds at being a worthy host for his two-hour narrative journey.

images-7.jpeg

The performance that I did find remarkable though was that of Jonathan Majors as Montgomery Allen, Jimmie’s best friend. Majors brings such a beautiful and delicate sense of humanity to Montgomery that it is mesmerizing. Montgomery is the consummate artist as he is a writer, director, actor, sketch artist, wardrobe…you name it, and because he is an artist he is motivated by only one thing…the Truth. Majors fills Allen with an off-beat but very specific and detailed intentionality that gives him an understated but undeniable charisma and power.

Danny Glover and Mike Epps have small roles in the film but do quality work in them and bring a certain level of professionalism to the cast. In general, the other supporting actors feel a little rough around the edges, but that aesthetic works well for the movie.

Unknown-20.jpeg

Director Talbot does a tremendous job of bringing what could have been a maudlin and middling story to life with a dazzling emotional and dramatic vitality. The movie is beautifully shot as Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra do an outstanding job framing their shots and even throw in some delicious 70’s, throw-back, long shot zooms. I loved those shots as they not only gave the film a distinct look and feel but were also imbued with a much deeper, archetypal meaning.

Talbot’s direction reminded me a little bit, just a little, of Spike Lee, in that he masterfully uses music, particularly jazz and/or classical, to build both dramatic and narrative momentum. Also like Lee, he populates his story with eccentrics who never fall into stereotype or caricature, no easy feat. Unlike Lee, and to his credit, Talbot wholeheartedly embraces a narrative complexity and subtlety that forces introspection rather than accusation, and is not afraid to tell the Truth even when the Truth hurts.

Even though the director Joe Talbot is white, the story is told exclusively from a black man’s perspective. What I found intriguing about this is that Talbot establishes this fact from the opening shot and makes clear that white people are aliens…literally…as they look like astronauts walking on a distant planet. What is so refreshing about Talbot’s approach is that he keeps white people as “alien” throughout…they are, ultimately, truly unknowable to black people. Of course the reverse is true as well, but in this movie we only see the black perspective and it was refreshing because it forced all of the issues and responsibilities back onto black characters. There are no one dimensional, white villains to blame or scapegoat (unlike, for instance, in some of Spike Lee’s films, or in last year’s If Beale Street Could Talk).

In conclusion, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a gorgeous film that never takes any short cuts and never fails to challenge, captivate and illuminate. This is a smart, original, unique and extremely well made film that I highly recommend you take the time and effort to go see in the theatre.

©2019

Post Oscar Musings

The-Oscars.jpg

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 47 seconds

The Oscars are over and it was a bit of a surprising night. Yes, Green Book won in an upset and Olivia Colman shocked the world by beating out Glenn Close for Best Actress, but the biggest shock of the night was that my Oscar picks were so dreadful (15 out of 24). But in a striking sign that this years award’s were so incoherent was that even with my awful picks I still won my Oscar pool…again…which in the big picture is really all that matters.

In terms of the Oscar show, I have to say the lack of a host was perfectly fine with me. Not having to suffer through some hackneyed bit or contrived comedy made the evening much more bearable. Some of the presenters were mildly amusing, some were not. Some of the winners had decent speeches, some of them not. Melissa McCarthy was funny, Awkwafina was not. Mahershala Ali’s speech was good, Spike Lee’s was not.

The trio who won Best Hair and Makeup and tried to choreograph their shared speech were an embarrassment to humanity. This speech made me want to have a new rule at Oscars going forward…whoever gives the worst speech of the night is executed live on stage at the end of the show. This would accomplish two things, first it would make people really prepare a speech and practice it so they don’t mess it up, and secondly the ratings for the show would go through the roof because America likes nothing more than competition and violence.

Unknown-6.jpeg

I dvr’d the show and watched it later sans commercials and it still felt oppressively long. My solution to the Oscar show problem is to declare that there is no problem. The show is once a year and if it runs long who cares? Also, the Academy is concerned about dropping ratings, well, tough luck, ratings across the board are down. People simply don’t watch anything for more than 30 minute intervals at the most anymore.

That said, if you want to cut time off the show you could drop the short film categories and put them at the technical Oscar awards that are held at another time. I think the show should focus more on the craft of filmmaking and less on celebrity, which puts me in a very miniscule minority, so I don’t want the show to jettison the technical and behind the camera awards like editing or cinematography or even hair and makeup. But not televising the short film awards seems alright even to a cinephile like me.

Another thing would be to cut the musical numbers…or at least some of them. I know some dopes loved the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper song last night, but good lord I thought it was just awful. And I did not need to see Jennifer Hudson and Bette Midler of all people sing totally forgettable songs. If you cut the song performances down to two you cut approximately 15 minutes off the show. Non-problem problem solved.

Unknown-7.jpeg

As for the actual awards, the thing that sticks out to me is that Green Book winning Best Picture is a perfect encapsulation of the shit show that is our culture. Green Book is a good movie, it isn’t a great movie, but that said there was only one great movie nominated this year and that was Roma. Green Book is better than Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Black Panther but it definitely wasn’t better than Roma (or The Favourite). Green Book is a finely crafted, well acted and well-made film, it just isn’t an artistically made film. Roma is both an exceedingly well made film and an artistic vision made manifest.

Roma is a complicated potential Best Picture winner though because it is a Foreign Film, which have never won Best Picture, it is a black and white film, and it is a Netflix film, which makes it controversial in the movie industry that hasn’t quite come to grips with Netflix. For these reasons, Roma losing is at least understandable according to industry logic. I loved Roma with a passion, but I don’t think that the voters who chose Green Book over Roma did so because they hate Mexicans…I think they have their reasons that makes sense even if I disagree with them.

Unlike me, the elite pundit class is less nuanced in their feelings about Green Book’s win. The LA Times declared in its headline this morning that Green Book is the worst Best Picture winner of the last decade…and equal in its awfulness to Crash, which is the meanest thing you can say to a Best Picture winner.

The other and more insidious talking point making the rounds is that Green Book won because older White male voters in the Academy are racist. The reasoning behind this is that Green Book, because it is a story about racism told from a White man’s perspective and allegedly propagates the “White savior complex”, is “regressive” on race issues and anyone who likes it is racist. Therefore, Green Book winning Best Picture means that the Academy is racist.

images-3.jpeg

Of course, what this talking point fails to take into account is that the same allegedly racist Academy nominated BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther for Best Picture (and gave Best Picture to Moonlight 3 years ago), gave awards to people of color in 3 of the 4 acting awards, and gave awards to minorities in Adapted Screenplay, Director and Cinematography. The “Oscars Are Racist” people seem to think that these “good” outcomes only happened because of the non-old White Male voters and that the “bad” outcome of Green Book winning happened only because of the old White male voters.

This sort of twisted illogic, which is simply a short cut to thinking, is similar to the politics of declaring America a racist cesspool after electing a Black man as president in two straight elections. After Obama’s eight years in office, the cries of racism following Trump’s win were still deafening, with many saying bluntly that anyone who voted for Trump was a deplorable racist, even those who had voted for Obama in the previous two elections. This goalpost moving by the super woke in our culture does little more than lead people to throw up their hands and tune out any discussion related to race in America.

The New York Times ran an op-ed by philosopher Crispin Sartwell on Monday titled, “The Oscars and the Illusion of Perfect Representation” that made similar arguments to what I have been writing for the last few years, and that is using awards shows as a referendum on racial equality is a fool’s errand that actually undermines the genuine struggle for racial equality in America.

Mr. Sartwell makes the case that the issue of “representation” in films is a band-aid on a bullet wound that is little more than a distraction.

“Whatever the Grammys or Oscars looks like in the long run will have little actual impact on social justice. Perhaps, over all, the emphasis on what sort of person is on television has been a distraction from much more urgent matters. Imagine an America that gets the awards shows exactly right but in which, for example, mass incarceration or the internment of asylum seekers just ticks right along, or in which income inequality grows or residential segregation remains unchanged. It’s easy if you try: That’s liable to be the reality of 2020. And 2030, and beyond.”

As I have written in the past, my addition to Mr. Sartwell’s criticism is that not only are the award show representation battles a distraction but they actively undermine legitimate issues because award show “under-representation” is a myth that is provably false. When liberals decide to die on the hill of awards show representation they are not only striking a blow against their cause elsewhere but also fighting for an observable lie, thus decimating their credibility on other more important issues.

Unknown-1.jpeg

I find these race based awards arguments to be so frivolous as to be absurd but I readily admit this sort of nonsense is going to get much much worse before it ever gets better, if it ever gets better. Major awards shows like the Grammys and Oscars have already been reduced to mostly affirmative action/quota competitions that have very little at all to do with merit and everything to do with virtue signaling.

As for as Green Book being a racist film, this carries with it a very uncomfortable side effect, namely that those calling Green Book racist are in essence calling the Black people associated with the film, like its star, Mahershela Ali (who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar last night), its producer, Octavia Spencer, and Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis, who passionately introduced and advocated for the film, Uncle Toms.

This is the problem that arises in woke culture, no one is ever pure enough, and the White people who are calling Green Book racist are actually calling the Black people associated with the film self-loathing racists as well.

Green Book is considered racist mostly because it is a story about racism told from the perspective of a White man. I also find this argument specious at best, for as Hall of Fame basketball player and extremely insightful cultural critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so astutely noted in his defense of the film in the Hollywood Reporter,

“The film is much more effective from Tony’s point of view because the audience that might be most changed by watching it is the White audience.”

images-4.jpeg

To Green Book’s credit, it at the very least attempts to try and grapple with racism, and yet just by taking on that issue from a White perspective is declared “not woke enough” by the woke gatekeepers who then quickly label anyone who likes it irredeemably racist. What woke culture tends to forget is the obvious, that America is a majority White country, and if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, connecting to that White majority through perspective is a rational maneuver for a film maker.

There is some talk that Green Book’s win is a result of a backlash against the backlash to the film. This makes total sense to me. Green Book was singled out as this “unwoke” abomination and I think voters who liked it simply kept their feelings to themselves and may have ended up voting for it out of spite just as a way to tell the politically correct brigade to fuck off. I understand the sentiments.

