It’s Oscar season, and that can only mean one thing. Bitter actors, directors and producers suggesting that Hollywood’s circle jerk is out of touch with reality. Imagine— an industry that inordinately produces films about zombies, dragons, wizards and comic-book heroes being out of touch with modern life. Where do they get these ideas?
Well, if you’re Spike Lee and Black Lives Matter, you think the Oscars get these ideas from their deeply held racist beliefs. As you may have heard, Spike, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and other black stars are boycotting this year’s Oscar ceremony because, for a second straight year, there are no major nominations for blacks. Lee points to movies like Straight Outta Compton as evidence that there were black-themed films available for awards.
Maybe. The idea that an academy based in the exclusive gated communities of Hollywood has a constrained world view is not beyond the powers of reason. However, the Motion Picture Academy has long made a point of its racial bonafides. There are people in Hollywood who still have sore elbows from patting themselves on the back for giving Sidney Poitier an Oscar in the 1964 for Lillies In The Field.
They’ve produced a string of historical films about the black experience to guilt white liberals into thinking, as Hillary Clinton now does, that reparations from slavery are due to blacks. If anyone in the white cultural community has had Spike Lee’s back it was Hollywood. But after Barack Obama worked his charm on racial matters tin America the past seven years, accommodation is no longer enough for the Lee and the Grievance Industry.
In case you’re not keeping score these days, the Martin Luthur King dream of a colorless society is deader than Tupac. What Lee and his colleagues now want is not equality of opportunity. They want equality of outcomes. Merit is out. Entitlement is in. Perhaps they need a black Oscar category.
A little math: blacks currently represent about 12 percent of the American population. Research shows that Oscar nominations for blacks is about proportional to that figure. Black winners of an Oscar run ahead of that figure. So the equality of outcomes bar is being met by the Oscars. It’s just that some years black nominees are below that average while in others they are above that 12-13 percent figure.
Of course, when this logic leads to what to do about an NBA or NFL (which is 70-80 percent black) things get a little opaque from Spike. Is there not discrimination at work here? No, no. According to Lee, those figures are merit-based. If whites can’t cut it, tough luck. Then there’s the disproportionate number of blacks employed in the government jobs like the post office. To black radicals, that’s just payback.
The concept “Do what I say, not what I do” is at play in other parts of the American culture as colleges and universities maintain strict quotas for black American enrolees— even if they have to shove deserving Asian Americans to the side to get there. Once in the leafy confines of upper education, aggressive politicization of every aspect of life is the new norm. On campuses there’s talk of “safe spaces” for students of colour to escape the racist, outer world. In fact, the demands for safe spaces and separate Oscars as articulated by the empowered black movement sound like Jim Crow in reverse.
Should Lee make a movie based on his blatant logical flip-flop logic, it might win him his coveted Oscar for best comedy performance.
The other place where angry African American film stars lose the thread is in their critique of the movie business as a cesspool of virulent racists. Perhaps it has escaped Lee, but there is but one colour that guides the hand in Hollywood . That is: green. Money, cold cash, moolah etc. The business exists to squeeze the greatest profit from its films.
So ask yourself, if there were a stack of cash to made in blockbuster films about blacks, women or panda bears, would the Hollywood establishment turn it aside on principle? “You know this new Chris Rock feature could net $500 million worldwide. But we’re not going to make it because we’re just ignorant bigots.”
Of course not. Much to Spike's chagrin, the market decides what rises and what falls in gate receipts. Were a successful film franchise based on black characters to emerge it would be endlessly copied. If they could get it away from Tyler Perry.
Now, is the current menu of Leo DiCaprio vanity projects, pyrotechnical dross and mindless buddy flicks something to be admired? Hardly. If Lee were making relevant movies (the way he did 20 years ago) there might be an argument for art for art sake. But the days of the Robert Altman auteur in Hollywood are all but gone outside the Coen brothers. It’s now Jon Favreau blowing up stuff and Quentin Tarantino recycling pulp fiction motifs till the credits roll.
All of which leaves this droll irony: Hollywood’s liberals have always wanted to be on the cutting edge of the racial struggle. But if you ask the Harvey Weinstein Glee Club it’s doubtful that being cast as the racists is the role they envisioned for themselves.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).