So the #OscarSoWhite hashtag is back for the second year in a row, with no African American, Asian or Latino actors up for acting honors, and “Revenant” director Gonzalez Inarritu the only non-Caucasian nominee in the major behind-the-cameras categories.
Oscar-worthy films and performances by non-white talents were snubbed — Idris Elba (above) for “Beasts of No Nation,” to name one. And there were particularly nasty stings, such as Sylvester Stallone getting a nomination for “Creed” — while the young black director who made the film work, Ryan Coogler, was ignored, as was lead actor Michael B. Jordan.
And yet … the Academy Awards show has diversity aplenty, with Chris Rock back as host, Reginald Hudlin as one of its producers, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences led by an African American woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, its president.
Boone Isaacs has been working hard to diversify the Academy membership since being installed in her job in 2013. She put an end to the membership cap that had effectively kept the Academy old, white and male. She launched mentorship programs, and last year started an initiative called A2020 that included a five-year plan to focus on industry hiring practices.
It’s a shame none of this effort is showing up where it counts most: on the world stage with Oscar nominations.
You have to know that the nominations announcements stung. Boone Isaacs admitted to Deadline’s Pete Hammond that she is disappointed — although she was quick to acknowledge the quality of the films that did get nominated.
She also pointed out, “We have got to speed it up” when it comes to diversifying the Academy. Yup. Oscar voters as of 2013 were 94 percent white, 76 percent male — with an average age of 63. Since then, the Academy has reached out and invited 593 industry members to join in an effort to diversify its membership. Even if each and every invitee accepted and each one was a minority or female, the impact would be comparatively small within the 5,783 body.
Academy Members, it appears, want it both ways. They’d like to appear forward-thinking and desirous of diversity, so they elected a black woman president. But that spirit is obviously lacking when it comes to the nitty gritty of casting votes or making changes that go beneath the surface.
While it’s easy to point fingers at the Academy, the problem goes deeper. For all its professed liberalism, the film industry itself remains an old boys’ club — as study after study shows. White men directed 82.4 percent of the 347 feature films released in 2013 and 2014, according to one released by the Directors Guild of America. Non-white men directed 11.2 percent, white women directed 5.1 percent and non-white women directed 1.3 percent.
The DGA has also made moves to diversify under the leadership of its president, Paris Barclay, who is also African American.
How much difference has it made? How much difference have Academy efforts made? In the last two Oscar years, change appears to have stopped.
So the Academy parallels the mainstream film industry — while both become ever-more out of step with the culture around them.
“It just felt like a euphoria really, an extraordinary euphoria,” said best actor winner Redmayne, describing the feeling of hearing his name called and accepting his Oscar. Adding to the thrill for Redmayne was the fact he was presented with the award by Cate Blanchett, a friend from when they made “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” together. “I was recovering from that excitement of seeing her, and then just trying to bury all this frenzy of nerves and white noise and trying to speak articulately and, of course, you then forget everything,” he said.
Redmayne plans to go back to Cambridge at some point and show his Oscar to Stephen Hawking, his ex-wife Jane and her husband Jonathan and the Hawking children. “They have been so kind to us the whole way through this process. …Their support has been amazing.”
Amazing is an appropriate word for Redmayne’s staggering performance as the ALS-stricken genius. He provided a little insight into his process when asked about his physical preparation for the role: “When I was approaching the film, we knew we weren’t going to be out of shoot chronologically. So we were going to have to jump into different stages in Stephen’s life and within the same day. And so I didn’t want for Stephen — the illness was of very little interest to him after he was diagnosed. He’s someone that lives forward and lives passionately. And so, similarly, I didn’t want the film to be about the physicality. So I wanted to have the physicality so embedded in me that we could play the human story, the love story. And so I went to ALS clinics in London for about four months with a choreographer, wonderful Alex Reynolds, and she helped to sort of train my muscles to sustain those positions for long periods of time.”
The remarkably gifted Redmayne, who sang live on the Oscar show three years ago when he was part of the “Les Miserables” team, is currently making “The Danish Girl” with Tom Hooper, with whom he worked on the great musical. “The Danish Girl,” he said, is “an incredibly beautiful and passionate love story about authenticity and bravery, and so I’m really in the middle of that project at the moment and it just I was filming on Friday night, got on a plane yesterday and I go back tomorrow and I arrive on Tuesday morning, go straight onto set, so this feels like a wild, weird dream that I’ll wake up in a few days, and go, did that happen? I’ll pinch myself, but it’s amazing. I’m having fun.”