As I am fond of saying, “wokeness kills art”, and eventually it will kill commerce too, which is when Hollywood will really see a backlash to the backlash. In our current “woke” moment no one is ever woke enough, and so minorities winning 3 of the 4 acting awards and a plethora of the other prestigious awards is not enough, and Green Book winning is an apostasy because it doesn’t fit entirely into current rigid racial orthodoxy and sensitivities.

In my review for Green Book I said that if it came out twenty years ago it was a shoe in for Best Picture, but that it stood no chance nowadays. Obviously I was wrong, and in my defense the reason I was wrong is that I constantly under estimate my fellow man and woman. In the case of Green Book winning over Roma, I was wrong in thinking that Green Book had no chance, but right in underestimating the people in the Academy, who failed to give Roma Best Picture, not because they are racists, but because they have simple tastes.

©2019

91st Academy Awards: The 2019 Oscars Prediction Post

The-Oscars.jpg

Estimated Reading Time: Just Like the Oscar Ceremony this article will last 4 hours and 38 minutes

As every sentient being on the earth, in the solar system, in the galaxy and in the universe knows, this Sunday night is the biggest night in the history of history. Yes, Oscar night is upon us. Ever since a loathsome but determined little creature crawled out of the primordial ooze, that creature has been making its way to this Sunday night, which will be, after billions of years of evolution, symbolic of the apex in human development. When most impossibly beautiful people gather to congratulate one another for their superiority, be it artistic, moral or both, mankind will officially have made the Kubrickian leap from fighting monkeys to star children.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is my church, movies are my religion and the Oscars my high holy days. I have been fasting and meditating for months to prepare for this most sacred of nights…and to hopefully fit into my gown by Karl Lagerfeld (RIP)!!

This has been an awful year for Hollywood movies and I have to admit that this years Oscars are particularly difficult to predict. Since the “New Academy”, formed in the wake of the ridiculous #OscarsSoWhite controversy three years ago, I have yet to figure out with any confidence or certainty how these new members and the old guard come together to form some sort of consensus. Obviously identity politics, diversity and inclusion are important issues to the new members…but how important? And how much has the old guard either embraced these issues out of solidarity or rejected them out of resistance? The answer of course is…I have no idea.

But will my ignorance stop me from making not just humble predictions but bold and assertive declarations of my Oscar picks? No. No it won’t. As long time readers can attest, not having a clue on a subject has never, ever stopped me from loudly pontificating my less than useful opinion…and that is most definitely true when it comes to the Oscars.

So with that in mind…light some incense, spike the holy water and buckle up because the most holy and most sacred Oscars are here. Like the Israelites in Moses’ absence, we must worship the golden calf of the Oscar statuette, for it may bring us salvation!! But please keep in mind that since the Oscars are a religious holiday…please no wagering.

So here are my picks for the 91st Academy Awards…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams - Vice : Amy Adams has had a great career garnering 6 Oscar nominations. Adams’ portrayal of Lynne Cheney is the best performance of her stellar career, which is saying a lot.

Marina de Tavira - Roma : I loved Roma…but I have no idea why Marina de Tavira is nominated. Her role is so small and unremarkable that I am entirely baffled as to why she is here.

Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk : Regina King is a fine actress but If Beale Street Could Talk is not a fine film and her work in it is just as underwhelming as the movie.

Emma Stone - The Favourite : The Favourite is proof that Emma Stone keeps getting better and better with each year. Stone’s manipulative social climber is a finely-tuned, sexy and charismatic performance that is a testament to her skill and talent.

Rachel Weisz - The Favourite : Weisz’s immovable object meeting Stone’s irressistable force makes The Favourite one of my favorites. Weisz’s masterful use of physicality in this role is something that actors should study closely.

Who Should Win - Amy Adams : Amy Adams first scene in Vice is so good as to be delicious and sets the stage for her powerhouse performance. Adams deftly turns Lynne Cheney into a formidable Lady MacBeth that is the straw that stirs the drink of Darth Cheney’s career. A truly great performance from one of the best actresses working in film today.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY : The Academy’s push for diversity clearly gives the edge here to Regina King over Marina de Tavira because for some reason diversity, at least in the eyes of the New Academy, only relates to Black people.

WHO WILL WIN - Regina King : King’s work is strikingly inferior when compared to Adams, Stone and Weisz, but she will walk away with the Oscar due to the Academy’s yearning to be “inclusive” and to quell any charges similar to the #OscarsSoWhite nonsense from a few years back.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali - Green Book : Ali does strong work as Dr. Don Shirley, the Black, gay, effete (and upper class) pianist struggling to survive in a decidedly hostile 1960’s world. Ali makes Shirley a genuine human being and uses his formidable skill to masterfully avoid falling into the easy trap of caricature.

Adam Driver - BlackKklansman : Adam Driver is…fine…in Spike Lee’s racial drama set in 1970’s Colorado. I didn’t think the performance was Oscar worthy…but what the hell do I know. It isn’t awful…but it isn’t great either. To be fair, I am entirely baffled as to why Adam Driver is a thing…I just don’t get it.

Sam Elliott - A Star is Born : I think you have to love Sam Elliot to love A Star is Born or love A Star is Born to love Sam Elliot. I love neither.

Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me: This is not a great movie…but Richard E. Grant is great in it. Grant turns what could have been a stereotype into a fascinating, frustrating and engaging character that captivates every second of his screen time.

Sam Rockwell - Vice : Rockwell gives his dim bulb character George W. Bush a desperate yearning for acceptance and respect that is genuine and compelling and shows an exquisite command of craft in avoiding the pitfall of imitation.

WHO SHOULD WIN - Mahershala Ali/Richard E. Grant - Both men give stand out performances that highlight their mastery of craft and undeniable talent. A win for either will not garner complaints from me.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY - The New Academy will want to reward Ali, who won the award just two years ago for his work in Moonlight, for no other reason than he is African-American in order to satiate the knee-jerk #OscarsSoWhite criticisms. That said, Ali’s award for Moonlight could actually hurt him this year as the Academy may feel they don’t NEED to award him since he already has one.

WHO WILL WIN - Richard E. Grant : Mahershala Ali has won all the preceding awards and is the favorite, but I am sensing that this will be the first upset/surprise of the evening. Grant has been on a charm offensive recently and with my ear to the ground I am picking up a great deal of support for him. Another factor helping Grant is that Mahershala Ali won the award two years ago and the actor’s actor, Grant, has never won it.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Favourite - Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara : A tight and smart script that plumbs the depths of palace intrigue to create a darkly funny and insightful story. The dialogue is exceedingly smart, funny and crisp.

First Reformed - Paul Schrader : Paul Schrader is one of the great screenwriters in Hollywood history, having written both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. First Reformed is a better script than it is a movie, which is both an indictment of Schrader’s directing and an endorsement of his writing.

Green Book - Nick Vallelonga and Peter Farrelly: This average script was elevated by Farrelly’s skilled direction, and with the addition of the controversy surrounding the writers, I don’t think it will win. If it does…this is going to be a very interesting Oscars indeed…and a very controversial one too.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron : A phenomenal script in terms of the themes it tackles and the scope of its narrative. Cuaron’s singular vision starts with his script and this one is chock full of magical realism mixed with working class reality. A truly terrific piece of screenwriting.

Vice - Adam McKay : I felt this script bit off more than it could chew, lacked focus and was structurally flawed. Definitely could have used a few more re-writes and edits to fine tune the whole thing.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma/The Favourite - Two high quality scripts that were exceedingly well written. An Oscar for either and you’ll hear no complaints from me. If Alfonso Cuaron wins this award…expect Roma to have a very, very, very big night.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: With no “diverse/inclusive” candidates to choose from (the New Academy doesn’t count Mexican men as diverse/inclusive for some reason), the New Academy will only work in the negative here by cutting Green Book off at the knees. Vallelonga and Farrelly have made enemies among the New Academy for their less than politically correct behavior and will be punished accordingly.

WHO WILL WIN: The Favourite : While I’d like to see Roma sweep the entire awards ceremony, I think voters hold a grudge against the film because it is a Netflix movie and it is foreign, the former of which will particularly hurt it in this category since the dialogue is in Spanish and Mextec. The Favourite is certainly deserving of an Oscar though as it is a beautifully written movie.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - The Coen Brothers - I have seen Buster Scruggs but have not reviewed it. I enjoyed it. I don’t think this script deserves a nomination though.

BlacKkKlansman - Spike Lee and friends - This was a good movie, but I do not think it deserves a nomination for its script. Spike Lee has written some masterworks in the past, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, but this is not his strongest work.

Can You Ever Forgive Me - Nicole Holofcener - I thought this script and this film was pretty shitty as it never figured out what it wanted to be and ended up being not much.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Barry Jenkins - Again…a bad script and an at-best average movie. The story and characters did not translate well at all from James Baldwin’s book.

A Star is Born - Bradley Cooper and friends - This script was a piece of junk too. God what an awful category. How is modernizing a movie that has been made three times before considered Oscar worthy?

WHO SHOULD WIN: BlackKklansman : As I said, I don’t think this is an Oscar worthy script…but this category is pretty terrible so this movie wins the tallest dwarf award.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Well, obviously the New Academy want to reward either Spike Lee or Barry Jenkins due to their race. Nicole Holfcener is another sleeper pick because she is a woman. The fact that Jenkins won this award two years ago, and Lee has never won and has never been properly awarded in his entire career, and his film was so politically charged for this moment in time, I think the New Academy goes with Lee.

WHO WILL WIN: BlackKklansman : Spike Lee finally gets the Oscar he deserves but only for a script that is undeserving.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War - Lukasz Zal: Zal’s use of black and white and his framing in Cold War is impeccable and stunning. A beautifully photographed film whose cinematography was integral to the storytelling.

The Favourite - Robbie Ryan: Ryan’s use of candles, shadow and light is exquisite in The Favourite and is a wonderful cinematic device that reveals much of the sub-text.

Never Look Away - Caleb Deschanel: I found Deschanel’s work on this film to be less than Oscar worthy. Not terrible at all, but just not noteworthy.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron : Cuaron puts on a virtuoso performance with Roma, and his cinematography is the icing on this cinematic cake. A stunning film to behold, Cuaron’s use of black and white and his extremely effective and complex camera movements and beautifully rendered framing is simply magnificent.

