Sometimes life imitates art so perfectly that even Hollywood couldn’t script it.
Now is such a time. And how ironic.
Hollywood – long perceived as a bastion of unwavering liberalism – is now being accused of playing the race card, employing discrimination in how Academy Awards nominees were selected, or, more accurately, not selected.
Of the 20 actors nominated for an Oscar this year, none are black, for the second consecutive year.
Now director Spike Lee (whose movie wasn’t nominated) and actress Jada Pinkett Smith (whose husband Will Smith was not nominated) are boycotting the award show and asking others, especially the black acting community, to do likewise.
And here is where this saga jumps the rails. Lee and Smith are shooting from the hip more than John Wayne, ignoring the concept of "presumed innocent," and insinuating that the men in black simply have the wrong creed to win an Oscar. Their arguments are so mind-numbingly off-base they could give you a concussion.
Let’s take a look at Tinseltown’s latest controversy:
1) Did the academy, admittedly an organization shrouded in secrecy, deliberately snub black actors two years in a row simply because of skin color?
Don’t know. Translation: Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t. But that’s the whole point. Labeling one of the preeminent Hollywood institutions racist, and by extension calling its members bigots, are mighty powerful charges to be leveled without a shred of evidence beyond the "sight" test. As such, it should be incumbent upon those making such accusations to back up what they allege.
But they didn’t. No leaked internal documents showing racism, no secret recordings of backroom deals to keep the blacks out, no smoking gun. Just their opinions.
As a result, their message, especially to our youth, is that it’s OK to shoot your mouth off and demonize anyone you choose – lack of facts notwithstanding and people’s reputations be damned – just because you don’t like the way something pans out. (Of course, it’s a whole lot easier to do such things when you’re wealthy and powerful, a lesson surely lost on their followers who risk job and security when acting similarly.)
Using one’s platform to draw attention to a cause is admirable, but only when it doesn’t impugn the character and reputation of others without justification.
Smith and Lee’s actions are highly questionable, since they reinforce the do-and-say-whatever-makes-you-feel-good entitlement attitude sweeping America. Good role models, they are not.
2) If there is such strong institutional racism within the academy, how to explain the numerous black actors who have been nominated for past Oscars? That includes Will Smith – twice. And Spike Lee – twice, as well as being the recipient of an honorary Oscar just last year. The same Oscars, incidentally, that are being hosted by a black comedian (Chris Rock) and overseen by a black producer (Reginald Hudlin).
These pesky facts have, apparently, been forgotten by Smith and Lee. How convenient.
And how to explain, for the second consecutive year, a record number of black nominees and winners, especially black women, for the Emmy awards? It was a 64 percent gain from the previous year, which itself had been a record.
The Golden Globes have had no shortage of black nominees and winners, nor do any of the other awarding institutions, including the Black Reel Awards, the Black Film Awards, the American Black Film Festival, and Black Entertainment Television.
So let’s get this straight. Despite black actors being nominated by the academy for years, it’s acceptable to cry "racism" because your film, your husband, and other black actors didn’t happen to make the cut this time?
Too many actors in Hollywood become insulated from real life, leading many to forget where they came from, and how they got there. But this is too much, even for Tinseltown. With all the problems we face, from terrorism to hunger to real racism, we’re supposed to care about whining millionaires who didn’t win yet another award? Please.
3) So why did no black actors get nominated? Who knows? Maybe their performances simply weren’t that good, or that their films didn’t measure up. Maybe some were beaten out by better actors in better flicks in a year that simply didn’t go their way. Guess what? That’s called life, and it isn’t always right or fair, especially when human subjectivity is involved. But is complaining and using divisive language the answer? Do these narcissists really believe they have a right to be coddled, and that we should jump every time they feel slighted?
4) Some are claiming that the Oscar ratings were down 16 percent last year because of the alleged racism. They are wrong.
The reason people aren’t tuning is much simpler: Besides many bad movies, the Oscars have become long and boring, featuring self-aggrandizing actors reading incoherent speeches and thanking people we’ve never heard of. Throw in corny hosts telling painfully unfunny jokes, and it has all grown very old. There’s an invention called cable TV, and people are using it to turn the channel. To paraphrase "Field Of Dreams:" If they change the content, viewers will come. But they haven’t.
5) One of two things is true:
– If racism is involved, it would show those in Hollywood to be ultimate hypocrites. They talk the talk by using liberal pyschobabble buzzwords such as tolerance, inclusion and diversity, but when it comes time to walk the walk, they run the other way.
– Or racism played no part in the academy’s decisions, in which case they chose what they believed to be merit over skin color, knowing their actions, while correct, would nonetheless create controversy. A gutsy move – who’d have thought?
6) Where does the push for "diversity" end? Will we see quotas for minority actors next year? And will there be ones for ethnicity, gender and sexual preference, too? And what happens to those deserving of an award but who get shafted because they happen to be the wrong skin color, since overt reverse discrimination would be the new rule?
It is not without irony that the Oscar controversy was raging on the holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps the boycotters would do well to recall his timeless words about what America should be, instead of hurling racial barbs around the town that gave them fame and fortune: "… a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Unfortunately, this fight looks to get uglier before it gets better, as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president is already caving in to the boycott. And that means for this story, there won’t be a happy-ever-after Hollywood ending.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]