Monday, February 29, 2016

Hollywood Black Out

It was the Academy Awards last night - not that I'd know as I was showing solidarity with those protesting their lack of diversity by not attending.  Well OK, I wasn't actually invited, so my non-attendance was pretty much obligatory.  But I instead boycotted it on TV to show solidarity.  Not that I would have been able to watch the Oscars even if I'd wanted to as I don't have a Sky subscription.  Plus, I think that awards are all a waste of time and consequently pay little attention to them.  So I missed seeing Leonardo Di Caprio accepting the Best Actor gong in black face as part of the Academy's attempt to promote diversity.  I also missed the bit where, in protest at not winning Best Actress, Charlotte Rampling revealed that she was actually black and had had to spend the last forty years passing as white, as it was the only way to get lead roles in racist Hollywood.  Meanwhile, Mark Rylance revealed that 'he' was actually a woman, forced to pose as male to get the best roles, whilst Kate Winslet whipped out 'her' penis, protesting that the rise of feminism had forced 'her' to go into drag in order to get lead roles.

Whilst I have a lot of sympathy for those protesting at the Academy Awards' lack of diversity - popular culture surely should, to some degree, reflect the society which consumes it - I can't help but wonder why it has taken them this long to realise that the Oscars are not representative.  Or that Hollywood isn't representative of 'real' life, for that matter.  Which shouldn't be surprising, as it was built on the Studio system and those studios were established and run by people who were themselves hardly representative of the audiences they were making movies for.  My biggest problem with this year's protests at the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards' nominations is that those artists leading the charge are not themselves truly representative of the groups they claim are being discriminated against.  Sure, Will Smith, for instance, might be black, but in truth he's also and, I'd argue, predominantly part of an over-privileged elite of hugely wealth movie stars, and has as much in common with the average black person as Leonardo Di Caprio has with the average white guy on the street. Just like Hollywood itself, the whole 'debate' seems remote from actual reality.  Besides, since when did anyone other than Hollywood's pampered elite think that the Oscars had any relevancy whatsoever?

Of course, the real question here is whether Hollywood is actually racist.  Well, certainly in the past, it could be argued that it was.   Although, in reality, in its depiction (or non-depiction) of various minorities in the thirties and forties (and even the fifties and sixties)  t was merely reflecting the prevalent social attitudes of the day.  Ultimately, Hollywood has always been guided by the bottom line: the major studios have always made films which they want to appeal to the widest possible audience so as to maximise their profits.  According to conventional wisdom, this meant that the films had to be headlined by stars that this mass audience could identify with - which, in practice, meant white Anglo Saxon middle class types.  These, predominantly white, audiences, the thinking went, wouldn't be able to identify with black leads.  When black actors did break through and prove to be 'box office' to general audiences, they were treated as aberrations: from Sidney Potier to Will Smith, they were explained as unusually charasmatic individuals who were exceptions to the rule.  Black actors in general could only headline 'black' movies aimed at black audiences.  Except that the best Blaxploitation movies appealed to audiences across racial lines.  Once again, there were written off as an aberration - an exploitation phenomenon which didn't apply to mainstream movies.  And that's the problem: despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Hollywood establishment still think that cinema audiences are essentially white and incapable of identifying with black actors - it's all about the box office rather than straightforward racism.  It's also completely wrong - most audiences are less concerned with the ethnicity of the leads they are watching than they are with their acting ability, screen presence and charisma.  But what do I know?  I've never made a feature film - I've just watched a lot of them and know that the race, creed and colour of the performers has p[retty much nothing to do with my enjoyment of them.  



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