A Star is Born - Matthew Libatique : I found Libatique’s cinematography, with its excessive use of flares and close-ups, to be as underwhelming as the film.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - Roma is a cinematic masterpiece and Cuaron’s cinematography is absolute artistic and technical perfection.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Since the New Academy doesn’t recognize Mexican men as qualifying for their diversity/inclusion games, then this category offers no chance to virtue signal.

WHO WINS: Roma - Alfonso Cuaron: This is a tough category where virtually anyone can win. The knock against Cuaron is that the Academy, for a variety of reasons, do not want him to win all the awards. In this category cinematographers and other behind the camera technical people will resent Cuaron a bit for being a director AND a cinematographer…this stuff can be very territorial. A sign of that was when Lukasz Zal won this award at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards. Anyone can win this thing…and as much as I think the Academy has a bug up its ass over Cuaron and Netflix…I still think he sneaks out of here with this win. But if he loses it will be to Zal…who to be fair is a very deserving candidate as well.

BEST FOREIGN FILM

Capernaum - Due to time constraints, this is one of the few noteworthy films I haven’t seen this year…which bums me out. I hope to see it soon though.

Cold War - One of the best films of the year that boasts two outstanding performances and luscious black and white cinematography.

Never Look Away : An enigmatic movie that never quite lives up to its grandiose ambitions although it does raise something interesting thematic questions.

Roma - An absolute masterpiece that is as heartbreaking as it is gripping.

Shoplifters - An absolutely mesmerizing film that stayed with me for weeks on end after seeing it. Deftly directed and wonderfully acted, Shoplifters is an understated yet exquisite gem.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - It is easily the best film of the year and should easily win this award.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Roma hits all the right notes for New Academy voters but because it is a Netflix movie there is resistance to it.

WHO WILL WIN: Roma - There is an outside chance that the Netflix/Cuaron related backlash against Roma elevates Cold War to the victory. If that is the case, then this Oscar night will be turned upside down. I adored Cold War and it is one of the very best films of the year, but Roma is the best film, foreign or domestic, of the year, and if it doesn’t win here it will be a major upset.

BEST DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuaron - Roma : Cuaron’s directing on Roma is a auteur’s virtuoso performance, a stunning tour-de-force that masterfully brings to life his vision with singular cinematic genius and reminds us of the power and artistry of cinema.

Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite : Lanthimos is one of the best directors in cinema and his masterful work on The Favourite has catapulted him to the heights he deserves.

Spike Lee - BlackKklansman : Spike Lee was once one of the most important figures in cinema, but that was over 25 years ago. Lee’s direction on BlackKklansman is not perfect and is at times jarringly shoddy, but in a down year for movies this one is a good enough comeback vehicle for him.

Adam McKay - Vice : I wanted to love Vice…I didn’t love Vice. McKay’s direction is scattered and uneven…a lot like this movie.

Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War : Pawlikowski direction on Cold War is superb as he crafts a compelling and beautifully profound film that is packaged in a tight 88 minute running time.

WHO SHOULD WIN : Alfonso Cuaron - Not to sound like a broken record, but damn Cuaron showed himself to be at the very top of his game and at the top of his profession with his work on Roma.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: The New Academy want to reward Spike Lee for his career and his making an overtly political film this year that is a favorite of social justice warriors, and because he is Black which would feed their need to virtue signal. Once again, Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican man, doesn’t qualify for the diversity vote…a fact which helps those arguing that the Oscars aren’t “inclusive” since Mexican men have won this award 5 of the last 6 years.

WHO WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuaron - Roma : There is a chance…and it is actually a pretty good chance…that the New Academy and its “diversity” initiatives rear their ugly head and Spike Lee wins this award. If Roma and Cuaron are getting beat in other categories like screenplay and cinematography, then watch out for Spike Lee sneaking in for the upset which would be a travesty. That said, I think Cuaron’s work, regardless of the fact that it was for Netflix, is so overwhelmingly spectacular that voters will find it nearly impossible to deny him this Oscar…but stranger things have happened.

BEST ACTRESS

Glenn Close -The Wife: The Wife is a truly dreadful film, just awful, and to be frank, Glenn Close is pretty terrible in it. That said, she has been nominated a bunch over her long career and never won. The consensus seems to be that it is her time.

Yalitza Aparicio - Roma : A first time actress nominated for an Oscar is a pretty great story. Aparicio is terrific in Roma, totally present, genuine, grounded and alive on screen. A pleasantly surprising but very well deserved nomination.

Olivia Colman - The Favourite: Olivia Colman’s scenery chewing performance as the emotionally incontinent Queen Anne, who has the attention-span and temperament of a toddler, is a joy to behold. Colman is deliriously and deliciously delightful in The Favourite and is most-deserving of her nomination and if it happens, the award.

Lady Gaga - A Star is Born: I don;t get it. I don’t get Gaga being nominated, I don’t get all the love this film gets. This movie is kind of a hot mess, and Gaga’s performance is most definitely not Oscar worthy.

Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me : This movie stinks but Melissa McCarthy is a revelation as the curmudgeonly Lee Israel. McCarthy uses he natural comedic ability to great effect in this role but never allows it to overwhelm the dramatic honesty of her character.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Olivia Colman : Colman is so good in The Favourite it made me giddy. Just a ridiculously great performance that is compelling, energetic and devastatingly honest. I can’t wait to see Colman as Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Glenn Close made a smart move at the Golden Globes by giving a speech that spoke to the Girl Power/Pussy Hat contingent in the media and the New Academy. This speech positioned Close to be the recipient of the New Academy’s diversity/inclusivity vote even though she is a White woman. Well played Ms. Close.

WHO WILL WIN: Glenn Close - The Wife: As much as I want Olivia Colman to win this award, and as much as I think she deserves it, I think Glenn Close wins it because she is a symbol of the #ImWithHer/Hillary brigade due to her always being the bridesmaid and never the bride come Oscar night. The Academy will reward Close despite the shitty work she does in that shitty movie. Such is life. That said, I put the chances of Colman sneaking in and winning this thing pretty high…so don’t be too shocked if Close is left holding the bag once again…and try not to laugh too hard at her expense.

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale - Vice: Bale’s work in Vice is absolutely stunning. His physical transformation into Dick Cheney never falls into the trap of imitation and that is a testament to Bale’s remarkable talent and skill.

Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born: Cooper’s work is the best thing about A Star is Born and I think he is deserving of an Oscar nomination even though i think the movie is not. Cooper is establishing himself as one of the top movie star/actors in the business. The next few years of his work will be interesting to see.

Willem Dafoe - At Eternity’s Gate : Dafoe’s acting in At Eternity’s Gate is very impressive, but the film never lives up to the stellar work he does in it.

Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody : I like Rami Malek. Everybody likes Rami Malek…he’s a good guy. That said, I was not as impressed by his performance as everybody else was. To me the script was so thin that Malek was never really able to get much depth to his performance. That said, he does the very best he can with the little he is given.

Viggo Mortenson - Green Book : Green Book has gotten a lot of heat for its racial politics, but Mortenson’s solid performance is beyond reproach. Mortenson uses skill and craft to give great depth and nuance to a character that easily could have fallen into caricature.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Christian Bale - Bale is head and shoulders above everyone else in this category. A remarkable performance that elevates Bale into the stratosphere of best working actors on the planet.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: This category has no Black actors in it so it is open to moronic charges of #OscarsSoWhite. But rest assured, Rami Malek is of Egyptian descent so the New Academy will rally behind him and be able to virtue signal their moral superiority due to their embrace of “diversity”.

WHO WILL WIN: Rami Malek - Everybody loves Rami Malek. While his performance isn’t Oscar worthy to me, my vote doesn’t matter. Malek is winning and there is nothing we can do about it. Since he is such a good guy, I won’t get mad about it. I do hope he wears the Freddie teeth to the ceremony though…or at least thanks them in his speech.

BEST PICTURE

Green Book - Green Book is a well crafted and fine film. Is it Oscar worthy? No. If this were 1985 then Green Book would win this award with ease…but this isn’t 1985. This sort of simple film is a lightning rod for those who hate it AND for those that hate the people who hate it. To be frank, I find all this shit exhausting.

Black Panther - It is a total joke that Black Panther, an at best middling super hero movie that isn’t even the best super hero movie of the year (which is easily Infinity War), is nominated for an Oscar. Black Panther is the recipient of the “leg up” program, and its nomination is a blatant piece of pandering and paternalism and is frankly a disgrace.

BlackKklansman - I liked this movie but it is deeply flawed and because of that do not think it is Oscar worthy. That said, due to Spike Lee directing, it is a sentimental and political choice for some.

Roma - The greatest film of the year. A masterpiece.

Bohemian Rhapsody - This movie is an absolute mess, a total shitshow. Yes, it is entertaining and fun to get see Queen rocking Wembley once again…but Oscar worthy? Good Lord no!

A Star is Born - I don’t get it…I just don’t get it. Thought this movie was not great…not great at all. Why people are so invested in it is beyond me.

Vice - An ambitious (and noble) misfire that boasts fantastic performances but never coalesces into a coherent piece of cinema enough to be considered an Oscar worthy movie.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - This is as clear as day. Roma is easily the greatest film of the year and it isn’t even close.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: I think Black Panther is going to get an awful lot of love for its diversity and inclusivity.

WHO WILL WIN: Buckle up. Roma should win…but in the shock of the night…BLACK PANTHER is going to steal this award. Roma has a lot of hurdles in the voting, the most obvious is that it is a black and white, foreign language film, and a foreign language film has never won Best Picture…and on top of that it is a Netflix film and the movie industry is very uncomfortable with Netflix. The Academy doesn’t want Roma to win Best Picture (or sweep all the awards) and is actively trying to find a substitute…and what I have picked up out here in Hollywood is that Black Panther is that choice. Listening to and talking with Oscar voters over the last month and Black Panther is the film that keeps getting mentioned…and never because people think it is great but because to a person they say they will vote for it because of the message it will send about “representation”, “diversity” and “inclusion”. Sadly, this is the world in which we now live, and Black Panther, that ridiculously shitty super hero movie, is going to beat out one one of the greatest films in recent history, Roma, because of a wave of self-righteous, identity politics driven virtue signalling.

Hopefully I am wrong (Please God let me be wrong!!). Hopefully Roma is justly rewarded, not just in the Best Picture category but in Screenplay, Cinematography, Directing and Foreign Picture…but I don’t have my hopes up.

