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.”
Brad Pitt waxed poetic about his love for “12 Years a Slave” — but admitted he’d started his stellar day by having to “pick up dog poop…in my bedroom.” Cate Blanchett swore her Aussie pride, Lupita Nyong’o spoke of honoring the spirits of slaves, and Jared Leto offered opportunities to fondle his Oscar in a night that ping-ponged between euphoria and thoughtfulness backstage at the 86th Academy Awards.
It was a historic night for Oscar, with “12 Years a Slave” filmmaker Steve McQueen becoming the first black man to win Best Picture honors, “Gravity’s” Alfonso Cuaron becoming the first Mexican to win Best Director, and Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett becoming Australia’s first double Oscar winner in the acting categories.
McQueen, who literally jumped up and down on the Oscar stage when his film took the top prize, claimed to be “cool as a cucumber” by the time he made it to the press room, but was clearly still on the verge of another happy dance, explaining that sometimes physicality just takes control. Some 75 years after “Gone With the Wind” gave moviegoers a romanticized view of antebellum slavery, McQueen noted that his film’s success shows “a progression. The background characters are now in the foreground. It’s indicative of what is going on right now; people now want to look at that history and embrace it.”
His fellow producer, Pitt, told us, “I love this movie. I love our film…This man in this inhumane situation trying to get back to his family…It’s important to understand our history — not for any kind of guilt, but to know who we were so we can better understand who we are…and who we’re going to be. It’s a gentle reminder that we’re all equal, that we all want the same dignity and humanity for our family, and that another’s freedom is as important as our own.”
The film team is particularly pleased that their movie has brought Solomon Northup’s memoir back into the spotlight. The long out-of-print book is a best seller now, and destined to be in high schools across the country. It’s noteworthy that the Academy was looking to update and diversify itself and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, its first black president, opened up the membership in hope of bringing in more diverse and younger members — which certainly did not hurt “12 Years a Slave’s” chances this year.
“12 Years a Slave” also won Best Supporting Actress honors for Lupita Nyong’o. Backstage, the It Girl of this Awards Season, admitted she was “a little dazed. I can’t believe this is in my hand. I can’t believe this is real life. I’m really overwhelmed.” Yet the stunning fashion world favorite was poised enough to talk about how moved she was by support in her native Kenya and around the world — including coming across an Instagram of hundreds of people holding a good luck sign. She had the presence of mind to touch again upon the fact that “12 Years a Slave” filmmaker Steve McQueen “honored people who really have been unsung for a really long time, doing this film. Their spirits have been honored.”
And, asked by a Chinese reporter what had been the most encouraging thing that had been said to her along the way, Nyong’o was thoughtful enough to respond that those words were from people who had said “from their hearts, that the outcome doesn’t matter. You’ve already won because the work has been done. Remembering that has kept me hopeful and positive and relaxed.”
As for celebrating, she was going to head to the Board of Governor’s Ball and “do all the things that are Oscar-related. It’s my first time here. I feel like Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory.”
So, apparently, did rock star cum Oscar winner Jared Leto (Best Supporting Actor, “Dallas Buyers Club”), He revved up the press room crowd early on by offering his Oscar to “anyone who wants to try it out for size…hold it…If you have swine flu, please — don’t touch,” he joked. “I bet this is a first — the first person to give their Oscar away for an orgy in the press room…Anyone else wanna fondle?”
He also offered the chance to take a selfie with his statuette, but was told the Academy doesn’t allow unauthorized pictures in the press room. He tweaked the Academy reps there, saying, “You guys want to get media — let the media do what they do!” Not surprisingly, he was answered with a huge round of cheers from the media. A few seconds later, sounding every bit the rock star, he rallied the crowd, “Who’s your favorite Oscar winner tonight?!”
Leto certainly made clear, on this “Hero”-themed night, that his personal hero is is mother, who was a single teen when she gave birth to him and his brother, but managed to raise them and give them wings of imagination as well. Backstage, he reiterated that the best thing about winning was having his mother and brother there with him — “the two most important people in my life…I’m really fortunate to be able to thank them in such a unique and grand way.”
Leto was asked about the comments he made to encourage dreamers out there, especially in Ukraine and Venezuela. He pointed out that, “You have an opportunity, when you stand on stage — you can make it about yourself, or you can take the opporunity to shine a light…For me, these global issues impact us in a real way. We have a show in Ukraine in a couple of weeks,” he said, referring to his 30 Seconds to Mars band’s touring schedule. Leto says he and his band “feel at home all over the world. Social unrest affects us in a real way.”
He was quick to acknowledge the work of fellow winners Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews, who did hair and makeup on “Dallas Buyers Club.” Their win was seen over the monitor while Leto was in the room. Pointing out that they’d had an unbelievable budget of $250.00, he said, “They work harder than anyone else; they’re there at the crack-ass of dawn and stay ’til the crack-ass of dawn.”
When Lee and Mathews came backstage, they said that they’d never met Jared until the Oscar Nominees’ Luncheon a couple of weeks ago — they knew him as Rayon. He was in character as the AIDS-stricken transvestite when he came to them and remained in character.
Leto was asked whether it’s better to be cheered onstage as a rock star, or to win an Oscar. His answer: “The good news is, I don’t have to choose.”
He left saying, “and thanks for getting my Oscar dirty with your fingerprints.”
Leto’s fellow “Dallas Buyers Club” winner, Best Actor Matthew McConaughey, said that despite being considered a lock by most Oscar prognoticators, “I did not expect it.”
The actor who decided to put his all into promoting the small-budget feature when it was made — and has reaped amazing results — noted, “It’s a bit of the end of a journey with this film, this script that came across my desk four years ago…Nobody wanted to make it for 20 years. It was turned down 137 times.” Getting the movie mad was “a miracle in itself,” he went on. Then it was received well at the Toronto Film Festival and “started to gain momentum. This is the gold standard of the light of excellence.”