“Still Alice” best actress winner Julianne Moore expanded on her thanks to her husband, Bart Freundlich, backstage. “This is the first time I’ve told anybody this, and I’ll tell you guys in this room. He was the first person to see the movie. The first time I saw the cut, he came with me. And I told the story about how I heard him crying, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ When we walked out of there, he said, ‘You’re going to win an Oscar.’ And I was like, ‘Come on.’ I swear to God, that’s what he said to me. And I just couldn’t believe he said that. But anyway, that’s how much he supported me from the very, very beginning.”
The win was a long time coming for the dependably superb Moore, who’s been nominated five times. But the actress made it clear she didn’t feel particularly deprived up till now because she’s been able to do work that she loves and that is meaningful to her.
“I believe in hard work, actually, you know. And I think — and I like stories about — mostly I like stories about people. I like stories about real people and real relationships and real families, and that’s what I respond to. And this movie had all of those things in it,” she said, speaking of the story of a brilliant linguistics professor stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. “It was about a, you know, it’s about a real issue and relationships and who we love and what we value. And so that’s important to me, too. But I mean, I think just, at the end of the day, it’s the work.”
Oscars 2015 will go down as a year thick with causes and comparatively thin when it comes to frivolity. (Who else noticed the complete lack of response to some pretty funny Neil Patrick Harris material?) Best supporting actress Patricia Arquette’s impassioned call for pay parity for women when she accepted her “Boyhood” honors set the stage for more political statements throughout the night. Backstage, Arquette said that she didn’t see Meryl Streep’s standing, fist-in-the-air reaction to her speech, but “I heard about it, and I hugged her afterwards. And she’s the queen of all actresses, patron saint of actresses.”
She continued, “The truth is, the older women get, the less money they make. The more children the highest percentage of children living in poverty are female-headed households. And it’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t — one of those Superior Court justices said two years ago in a — in a law speech at a university, we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote the Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So, the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”
It’s not surprising that Arquette used her Oscar moment as a platform. She is passionate about her beliefs, and it may be noted, she also suits her actions to her words. For example, she was down in the grit and disease of post-earthquake Haiti, arranging housing for the homeless with ingenious converted shipping containers and bringing eco-sanitation to camps on the stricken island.
With four wins for his “Birdman,” including best picture, Alejandro Inarritu became the second Mexican filmmaker in a row to be named best director (after Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.”) Backstage, he was asked about that several times, then talked about the internationality of the Oscar and the art form. “Look at this room. I don’t know how many nationalities are in this room, but I don’t feel different [from] anybody here. … I as an artist, as a human, as a filmmaker, I cannot have these stupid borders, flags, and passports. Those are a concept that were invented by a human society. But, honestly, naked, in tighty whities we will be the same. And I have never felt that different. So for me to make films in United States, or in Africa, or in Spain, or in Mexico, I’m talking about human beings and emotions. And — and I think that’s the beauty of art. Art doesn’t have those stiff ideological borders that @#$! the world so much.”
Though this year’s nominations launched a cacophony of criticisms in the media and #oscarsowhite comments in the Twittersphere, the Academy Awards ceremony itself certainly proved a moving night for people of color — particularly in the dynamic performance of, and win for, “Glory,” from the film “Selma.”
In his acceptance speech, John Legend bemoaned the number of African-Americans under correctional control in America today and the compromising of the Voting Rights Act those in Selma in the Civil Rights Movement fought so hard to achieve. He expanded on that when interviewed in the pressroom, saying, “I think there still is a lot to be done. Some of the things I spoke about today, about the rolling back of some of the Voting Rights Act, is real. … What I spoke about regarding incarceration is real and it’s destroying communities and it’s a waste of our national resources to put so many people in prison, and it disproportionately affects black and brown communities. And so when we think about equality and freedom and justice, we know we’ve got more work to do … and we hope that our song is inspiration for those who want to do that work as well.”
Common, who shares the best song Oscar with Legend, told press he would have liked to have thanked director Ava DuVernay as well as actor David Oyelowo onstage. “He was the beginning of this film,” he said of Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King. “He had the heart and wanted to make this film and he knew it in his heart. And he made sure that Ava DuVernay got on board, he got Oprah to get it moving, and it’s the reason why the film happened.”
J.K. Simmons, who won Best Supporting Actor honors for his portrayal of a domineering music teacher in “Whiplash,” was a victor to be taken to heart as one who is finally getting well-deserved recognition. The Farmers Insurance spokesman self-effacingly noted backstage that “maybe more people saw me tonight than see me in the commercials for the first time, because I know those are seen by more people than the films.”