As for the rest of the categories…I have even less of an idea about these than I do about the previous picks…so take them with a grain of salt as they are my best guesses.

VISUAL EFFECTS - FIRST MAN : If Infinity War wins this award it could signal the Academy’s acceptance of Marvel films and point to a big night for Black Panther.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - VICE

ANIMATED SHORT - BAO

LIVE ACTION SHORT - SKIN

DOCUMENTARY SHORT - PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.

SOUND MIXING - FIRST MAN - Bohemian Rhapsody has a shot here, but the one to watch is Black Panther, which if it wins this award could point to a big night for the Marvel film.

SOUND EDITING - FIRST MAN - Same comment as the Sound Mixing award.

COSTUME DESIGN - BLACK PANTHER - If BP loses these next two awards to The Favourite…then it is done and won’t win Best Picture. (I have my fingers crossed this is what happens!!)

PRODUCTION DESGIN - BLACK PANTHER

FILM EDITING - VICE - Bohemian Rhapsody has a shot here.

ORIGINAL SCORE - BLACKKKLANSMAN - Black Panther is the favorite…but I think the Academy rewards Terence Blanchard…which will make me happy. But if BP wins this…and the Design awards and Sound Awards…look out…Best Picture is coming.

ORIGINAL SONG - “SHALLOW”, A STAR IS BORN - Outside chance BP and Kendrick Lamar wins this award.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - RBG - This is neck and neck with Free Solo, but I went with RBG because of the politics.

ANIMATED FEATURE - SPIDER-MAN : INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Ok gang…I think I covered all the categories. A few other things to touch upon before I go. Keep an eye out for certain narratives taking shape in the early awards.

The narratives that are in play…

  1. Roma dominates - Roma has a chance to absolutely destroy these Oscars as the film has a legitimate chance to win Best Picture, Best Foreign Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography and has an outside chance to win Best Screenplay and Best Editing as well…and if the longest of longshots happens and Yalitza Aparicio wins Best Actress…that will signal Roma has had a totally and gloriously dominant night…and I will be the happiest man on earth….except for Alfonso Cuaron.

  2. Roma destroyed - There is also a chance that Roma, due to its affiliation with Netflix and its artistic pedigree, could get snubbed across the board. There is a scenario where voters don’t vote for it for Best Picture because they assume it will win Best Foreign Film, and then other voters don’t vote for it for best Foreign Film because they assume it will win Best Picture…and it ends up winning neither. This scenario is much much more likely than I would like to imagine…and that along with all of the cocaine I’ve been doing is keeping me awake nights. In addition, it is very possible that Spike Lee is chosen over Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director out of a sense of wanting to finally reward Lee for his career’s work. Then throw in a Best Cinematography win for Cold War (which won the Guild award) and there is a chance that Roma leaves empty handed. YIKES.

  3. Black Panther goes on a run. As noted above, I have Black Panther winning Costume and Production Design…and if that happens it will look very good for my prediction of a Best Picture win. If the movie wins Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and either Original Score or best Song in addition to the production awards…it will definitely win Best Picture. There is a shot that we are looking at an Oscars where Black Panther wins 7 awards…let that sink in for a minute.

  4. Black Panther gets shut out. Things could go this way if Black Panther loses to The Favourite in costume and production design. If Black Panther loses those awards it is done in the Best Picture race and we Roma fans can breath a sigh of relief. If BP loses in the production awards it will not win Song, Score or either Sound award and will leave empty handed. The fact that this is a Marvel/Disney film could be a hurdle that even its identity politics cannot overcome. We will see.

  5. Bohemian Rhapsody goes on a run. Bohemian Rhapsody is an awful movie but it did win the Editing Guild award and has a legit chance to win Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards as well as the Best Editing award which would be a terrific night for the film. Add in Rami Malek’s guaranteed win for Best Actor and we are looking at 4 Oscars for this fun piece of crap.

  6. Chaos - A totally incoherent Oscars. In this scenario a non-Roma film wins Best Picture, Olivia Colman wins Best Actress, there are upsets in both Supporting actor categories as well as in Best Director and the Screenplay awards. Green Book ends up being a big winner.

  7. Non-chaos. All of the favorites win. Roma does well and everything goes according to plan with the other categories.

If you pay attention to the early awards you might be able to discern how the rest of the night is going to go…or not…who knows. This Oscars has me baffled and it shouldn’t because Roma is so clearly the best of this sad bunch in a very down year for Hollywood Cinema (foreign films excluded).

And thus ends my rambling and ragged Oscar predictions post. I have zero confidence in my picks and am genuinely concerned I will lose for Oscar pool for the first time in my life this year. That said, i do reserve the right to change my mind between now and the awards show. In a fit of cinema idealism I may discard my Oscar cynicism (Black Panther) and embrace my optimism and pick Roma to win because my heart tells me to…I’m just not sure my head will let me.

©2019

BlacKkKlansman: A Review

blackkklansman_poster_2.jpg

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!****

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A flawed but insightful, incisive and compelling film that speaks to the struggles of our time.

BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee and written by Lee and a coterie of others (based on the book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth), is the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black cop in Colorado Springs who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. The film stars John David Washington as Stallworth, with supporting turns from Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and Topher Grace.

At one time, in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Spike Lee was one of the most important filmmakers in cinema. His breakthrough film, 1989's Do the Right Thing, which featured Lee's signature aesthetic of humor, drama and cultural commentary was an explosive piece of cinema that catapulted Lee into the spotlight and into the hearts of cinephiles everywhere.

Lee followed up Do the Right Thing with two films that weren't quite as ground breaking but were noteworthy films nonetheless, Mo' Better Blues (1990) and Jungle Fever (1991). Following those two critical and commercial successes Lee then made his masterpiece, the phenomenal Malcolm X (1992), which is a staggering cinematic achievement.

Unknown-8.jpeg

After reaching the summit with Malcolm X, the cinematic world seemed his for the taking, but then something strange happened to Spike Lee...he lost his fastball. I am not sure why it happened, whether it was a case of the muse abandoning him, his mojo shrinking, his spirit being broken or his just not giving a shit anymore, but I know it most certainly did happened. To be clear, he didn't lose it all at once...but there was a noticeable and precipitous decline in the quality and artistry of his work in the wake of Malcolm X.

The middling movies Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game and Summer of Sam are all painfully lackluster efforts, especially in the shadow of the murderers row of Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever and the Babe Ruth of the canon Malcolm X. The precipitous decline in Lee's filmmaking ability was equaled by his fall from cinematic relevance.

Lee wasn't just losing his artistic and critical fastball, the box office had left him as well as none of those films even made back their production budgets, making this unfortunate streak a near death blow to Lee's career. Directors can churn out average and below average films for decades...but only if they make their investors money or at the very least do not lose their investors money...a perfect example is Ron Howard.

Unknown-9.jpeg

The last Spike Lee film I saw in the theatre was also the first Spike Lee film to make any money since Malcom X, and that was 2002's 25th Hour. Three things stood out about this movie in regards to Lee's other films, the first is that it is a story about a White protagonist and stars a White cast. Secondly, it made more profit than all of the previous seven second tier Lee films (post Malcolm X) combined, and actually made more in net profit than even Malcolm X. And third, even though I thoroughly enjoyed 25th Hour, it was not a "Spike Lee film" as his signature aesthetic was noticeably absent. While I hoped 25th Hour signaled a new phase in Lee's career and began his long climb back into relevance...it didn't. Lee's descent into cinematic irrelevance only seemed to quicken its pace.

In 2006, Lee had a financial hit on his hands with the film Inside Man (which was originally supposed to be directed by...ironically, Ron Howard), but while the box office was stellar, the biggest of his career, Lee's artistry was lacking, and the movie was little more than a Denzel Washington star vehicle rather than a Spike Lee joint, and again, could have been directed by anyone. After Inside Man the wheels came off the cinematic wagon for Lee as he churned out a string of films, one more awful and irrelevant than the next.

Unknown-10.jpeg

Which brings us to BlacKKKlansman. With BlacKKKlansman Spike Lee has done something extraordinary...he got his fastball back. Now, it isn't all the way back, not by a long shot. If Lee was throwing 98 MPH heat in his early 90's heyday, and in his post-Malcolm X phase dropped to an anemic 90 MPH, and in the last decade has been hurling up grotesque 84 MPH meatballs, with BlacKKKlansman he hits a solid and very respectable 92 to 94 MPH on the radar gun.

The story of BlacKKKlansman is the right story at the right time with the right filmmaker. BlacKkKlansman is right in Spike Lee's wheelhouse and shows him to be artistically and cinematically invigorated by the material because it allows him to highlight his best quality...namely his flair for mixing of humor, politics and cultural commentary. Though not as sharply crafted as his sterling early works, this movie is easily Lee's best effort in the last 25 years, hands down. It is vibrantly relevant, pulsatingly alive and at times gloriously infectious.

Lee's direction is energetic as he unfurls an insightful and incisive story that lays bare the perilously combustible nature of our time. Lee's politics, particularly his racial politics, have always been overt in his films, but in BlacKKKlansman he is not only able to get a blunt and brazen message across out in the open, but also covertly weaves a subtler, yet ultimately more nuanced, mature and impactful political message just beneath the emotionally furious surface of the film.

As much as some may take this film as an anti-White and pro-Black screed, they would be missing the deeper messages embedded in the movie. If you can leave your preconceived notions at the door and watch the film looking for Lee's masterful weaving together of the dynamics at play in the Black and White power struggle, you will be surprised, if not downright shocked, as to what the film is telling/teaching you. In my reading of the film Lee's vision is not so starkly black and white (pardon the pun) but he appears to be trying to find allies where he once saw enemies, and is trying to solve problems rather than exacerbate them.

Unknown-6.jpeg

The film's star, John David Washington, gives a charismatic and magnetic performance as Ron Stallworth. Unbeknownst to me prior to seeing the movie, John David is Denzel Washington's son, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. John David is certainly not the skillful actor and master craftsman his father is...but that is an unfair bar to set...rather John David is his own actor, and to his benefit he isn't a look-alike of his father either. John David does have his father's undeniable charisma and charm though and he carries this film from start to finish with aplomb and ease. Funny, likeable and genuine, John David Washington's confidence never crosses the river into arrogance, and that is a quality that will serve him well in the future, which will hopefully be very bright.