He again expressed his gratitude for his wife’s support, and the fact that she’s taken their children to all his film locations — “It’s been harder for her than for me.” Asked what he hoped his children would take from this Oscar experience, he recounted telling them, “‘Remember when we were in New Orleans, the work that Dad did? People are shining a light on it today.’ I want them to see, if you do your best right now, it can come back and have reciprocity.”
Regal-looking Cate Blanchett, Best Actress winner for “Blue Jasmine,” said she “got to be a princess today.” She got a massage — “pummelled like Kobi beef” — and had the privelege of choosing between three dresses prepared for her by “Mr. Armani, with whom I have a long and great relationship.”
However, when a reporter began a question by stating that she’s the first Australian actress to win two Oscdars, she dropped the decorum to interrupt, “and don’t you f#@!ing forget it!”
Blanchett had phoned home and found her youngest child had “stopped vomiting, so that’s good.”
Next, she anticipated going out dancing.
Former child star Melissa Gilbert credits her back surgeon for the fact she’s become one of this coming season’s contestants on “Dancing With the Stars” — and not just because he healed her broken back. “It actually started with him, because my final day [of post-operative appointments] was the day that Jennifer Grey won. He’s her surgeon too,” recounts the amiable actress. “He started saying, ‘Now YOU need to do it.’ I said, ‘I’m glad you think my back is healed enough so that I can do that. If I injure myself, though, you have to operate for free,’ and he laughed.”
You can count on the show highlighting her story of conquering tough physical challenges. As you may recall, Melissa toured the country through much of 2008 and 2009, playing Ma Ingalls in the popular stage musical version of Little House on the Prairie. For months, she was in extreme discomfort, but somehow, she finished the tour. When she returned home and went to the doctor, “I found I had broken my back. I knew the disc was herniated. I didn’t know the back was actually broken. If I had, I’m sure the
doctors would have said ‘Don’t go.’
“After the surgery, it was a really long recovery, and I didn’t get cleared to work really until February of 2011.” Gilbert, who has written about her past battles with alcholism, enlisted the help of Dr. Drew Pinsky to guide her as she dealt with her intense post-surgery pain, due to her concern she might become addicted to opiates. She would take her Dilauded, Percocet and muscle relaxers, and then take two days away from the pills “and just tough it out.”
By summer, she was pain-free. And, “There’s nothing I can’t do. I can do Pilates. I can run. I can jump. I can do yoga. I can do whatever I am asked to do.” Including “Dancing With the Stars”!
There’ve been rumors — and tabloid stories — of her taking on the show before. Last year also saw the breakup of her 16-year marriage to Bruce Boxleitner, and “The National Enquirer wrote some ridiculous story about me healing my heart by doing ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ They had me studying tape of other stars who had done it — which was funny, because at the time I was shooting my movie at the time,” she says, referring to last December’s Hallmark Channel movie, “The Christmas Pageant.”
As for why she’s taking on the show, Melissa tells us: “It’s just because it seems like a real challenge for me. And you know me — if something scares me, I’m gonna do it, and this kind of scares me because I’m now part titanium.”
IF YOU ASK US: It’s been a tough year for Oscar. This year’s show was book-ended by the Los Angeles Times expose that delineated the Academy membership as 94 per cent white, 77 per cent male, and with a median age of 62 — and the New York Times piece that laid out a variety of indicators showing that the Oscar show’s glory days are over. (And the ultra hard-campaigning Harvey Weinstein’s relatively little-seen films winding up at the forefront of the Oscars again and again hasn’t helped ratings.) Scathing reviews such as the Hollywood Reporter’s “Oscars Become Badly Paced Bore-Fest” had to have hurt — and a little extra salt in the wound came in Forbes’ report that Best Original Screenplay winner Woody Allen not only wasn’t present, he watched the NBA All Star Game instead. Of course, with Woody, nobody was surprised.
The rest of America — businesses and individuals alike — has had to get used to once-unthinkable cutbacks, shakeups and forced reinvention to survive in these tough times. Now it’s the Academy’s turn. Most obviously, it’s time to take the craft awards out of the primetime Oscar show — and to make a concerted effort to diversify membership. Take all the negativity surrounding the 84th Oscars and use the energy for positive, deep and meaningful change, not just a few more young faces on the show. It can work! After all, America, like Hollywood, loves a good comeback story.
HELLO, AGAIN: Esteemed veteran actress Barbara Bain is enjoying her turn in Claire Chaffee’s comedy, Why We Have a Body as directed by cast mate Tanna Frederick. “It’s an extraordinarily heightened approach, a bit like a cartoon — fanciful. It makes me think of Terry Gilliam’s films,” says the actress, who rose to fame as the sexy and soignee spy Cinnamon Carter in the original “Mission: Impossible.” She adds, “It’s hard to believe this is Tanna’s first directing job. My reaction was kind of, ‘Wow, look at what she’s done with this material.’ I was very impressed.” That’s saying a lot, particularly since Bain has been spending much of her time in recent years directing plays as well as acting in them.
Bain is playing the globe-trotting, not-so-wonderful mother of two grownup daughters who are going through turbulent times in Why We Have a Body, which is running at Santa Monica’s Edgemar Center for the Arts through April 8. One daughter’s a career criminal, the other is married, but having a lesbian affair.
Meanwhile, she’s also in the indie film “Nothing Special” with Karen Black, about a woman trying to have a normal life while dealing with bipolar illness. The film’s awaiting a distributor. And she has a series of six one-act plays at the Beverly Hills Playhouse ahead on her agenda.