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Oscar Voters Not Getting It May Be the Very Reason Why #OscarsSoWhite


It must be really difficult to not give race a second thought all day only to be told that something you did was racist. But how could that be possible? You weren’t even thinking about race! Yeah.

The Hollywood Reporter, which has seemingly become the chronicler for all things troubling and problematic in film and television (often contributing to them), recently interviewed some Oscar voters who aren’t too happy about all this #OscarsSoWhite talk. Especially since they’re not racist. How do we know? Well, because they say so, that’s how.

The thing is, no one is calling voters racist—they’re calling the Academy (as in the entire organization and the way it is run) racist. This isn’t about individuals; it’s about systemic problems, but it’s easier to ignore those and make it all about you, isn’t it? *sigh*

First up, actress Penelope Ann Miller:

I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year.

I loved Beasts of No Nation, and I loved Idris Elba in it — I just think not enough people saw it, and that’s sometimes what happens. Straight Outta Compton was a great film; I think it just lost some Academy members who are older. There were a lot of omissions of white people that I think were just as disappointing — I’m sure [Spotlight‘s] Michael Keaton is bummed, you know?

Translation: It’s easier for me to show indignation than to hold the power group I’m a part of accountable for their actions as a group.

Also, this is totally the Oscar voter equivalent of “Some of my best friends are black.” You voted for Idris Elba? Great. You don’t get a cookie or extra credit for that, nor do you get to conveniently choose to benefit from privilege while not being called into question about it.

Next up, an anonymous member of the acting branch of the Academy (who wanted to be anonymous … probably because on some level they realized what they were gonna say was a problem):

I’m very offended by the idea that some people are calling us racists—race was the furthest thing from my mind when I cast my ballot, and in fact I nominated one person of color for an award. Such a sweeping declaration is extremely irresponsible.

Translation: All I see is white. Also, GIMME A COOKIE!

Did you ever stop and think that maybe the very fact that “race was the furthest thing from [your] mind” is exactly the problem? The fact that race doesn’t even occur to you means you’re more likely to fall back on your default, which is likely white. Nominating one person of color for an award doesn’t absolve you of that. (See: “Some of my best friends are black.”)

But again, these voters need to stop taking this personally. White people have the luxury of focusing on The Individual, because they have privilege, which allows their individuals to thrive. Marginalized individuals must always first overcome the shit that’s heaped on their entire community before they can even begin to think about achieving as an individual!

Dear White Oscar Voters: It’s not about you. Stop letting being butthurt about possibly being seen as a racist individual derail the conversation away from the fact that there are legitimate systemic problems at work here. If you prioritize your individual hurt feelings over the feelings of entire marginalized groups? You’re pretty much just demonstrating the entire problem right there!

Next, we have screenwriter Jeremy Larner, who voted to nominate the white screenwriters of Straight Outta Compton:

I cannot prove the Academy or anyone else is not racist. [But] I have voted for many people of color for awards. I happen to think Straight Outta Compton is not a great film for reasons of structure and substance. I can imagine it is a powerful affirmation for those who share the assumptions of its music and see it as fans. But to me, a good film has to show a lot more than this one does.

Translation: It’s not the writers’ fault that this film was “too black” to have a wider appeal, so why punish THEM in the snubbing of this film?

Um … so this movie isn’t great for reasons of structure and substance … and yet you chose to reward the white screenwriters of the film—you know, the ones who partially created that structure—anyway? The script is where all the structure and substance is! Talk about privilege! White screenwriters don’t even have to do their jobs well to get awards, apparently! They just have to show up and be “edgy” by writing about black people. Because black culture is “edgy” as long as it’s been treated as an accessory or a fad by non-black people.

I can’t believe this guy said/typed this with a straight face!

But wait, it gets better—Larner continues by saying:

It is not a time to make enemies among those who would move us further in the direction of fairness, freedom and justice.

Wait, what? Make enemies? So … pointing out an injustice will “make enemies” of people? Is that a threat? Because if it is, let me tell this guy something: They’re already enemies by allowing these things to go on! And so are you if you stand idly by and let it happen. So, this isn’t “making” enemies. It’s pointing out the ones that already exist. The fact that this guy can so boldly “warn” people against speaking out “or else” is appalling.

Oh wait, Miller wasn’t done, either. She says:

There were an incredible number of films in 2015 that were primarily about white people. Talk to the studios about changing that, not the Academy. There’s only so much we can do.
I think when you make race the issue, it can divide people even further, and that’s what I worry about.

You know what? There were also films about, or that heavily featured non-white people in 2015!

Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton, Tangerine, Sicario, Creed, Dope… 

What’s more, it’s not as though people of color weren’t at all involved in the making of those films about white people! As I said in my piece on Idris Elba yesterday, “People of color work on all sorts of films. It doesn’t, nor should it have to be, a film “about their community” to earn nominations, and it’s not just about acting categories, either! For example, Anthony Harris, the colorist on films like Spider-Man, X-Men: First Class, and Life of Pi is a black man! It’s not as if people of color don’t direct, write, act in, or otherwise participate in all sorts of films!

Lastly, because this has become my habit, since I tire of explaining the difference between calling an individual racist, and calling an action racist, I’ll just post this video here in the hopes that everyone will watch it over and over again until it sticks.

(image via Shutterstock)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.