Adam Driver is an actor I generally do not understand. I do no think he is very good and cannot for the life of me understand why other people do. That said, he does solid work in BlacKKKlansman and is an asset to the movie. Driver's character is a bit underwritten, but he makes the most of what he is given.

Unknown-1.jpeg

The luminous Laura Harrier plays Patrice, the love interest of Ron, and she is excellent. Harrier is able to imbue Patrice with not only a determined strength, but a nagging fragility that is compelling to behold. Harrier makes Patrice a complex character where a lesser actress would've made her a two-dimensional bore.

Unknown-7.jpeg

Topher Grace is spectacular as Klan leader David Duke (yes, THAT David Duke). Topher's performance is so understated and comedically genius as to be sublime. Of course, Topher is aided by the fact that David Duke is such a repulsive and captivating character as to be amazing, but to Topher's credit, he does not make Duke a caricature but rather a very real and genuine human being. Topher's ability to seamlessly and subtly make the Duke character's emotional transitions elevates the film considerably.

It is also worth noting that two actors give terrific performances in very small parts. Alec Baldwin has a cameo as Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard, and he crushes his minimal screen time, which was a treat since the last time I saw him he was embarrassing himself with his hackneyed performance in Mission Impossible. And Corey Hawkins has a small supporting role as Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) that is electric. The scene where Ture gives a speech is one of the best in the film and Hawkins' performance (and Lee's direction) is dynamic.

As much as I liked BlacKKKlansman, it isn't a perfect film. I thought the Klansman characters were very poorly written, or underwritten as the case may be. The caricature of all Klansman as stupid and redneck is a cheap and easy way to make fun of them, but a bad way to make the case that racism is a prevalent and predominant evil in our society. The Klansmen in the movie lack a genuine desperation and fear which would make them much more complicated (and believable) characters instead of being the cartoon cutouts that are only motivated by sheer lack of I.Q. combined with in-bred hate that the movie makes them out to be.

Lee may have some of his fastball back, but certainly not all of it. The final 1/3 or 1/4 of the film shows the cracks in Lee's skill level. As the story accelerates towards its climax Lee's direction gets messy if not downright sloppy. Lee's cinematic incoherence is matched by some dubious writing and plot twists that make for a muddled and mundane finale to an otherwise pretty riveting narrative.

Lee then adds a coda to the film that is completely extraneous, indulgent, logically absurd and frankly embarrassingly idiotic, that in many ways scuttles the exquisite cinematic experience of the movie. This coda is so amateurish and dreadfully awful it is truly amazing, so much so that I felt myself and my opinion of the movie deflating as the scene wore on. This scene feels like it is from a bad high school morality play rather than a quality piece of cinema. But then...Lee redeems himself with a second coda that ends the movie...which I will not spoil...only to say that it is dramatic and emotional dynamite and is extremely well-done and poignant.

In conclusion, BlacKKKlansman is easily Spike Lee's best film of the last 25 years. It is a relevant piece of cinema that speaks to the troubles of our time by equating it with the troubles in our past. Buoyed by a strong lead performance from John David Washington, BlacKKKlansman is a smart, often subtle and insightful film that packs a wallop, and is well-worth your time and money to go see in the theatre.

©2018

#OscarsSoWhite : Don't Believe the Hype?

***ESTIMATED READING TIME: 20 MINUTES***

On January 14, 2016, at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced the nominations for the 81st Academy Awards. For the second year in a row none of the actors nominated in the four acting categories, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, were minorities. All twenty nominations went to White actors. The lack of Black acting nominees in particular, set off firestorms of outrage in the media and online.

A day after the nominations were announced, in response to the alleged "snub" of Black actors, artists and films, Spike Lee declared he would not attend the Oscar ceremony where he would have been an honored guest having been awarded an honorary Academy Award in November. Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of one of the actors thought to be "snubbed", Will Smith, also publicly declared she would "boycott" the awards show by not attending or watching it on television. Pinkett Smith tweeted "At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating altogether?".

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a Black woman, said that changes would be made in order to make the Academy, which does not make public it's membership demographics but which is rumored to be 94% White and 77% male with a median age of 62, younger and more diverse. On January 20th, the Academy announced an expansion of membership to include more women and minorities and to make the membership younger and with more recent work experience in the industry. This has done little to quell the anger felt by the Black community and their supporters of all colors, which have used the #OscarsSoWhite meme as a rallying cry.

The emotional response by the #OscarsSoWhite community to what they perceive as racially biased slights and snubs by the Academy and the film industry are very understandable in a historical context, but that doesn't make them rational or even real. Racism is a deadly serious topic, and charges of racism are not a matter to be taken lightly. I believe that the reaction to the alleged slights by the Academy are a result of emotionalism and not rationalism. A closer look at the film business here in America and abroad, and the demographic reality of Black people in those places, shows that the perception of massive Black under-representation in the Oscar acting categories is not one backed up by facts. A closer examination of the films, artists and actors alleged to have been snubbed this year, and their artistic merit, shows that this controversy is much ado about nothing, at least in regards to race. That doesn't mean that racism doesn't exist, it just means that it isn't the reason there have been no Black actors nominated for Oscars in the last two years.

THE SUBJECTIVE

CONTEXT

Part of the uproar this year has to do with perceived snubs from last year. The film Selma is often brought up as a film that was snubbed along with its African-American director Ava Duvernay and its Black lead actor David Oyelowo. The thing that people tend to overlook is that yes, Duvernay and Oyolowo weren't nominated last year, but the film Selma was nominated for Best Picture and won an Oscar for Best Original Song.

Duvernay is a gifted director, and her work on Selma is admirable, but her not being nominated is far from a grievous slight. Selma is Duvernay's first major feature film, and if history is a guide, the Academy needs to be strongly convinced to give any first time director a nomination. It isn't impossible, but it is rare. For instance, John Singleton, an African-American man, was the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay for his first feature Boyz in The Hood. Selma is a good movie, but I think we can all agree that it is no Boyz in the Hood. And just to put the Academy's reluctance to embrace directors early in their careers into perspective, consider that Martin Scorsese, maybe the greatest American film director, was not even nominated for his fifth feature film Taxi Driver, one of the most iconic films in american cinematic history. In fact, the Academy didn't nominate Scorsese for Best Director until his seventh feature, Raging Bull, and it took the Academy another 30 years after Taxi Driver to finally give Scorsese an Oscar win with his Best Director award for The Departed.

Oyolowo was in a similar boat, as he was relatively unknown to the Academy prior to Selma. His work is terrific in the film, but it isn't transcendent. If Oyolowo had been a more familiar face to the Academy I believe he would have been nominated for Selma. If Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle or Jamie Foxx gave that same exact performance they would have been nominated because the Academy knows and trusts them and their work. Not nominating Oyolowo and Duvernay is not a decision based on racism, but on typical Academy trends and  politics. Which leads us to Oscars General Rule #1Except in the most rare of occasions and with the most transcendent performances, the Academy votes for talent with whom they are very familiar.

DEFINING OSCAR

Before going any further, we should try and define what exactly is the purpose of the Academy Awards. Historically, the goal of the Academy when giving out awards to is try and the thread the needle between commerce and art. It wants to reward 'prestige' films which are close enough to the mainstream that they are financially viable yet have artistic merit to them. The Academy wants people to tune in to their awards show, so they nominate films that people have heard of with famous actors in them, but that are not seen as pure popcorn, money making enterprises. I reek of the art house, so for my taste the Academy leans much too far towards commerce, but to the general public they probably lean much to far towards art with their awards. Regardless, this is what the Academy is trying to do. With all of that said, let's take a closer look at this year's controversy.

The purported snubbing of Black actors at this years Oscars has a very simple premise to it, that there are Black actors who gave better performances this year than the White actors nominated. So let's examine the performances most mentioned when discussing the Oscar snubs of this year and see if this premise could be a valid one. 

GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER?

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

The first film mentioned is almost always Straight Outta Compton, the bio-pic of the famous rap group N.W.A. and their rise to fame, and their struggles once they got there. The film was very successful, making $200 million at the box office from a $28 million budget. Which brings us to… Oscars General Rule #2 : Box office success does not guarantee a film is great, or even good, and it certainly doesn't guarantee Oscar nominations. For instance, Star Wars : The Force Awakens, has made a billion dollars this past year but received no nominations. Sometimes films that are extremely financially successful do get nominations, Titanic for example, but that is not always the case.  

Straight Outta Compton is, in my professional opinion and to my terrible disappointment as a fan of N.W.A., not a great movie. It is a pretty standard, paint by numbers, musical bio-pic. It is not very compelling, it looks flat visually, and it has major pacing, performance and narrative issues. The thing that stands out the most to me about the film is how relentlessly safe it is, in structure and in execution. The fact that in reality, N.W.A. was so successful because they were deemed to be so "dangerous" and hard only heightens how flaccid and impotent the film really was. If you are someone who really loved the film and think it deserves an Oscar nomination, I would tell you that I believe that you are seeing the film you wanted to see and not the film that actually was.

In addition, there is not a single standout performance from any of the actors. Yes, the actors looked like the people they were playing, but none of the actors are even remotely good at actually, you know…acting. There is a lot of posing and preening, but there are no genuine human moments in the entire film. The acting performances are incredibly shallow and hollow, it is almost like watching someone trying to act someone who is trying to act. Giving an acting Oscar nomination to any of the cast would be the equivalent of nominating an Elvis impersonator.

Musical bio-pics of iconic bands like N.W.A. are not usually heartily embraced by the Academy. A perfect example is Oliver Stone's The Doors from 1991. Just like Straight Outta Compton, The Doors tells the story of a revolutionary American band from its start to finish and all the turmoil in between. Both films were made about twenty years after their musical subjects broke up and/or died. Unlike Straight Outta Compton though, The Doors had a two-time Oscar winning director at the helm, Oliver Stone, and had a universally praised, dynamic performance from its lead actor, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. Unlike Oliver Stone, Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray has had basically a journeyman's career with no track record for successful dramatic and artistically relevant films. Unlike Val Kilmer in The Doors, Straight Outta Compton has no well known lead actors and none of them give performances that would rank up there with Kilmer's Morrison. The Academy gave no nominations to The Doors film, its director Stone or its lead actor Kilmer. Like many people, the Academy didn't like The Doors, and like many people, they didn't love Straight Outta Compton either.

One thing to point out is that Straight Outta Compton, like Selma, was not entirely overlooked by the Academy, but rather got a nomination for Best Screenplay. The problem for many though is that the writers of the film were White and not Black. #OscarsSoWhite have used this as proof that the Academy is racist as it shows they only reward White artists and not Black ones. This is just a short cut to thinking. I guarantee you that Academy members had no idea what color the writers of Straight Outta Compton were and just threw the unworthy film a bone in the form of a screenplay nomination in order to NOT be perceived as being racist. Straight Outta Compton doesn't deserve a screenplay nomination, but the fact that people use this one nomination as proof of racism is the height of absurdity. One question that maybe the #OscarsSoWhite people should be asking as opposed to why the Academy only nominated the White writers, is why did Ice Cube hire White writers instead of Black writers to write his film? Could it be that Ice Cube just wanted the best writers he could get at the price he was willing to pay, and these White writers filled the bill? Is Ice Cube racist because he hired White people to write his film? The answer to that is obvious.

WILL SMITH : PARENTS JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND

Another actor often brought up as being rebuffed by the Academy is Will Smith for his performance in the film Concussion. Again, this is quite a stretch in searching for proof of racially biased snubs. Will Smith is, or was at one time, a giant movie star, but he is not now nor has he ever been a great actor. If Will Smith had made Concussion fifteen years ago, he would have been nominated, because he was, at that time, at the height of his career. Which bring us to…General Oscars Rule #3 : The Academy rewards big money-making movie stars for taking chances on prestige films, hence Smith being nominated for Michael Mann's Ali and for his work in The Pursuit of Happyness. It would be an error to conclude that Smith gave great performances in those films because he was nominated, he didn't. He was very average in The Pursuit of Happyness and he was not good at all in Ali, but the Academy rewards people who make them a lot of money, and Will Smith made a helluva lot of people a helluva lot of money, so he was rewarded by the Academy for taking the chance on those two prestige-type films. For an example of the Academy rewarding a movie star with a nomination, look back to Harrison Ford, the box office champ of all time with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, and his lone nomination for Witness. Ford wasn't great in Witness, but he had made people tons of money, so the Academy rewarded him for that. Ford tried his hand at other 'prestige' type films, Mosquito Coast and Regarding Henry as two examples, and his work was ignored by the Academy both times.

It is also mildly amusing that Smith and N.W.A. should be brought up in the same Oscar discussion as they are polar opposites in regard to their rap music ability and credibility. Will Smith got into the music and film businesses in order to get rich and famous, not to express his artistic self like N.W.A., this is painfully obvious by the choices he made. His rap career was the worst, most cringe worthy attempt to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Remember "Parents Just Don't Understand"?  In contrast to N.W.A.'s body of work, and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube's post-N.W.A. work, Smith is a laughably soft and weak rapper. His acting career has been equally tepid and just as pandering. Remember "The Fresh Prince"or the calculatingly formulaic Bad Boys, Men in Black, Independence Day and Wild, Wild, West? Smith has succeeded not by being great at anything he attempted, be it rapping or acting, for he is mind numbingly average at both, but by being an extremely appealing presence and a genuinely likable guy. Being so likable and enriching so many people is how he got nominated for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. For Smith to feel slighted that he is not getting his artistic due with his lackluster performance in Concussion is beyond a ludicrous.

CREED

Which brings us to Creed. There has been much angst that Sylvester Stallone (who is White) was nominated for his role in the 6th Rocky movie but that Michael B. Jordan (who is African-American) was not nominated. Again, this has nothing to do with race. Michael B. Jordan is a terrific young actor, with a great chance at a bevy of Oscar nominations in his future. The reality is that Creed is nowhere near an Oscar worthy film either, but that it is perceived to be Stallone's swan song. It might not actually be his swan song, and the Academy might be getting head faked by the Lazarus-esque Italian Stallion, but the Academy wanted to reward him for his long career and to let walk him off into the sunset a winner (much like they have done with Clint Eastwood…on numerous occasions). Stallone was rewarded for Creed not because he was great in it, but because he, and the film, were 'good enough' given the low expectations they had going in, to give him a pass.

Which brings us to General Oscars Rule #4 :The Academy eventually rewards actors for their long careers and for making a lot of people a lot of money over the course of their careers. Look, God knows Stallone is no Marlon Brando, but he has made people very rich with not only his Rocky movies but with Rambo and all his other films. The question could be raised, if the Academy is rewarding Stallone for all the money he's made people, why not reward Will Smith too? Well, the biggest issue here is not race, but age. Will Smith needs to be around for another two decades or so before the Academy will contemplate giving him what they are giving Stallone, which really amounts to a lifetime achievement type of Oscar nomination. In other words, it simply isn't Will Smith's time yet.

Michael B. Jordan has a truly fantastic career ahead of him, but Creed is the 6th Rocky movie and isn't exactly a prestige film. It was perceived as a money grab to make one more Rocky movie, but the film was better than expected, which doesn't make it great, it just makes it not awful. This is not a reason to nominate the film or Jordan. The same can be said of director Ryan Coogler, who has a very bright future ahead of him as well, but a Rocky sequel is not the place to cry foul on not getting an Oscar nomination.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON

Samuel L. Jackson has also been mentioned as being snubbed for his work in The Hateful Eight. Samuel Jackson has done some remarkable work in his career, but The Hateful Eight is not one of his better performances. It is very derivative of his other, better work (from Pulp Fiction for instance, where he was nominated), and the fact that the film is a lesser outing from Quentin Tarantino doesn't help his argument either.

I would argue that Jackson has lost out on nominations before, most notably in Tarantino's Django Unchained and in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, but I don't believe those lack of nominations were the result of racial bias, just a weak-kneed, poor taste in film by the Academy.

BEASTS OF NO NATION

The performance by a black actor that I think should have been nominate this year, but wasn't, is Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. I believe the film, it's young Ghanaian-born lead actor Abraham Atta, and Idris Elba all deserved Oscar nominations. Beasts of No Nation, Atta and Elba were not overlooked because of racism, but because of the insidious arrogance of the film business. Beasts of No Nation was distributed by Netflix and because Netflix skirted some arrangements with movie theaters, it was only shown in very limited release in theaters. It was available immediately on Netflix though. The Academy still hasn't wrapped their head around Netflix and looks at Beasts of No Nation as some sort of hybrid film/tv project. Which brings us to…  General Oscars Rule #5 : The Academy only respects film, not tv. Thus Beasts of No Nation was in an industry no man's land and the film, Elba's and Atta's performances were lost to the Academy voters. This is a terrible oversight but not a racially motivated one.

WHO SHOULDN'T BE NOMINATED?

When #OscarsSoWhite talk publicly about the racism in the Academy and this year's lack of Black actors, one thing remains elusive but very important, namely, what White actors who were nominated shouldn't have been nominated. If the #OscarsSoWhite people are going to accuse Academy members of being racist and nominating people based on race, why wouldn't the #OscarsSoWhite people have the courage to say what actors they think should not have been nominated? This is a pretty important point that no one seems to want to bring up.

Who should Will Smith replace on the Best Actor list? Michael Fassbender? Leonardo DiCaprio? Eddie Redmayne? What about Samuel L. Jackson? Should he replace Matt Damon? Or Bryan Cranston? There are arguments to be made, but #OscarsSoWhite has to have the courage to actually make them. They can't say one person deserves a nomination without implying another person doesn't deserve it, so they should have the intestinal fortitude to tell us who they would throw out. 

Since I am asking people to say who should NOT be nominated, I will go first. This year I think Abraham Atta from Beasts of No Nation should, without question, be nominated for Best Actor over Bryan Cranston of Trumbo. Trumbo is a dreadful film and Cranston is awful in it. I would also have nominated Idrs Elba of Beasts of No Nation over Sylvester Stallone from Creed. As previously stated, there are reasons that have nothing to do with race as to why Stallone and Cranston were nominated this year over Atta and Elba. The first reason is (General Oscars Rule #5) the Academy's issue with the releasing of the film through Netflix and not into theaters. The other reasons are that (General Oscars Rule #1) Atta is a total unknown and Bryan Cranston is a beloved actor in Hollywood for his previous work. Elba being overlooked has to do with the Netflix issue (General Oscars Rule #5) and with the Academy rewarding Stallone for his long and prosperous career (General Oscars Rule #4). 

A final note about snubs in general. Snubs happen every year to all sorts of actors. great actors get snubbed one year when they deserve a win, and then get an award another year when they don't. The Academy is slow to reward fresh talent, and quick to give make-up awards. For instance, Denzel Washington should have won a Best Actor Oscar for his tremendous work in Malcolm X. While Denzel was nominated he ended up losing the award to Al Pacino for his work in Scent of a Woman. Denzel deserved the win, but Pacino got the trophy. This was not due to racism, it was because of the fact that the Academy had overlooked Pacino's stellar work earlier in his career. Which brings us to General Oscars Rule #6 : The Academy makes up for most of their very stupid mistakes over time. So in this case, Pacino, who didn't win for his unbelievably great work two decades earlier in The Godfather and Godfather II, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, finally got his award for a less than stellar performance in Scent of a Woman. Denzel was overlooked for his remarkable work in Malcolm X, but a decade later got his Best Actor Oscar for a good but not great (by his lofty standards) performance in Training Day. Another example of this rule in action is that in 1990 Martin Scorsese was nominated but did not win for Best Director for his time-less classic Goodfellas. Instead the Academy gave the Best Director award to…GULPKevin Costner for Dances With Wolves. This is maybe the most egregious and embarrassing of idiotic mistakes the Academy has made in recent history. But, a decade and a half later, the Academy made it "right" by awarding Scorsese a Best Director Oscar for his rather underwhelming work on The Departed. The Academy can be pretty maddening in its choices, and slow to recognize true genius but…this is how the Academy works, and as Denzel Washington and Martin Scorsese and Al Pacino can attest, it works this way regardless of race.

THE STATISTICS

DEMOGRAPHICS AS DESTINY?

African-Americans have long been a marginalized minority group here in America. Black history is littered with one heinous struggle after another, from slavery to Jim Crow to civil rights and beyond. The African-American community's perception of racially motivated slights, or outright racism, is strongly grounded in historical precedence, so one can't blame that community's thought from taking the shape of a hammer and seeing every problem as the nail of racism. In the case of the Academy Awards though, that perception does not perfectly align with reality.

According to the US Census, in 2014 African-Americans made up 13.2% of the general population of the United States, and, rather interestingly, according to a 2014 study by the Motion Picture Association of America, they made up 12% of the movie ticket buying population. In contrast, Latinos only made up 17.4% of the general population but 23% of the movie ticket buying population.  Asians/others made up 8% of the general population and 11% of the movie ticket buying population. Non-hispanic Whites made up 62.1 % of the general population (not to be confused with European-Americans, who make up 72.4% of population) but only made up 54% of the movie ticket buying population. What does this have to do with Oscar snubs and potential racism? A closer look at Oscar history and statistics reveals that the Academy's choices may not be as racially biased as some perceive them to be.

THIRTY YEARS

In the last 30 years, since 1986, there have been 120 Oscar winners in the acting categories, and there have been 12 Black actors who have won Oscars. Which means that 10% of all acting Oscar winners have been Black, which is 24% below the percentage of African-Americans in the general  U.S. population and 17% below their percentage in the movie ticket buying population.

An even closer look at this 10% number shows us that while it is roughly 24% below the national population percentage of African-Americans, it is actually above the percentage of the African-American population in the state of California where the film industry is centered and one can assume it is also where the majority of the Academy members either live or have lived. In California, African-Americans make up 7% of the general population, and more specifically to the movie industry, in Los Angeles County make up 8.7% of the general population.  Even more specifically to Hollywood, African-Americans make up 9.6% of the general population of the city of Los Angeles. So, the 10% win rate of Oscars for Black actors mirrors back to Academy members almost exactly the general population of the city in which most of them have lived and worked.

Another number of interest is the population of english speaking countries with vibrant film industries, as those countries would more than likely have members in the Academy. So if you add up the total populations of the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Ireland, the Black population combined comes to 9% of the total overall population in those countries. Meaning that according to this metric, Black actors are over-represented by 10% in Oscar wins over the last thirty years. If you add Canada's total population to the U.S., U.K., Australia and Ireland grouping, and add Canada's black population to those countries Black population, the numbers turn out exactly the same, with the Black population being 9% of the overall population. If you reduce the metric to just the U.S. and Canada's populations together, then their overall Black population is 10.9%, showing a small under-representation in terms of Black actor Oscar wins.

When you expand the numbers over the last thirty years to look at Oscar acting nominations and not just wins, the numbers thin, as there have been 600 acting nominees since 1986 and 44 of them have been Black. That is 7.3% of the nominees, which is slightly higher than the percentage of African-Americans living in California, and slightly lower than the Black population in Los Angeles, L.A. county and in the general population of the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Australia combined.

TWENTY YEARS

If you look at Oscar nominations and wins over the last twenty years (1996-2015), Black actors have been nominated 33 times out of 400 nominations and have won 10 Acting Oscars out of 80. That means from 1996 to 2015 (the Oscar ceremony is in February but it awards films from 2015), Black actors have a nomination rate of 8.25% and an Oscar win rate of 12.5%. The win rate is a 25% increase from the thirty year rate (10%) and gives Black actors 24% wins over their population rate in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia. The 12.5% win rate is also 4% higher than the Black percentage of the movie ticket buying population. The nomination rate has increased 11.5% from the thirty year rate and has reduced Black actor under-representation in nominations from the thirty year mark of 19% to 8.3%.

TEN YEARS

If you look at the last ten years, 2006-2015,  Black actors were nominated for Oscars 18 times out of 200 nominations, and won 5 Oscars out of 40. The ten year nomination rate is 9% and the win rate is 12.5%. Compared to the twenty year rates, the nominations have increased by 5.8%, and the win rate has stayed exactly the same. The win rate of 12.5% is still 24% higher than the Black percentage of population in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia and 4% higher than the movie ticket buying population in the U.S.. The nomination rate is exactly the same as the population rate of Blacks in the U.S., Canada, U.K. Ireland and Australia general population combined. This is a pretty fascinating statistic.

CASTING

Another argument by the #OscarsSoWhite movement is that Black actors are under-represented in the casting of roles, so they have fewer opportunities to be nominated for Oscars. According to a study by the Annenberg Center for Communications and Journalism, this is simply not the case. Black actors were cast at a rate of 12.6% from 2007 to 2013 (the last year of the study) which is exactly proportional to their percentage of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census, which is 12.6%. When you expand the casting rate of Black actors to the wider english speaking film industry, they are over-represented by 28.5% in proportion to their 9% population percentage in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, and Australia over that same time period. 

According to the Screen Actors Guild, Black actors are 12% of their membership, which is roughly equivalent to their percentage of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census, and to their Oscar win rate percentage over the last twenty years. Another SAG study from 2007-2008 (the most recent year that study results are available) shows that Black actors are slightly over-represented in casting of film/TV roles, snagging 14.8% of total roles. Black actors were cast in 13.2% of lead roles and 16% of supporting roles.  Black actors being cast in 14.8% of total roles is 10.8% higher than the black percentage of the U.S. general population and 19% higher than the Black actor percentage of the Screen Actors Guild population. Also, it is 39% higher than the Black percentage of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia general population. Black actors being cast in 13.2% of leading roles is perfectly in line with the Black percentage of the U.S. population, which according to the U.S. Census information from 2014 is 13.2%.

In addition, the Economist Magazine did their own study and found that Black actors get 9% of the top roles in films (they define "top roles" as the top three names on the cast list at IMDB, in films with a 7.5 rating or higher, an American box office gross of at least $10M, and which were neither animated nor foreign-language). Interestingly enough, The Economist claims this shows that Black actors are under-reopresented in "top roles" as compared to the U.S. population, but what it really shows is that The Economist misinterprets their own study by ignoring the vital data of the populations of Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia in addition to the U.S.

A QUICK REVIEW 

A quick review shows a steady progress for Black actors over the last thirty years in regards to Oscar nominations and wins. The Oscar nomination rate has gone from 7.3% (30 yrs.) to 8.25% (20 yrs.) to 9% (10 yrs.). The Oscar win rate for Black actors has gone from 10% (30 yrs.) to 12.5% (20 yrs.) and held steady at 12.5% (10 years). This seems to be in stark contrast to the claims made by the #OscarsSoWhite people.

The statistics also show that Black actors were cast in roles from 2007-2013 at a rate of 12.6% which is in identical proportion to the black percentage of the general U.S. population over that same time period (2010 Census: 12.6% African-American population percentage). The numbers also show that Black actors are cast in "top roles" 9% of the time, which is in direct proportion to their 9% population rate in the wider english speaking film industry nations of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia.

PERCEPTION AND REALITY

As the statistic show, Black acting Oscar winners are under-represented when compared to the African-American population in the U.S. but are slightly over-represented in regards to the wider english speaking industry, and are right in line with or slightly higher than the African-American population in California, L.A. and L.A. County. But the perception remains that somehow they are dramatically and unfairly under-represented, why is that? I think part of the answer to that question is that Black people are massively over-represented in other media and entertainment fields when compared to the general U.S. population. For instance, on the Forbes list of the most powerful people in entertainment, seven of the top ten people on the list are Black. That is pretty extraordinary considering it is 6 times greater than the African-American representation in the general U.S. population.

The same can be said of the Black percentage of players in professional sport. 74.4.% of all NBA players are Black as opposed to the 23% that are White. That means that Black players in the NBA are over-represnted by roughly 82% when compared to their general population percentage in the U.S. 68% of all NFL players are Black as compared to the 28% who are White, which means Black NFL players are over-represented by 80.5% in relation to their percentage of the U.S. population. These numbers are wildly out of sync with the general population numbers and can give a distorted perception of the demographic reality of the Black population here in the U.S. 

Adding together the inordinate amount of Black entertainers at the top of their fields and Black athletes populating professional sports, it is easy to see where the perception of racism in regards to the Oscars can take shape. By awarding only 10%-12.5% of the acting awards to Black actors, the Oscars seem to fall horrendously short in recognizing Black people when compared to other areas of public life. But the reality is that the Oscars aren't greatly under-representing Black artists, but rather that the other areas, be they music, TV or sport, dramatically over-represent Black people.

The movie business is a business and so these demographic numbers tell us the real story. Racism isn't behind the Academy or the industry and their relationship to blacks, but money is. Blacks make up 13.2% of the U.S. population and 12% movie going population, but according to the MPAA study they only make up 10% of the multiple movie going population (people who see more than one film in a theatre in a given year). In purely business terms, the Black audience is stagnant at best and at worst, shrinking. So not trying to appease or chase the Black audience is not about racism, but it is about the bottom line. Add to these numbers the perceived reluctance of foreign markets, particularly the Chinese market, the holy grail of every studio executive in Hollywood, to embrace Black actors (whether this perception is based on facts is a discussion for another day, but I find it dubious), and you have a recipe for the Black minority to be even more marginalized by Hollywood than they are by their demographic reality in America. Hollywood may be a lot of things, but the one thing it is without question…is a cut-throat, bottom line business. The powers that be in Hollywood do care a great deal about color, but that color is green.

This may not be a pleasant reality, but it is the reality. It is easier to be emotionally swayed to  accuse the Academy and film industry as being "racist" rather than actually looking at and digesting the facts and figures. Black actors are being treated and rewarded right in line with their perceived economic usefulness to the film industry's money lusting overlords. You can rightly blame capitalism, corporatism, globalization or demographics, but you'd be unwise to blame racism, because then you'd be ignoring reality, no matter how cold and hard it may be. 

A DRY WHITE SEASON

If, as the #OscarsSoWhite people seem to be arguing, you believe that the racial breakdown of the U.S. population should be mirrored by Oscar nominations and wins, then there is another group of people who are under-represented in Acting Oscar nominations and wins over the last thirty years….White Americans. Since 1986, there have been 362 nominations for White American actors, which is a percentage rate of 60%. White American actors have won acting Oscars 65 times in this same time period which means they win 54% of the time. Non-hispanic White Americans are 62% of the general U.S. population, which means that White American actors are under-represented in nominations by 3.2%. If you also include Canada in with the U.S., the amount of under-representation slightly grows, as the White population is 67% in the combined countries and the Oscar nomination and win rate stay the same, meaning American/Canadian Whites are under-represented by 10.4% in nominations and 19.4% in wins.

Over the last twenty years White-American actors have a 56.75% nomination rate (227 nominations out of 400) and a win rate of 42.5% (34 wins out of 80). This means that White-American actors are under-represented over the last twenty years by roughly 8.5% in nominations and roughly 31.5% in wins when compared to the White population percentage in the U.S.

Over the last ten years, White-American actors have a 65% nomination rate (144 out of 220) and a 37.5% Oscar win rate (15 out of 40). This means that White-American actors are over-represented over the last ten years by roughly 5% in nominations and under-represented over the same time period by roughly 40% in Oscar wins when compared to the percentage of Whites in the general population of the U.S.. 

When you take nationality out of the analysis, things get even more interesting. If you combine all of the White American actors and the white Canadian, British, Irish and Australian actors to have been nominated in the last thirty years, it comes to 520 nominations. 520 nominations is 86% of all of the acting nominations and the white populations 96 wins are 80% of all Oscar wins over this same thirty year time period. This seems to back up the argument that White actors, regardless of nationality, are massively over-represented. The White population of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia is 66% of the overall population of those countries combined. Which means that White english speaking actors are over-represented by 17.5% in Oscar wins and 23% in Oscar nominations. Although, if you only count the White and Black populations, and eliminate all other races and ethnicities, in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia, then things align a bit more in that Whites make up 87.4% of the population and have been awarded 86% of acting Oscar nominations and 80% of wins, and Blacks make up 12.6% of that population and have been awarded 10% of acting Oscar wins and 7.3% of nominations over the same time period.

While this proves that U.S., Canada, U.K., Irish and Australian White actors are over-represented in regards to the total population, our earlier analysis shows that this over-representation does not come at the detriment of Black actors. So who is getting left out and why?

THE SILENT MINORITIES : LATINOS AND ASIANS

images-13.jpeg

In terms of America, the answer is pretty obvious, Latinos are dramatically under-represented in the acting categories in relation to their percentage of the U.S. general population. As previously stated, Latinos make up 17.4% of the U.S. general population, but with just 5 acting nominations in the last 30 years, make up .008% of the nominated actors. The only Latino American actors to have ever been nominated are Edwards James Olmos (Best Actor), Andy Gracia (Best Supporting Actor), Benicio del Toro (two Best Supporting Actor nominations), and Rosie Perez (Best Supporting Actress). Del Toro represents the lone Latino American acting Oscar win for his work in Traffic, which brings the Latino American win rate to .008%. Even when taking into account the expansion of the Latino population in America over the last thirty years, this statistic is pretty shocking and oddly consistent.

If you expand the search criteria to actors who speak Spanish as a primary language then the numbers mildly soften. There have been 11 actors nominated from majority Spanish speaking countries over the last 30 years, with 5 nominations coming from Spain, 3 from Mexico, 2 from Argentina and 1 from Columbia. There is only one win, that being Spaniard Penelope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The percentage of nominations for Hispanic/Latino/Spanish speaking actors over the last thirty years is roughly .027%. The percentage of wins is roughly .017%.  Even if you expand the U.S. Latino population into the "English Speaking, vibrant film industry" countries of the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Australia, the U.S. Latino population is still 3.5%, well above their Oscar nomination and win rate.

Another group of people seriously under-represented in Acting Oscar nominations and wins are Asians-Americans. Asians make up 6% of the U.S. population, yet an Asian-American actor has not been nominated at all in the last thirty years. When you expand the search to Asians across the globe, there have been just two nominations, one best Supporting Actor nod for Japanese actor Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Japanese actress Rinko Kakuchi for Babel. That equals a .002% rate for Asian nominations and a 0.0% win rate over the last thirty years, both of which are obviously drastically below the Asian-American U.S. population percentage and so small as to nearly incalculable in regards to the global Asian population.

If we are trying to understand why the Latino and Asian communities are under-represented, we have to make a bunch of assumptions that I don't have the data to confirm or deny. The main assumption is that language is a big barrier to foreign-born Latino and Asian actors. Acting in your primary language is one thing, but the difficulty of acting in a second language cannot be over estimated. Knowing how to speak a language is one thing, and knowing the rhythms, nuances and intricacies of it are entirely another. Also, the Academy is more likely than not, made up of english speakers, so films in foreign languages may get less of a viewing opportunity from members who don't want to read subtitles, and the subtlety of performances may be lost to those not fluent in the language being spoken on screen. Those may be some of the reasons why Latino and Asian actors are so under-represented, but frankly, this argument holds little to no water in regards to Asian-Americans and Latino-Americans, as it assumes that Latino-Americans or Asian-Americans are recent immigrants who are not entirely assimilated into the culture and language, which based on my own personal experience, is an extremely weak premise at best and totally absurd at worst.

It should be noted though that Japan, China, Korea and India all have thriving film industries in their own right, so there would be less of a pressing want or need for success in Hollywood coming from those areas. That said, Asian and Latino directors have still found some success in the Academy where Asian and Latino actors have not. In fact, the last three Best Director Oscar winners have been Latino or Asian, with Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Innaritu winning in 2013 and 2014 respectively and Taiwanese director Ang Lee winning his second Best Director Oscar in 2012. Innaritu is nominated again this year for The Revenant (his third Best Director nomination) and may be a favorite to win the award. The relative success of Latino and Asian filmmakers in recent years is a positive for the film industry and for diversity of artistic vision, even if it hasn't yet translated into more Asian and Latino actors gracing our movie screens.

In looking at the numbers what strikes me the most is that people like Jada Pinkett-Smith, Spike Lee and the #OscarsSoWhite movement are mostly directing their outrage at only Black actors being "snubbed" and under-represented and not about Latino and Asian actors being overlooked. I suppose this makes sense in the case of Lee and Pinkett-Smith since both are African-American. In contrast, what is fascinating to me is that the Latino and Asian communities are not up in arms and claiming racism over their obvious exclusion from the Academy Awards like the Black community has been. Why that is I don't know, but it is very striking nonetheless since the Asian and Latino communities have a much more solid argument. There is a much more compelling case to be made for Benicio del Toro to have been nominated this year for Sicario than there is for any of the previously mentioned Black actors to have been nominated. But the question becomes, was del Toro not nominated because he is Latino? Since Del Toro has been nominated and won an Oscar before, that is a difficult argument to prove.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Which brings us to another uncomfortable question, namely, when race, religion and ethnicity comes up in regards to under-representation, slights and snubs, what group is being over-represented? The "safe" answer is to say "Whites". Of course, not all Whites are the same, or created equal in terms of Hollywood. What does that mean? It means that the thing you aren't supposed to say is something you need to say if you want to have an honest discussion. Namely, that another minority in America, Jews, who make up 1.2% of the general population, are massively over-represented in the film business. This is an easily observable fact. Look at the heads of many of the studios and agencies, Brad Grey at Paramount, Bob Iger at Disney, Michael Lynton at Sony, Les Moonves at CBS/Viacom, Ronald Meyer at Universal, Ari Emanuel at William Morris and Harvey Weinstein at the Weinstein Company, these are just a few of the Jewish movers and shakers in Hollywood.

In regards to Acting Oscar nominations and wins, in just the Best Actor category alone, Jewish actors have won nine times in the last thirty years, for a win rate of 30%, and have been nominated 23 times for a rate of 15.3%. Both the Best Actor win rate and nomination rate are well above the 1.2% Jewish population rate in the U.S. But the question becomes, is that a problem? Is it bad that Jews make up the majority of Hollywood power brokers and a disproportionate amount of Oscar nominees and winners when they are a tiny minority in the population at large? If #OscarsSoWhite thinks Blacks are under-represented than they should have the courage to say that Jews are massively over-represented. This is an extremely uncomfortable topic for obvious historical reasons, but it needs to be brought up if we are saying that the Academy is racist, since the Academy, like Hollywood, is likely populated by many Jews.

In my opinion the answer to the question of Jewish over-representation is…what difference does it make? Just like with Blacks being the overwhelming majority of players in the NBA and NFL, or being 7 of the top 10 most powerful people in entertainment, it is entirely irrelevant. Making it in professional sports requires not only inordinate talent but an immense amount of hard work. So it is with entertainment in general and the film industry in particular. If you succeed in any of these fields it is not because of your race, religion or ethnicity, it is because you are just plain better than the competition and/or have worked harder. In all bottom line businesses, be they sport, entertainment or any other, if you don't get better results than your competition, you won't be around very long. There is no room for ethnic, racial or religious loyalty when victory is the only goal.

CONCLUSION 

Hollywood is an awful, awful place. The film industry is brutal and dehumanizing. Women in particular, of all ethnicities, are treated absolutely atrociously. All people, regardless of color, are seen as little more than opportunities for the powerful to exploit for their own profit. The business is next to impossible to break into, and even when you do break in, you basically have to sell your soul just to get in the room to have the opportunity to audition for a part that might lead to another audition that might lead to another part that might actually get you somewhere. But there is always someone else, someone better looking, someone more interesting, someone better connected, someone 'newer' and 'fresher', or someone just plain better. This is life in Hollywood and entertainment….regardless of color, religion or nationality. The callous gauntlet of Hollywood could not care less about your race, religion or ethnicity, it just wants to know what you can do for it, not what it can do for you.

In the final analysis, the Academy Awards are a pretty ridiculous endeavor, where wealthy, famous and powerful people congratulate one another on how fantastic they think they all are. It is a narcissism measuring contest held by the Narcissism Society of America in the Narcissism Capital of the World (well…it is in the top three with Wall St. and Washington D.C.). The Academy is many things...stupid, sentimental, cowardly, myopic, greedy, but to blindly and emotionally call it racist would be to reduce the power of that charge and diminish the needed impact it would have in areas where the diabolical curse of racism is real and at times deadly. #OscarsSoWhite is a misguided meme that unwittingly endorses emotionalism over rationalism, feelings over reason and a distorted but understandable perception over reality. People would be more accurate, and better served, to say #OscarsSoSHITE than to say #OscarsSoWhite. Regardless, if someone says the Oscars are racist because there are no Black acting nominees this year, be sure to tell them...#DontBelieveTheHype!!!

©2016