This evening the 87th Academy Awards - replete with glitz and glamour - will be watched by expectant viewers from across the globe. But what do the Oscars really tell us about the world in which we reside? In this collaborative piece, the best and brightest of IANS staff talk about representation, popular culture, politics and at points - and somewhat refreshingly - an unashamed love of film. Unlike the members of the Academy, we did not reach a consensus!
“Vote with Your Stub"
Even before the 87th Academy Awards have taken place, there is controversy. Not over the usual red carpet bloopers or fashion disasters, but rather regarding (re)presentation. In case you haven’t been following this story, let me fill you in. Shortly after this year’s acting nominations were announced, social media was set ablaze. On Twitter, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite appeared alongside a plethora of frustrated statements from non-white actors and directors in the film industry. Not only were all twenty acting nominees white, there were no women in the writing category - the whole affair reeked of homogeneity.
Journalists quickly latched onto this embarrassing omission and condemned the injustice, mostly for the sake of those who worked on the film, Selma. But how we do go about adjusting this imbalance on the silver screen? HuffPost suggested boycotting films which adhere too closely to the status quo or which portray minorities in problematic ways. I would go further and say we also need to show our support, through our dollars, to films that do celebrate diversity. As mere moviegoers, I’m not sure there is much else we can do, but the entertainment industry is driven by consumers, so perhaps we can be a bit more conscience and vote for diversity with our ticket stub.
Katie Hartin, Staff Writer
#OscarsSoWhite vs #FilmsSoWhite
After the Oscar nominations were announced, many on twitter were outraged. And, so, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born, proliferating a critique of the Academy for their all-white lists of acting nominees and accusations that they had fallen back into a long standing racial bias. The non-nomination of David Oyelowo’s, for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr in Selma, and Ava DuVernay’s, for the direction of said film, added fuel to the flames.
Even though the outcry points to a truth – the clear lack of diversity in nominees, yet again – the uproar seems to miss a bigger picture, and should thus be understood as a mere scene within a drama.
Several studies on diversity in popular films work to lift the curtain on a more central problem: the lack of diversity in the film industry – period. A USC study (1) examined 20,000 characters appearing in 500 popular films released in the US, between 2007-2012. This study found that 76.3% of speaking cast members were white, whilst only 10.8% were black, 4,2% Hispanic and 7,6% other (e.g. Asian, mixed-raced). Furthermore, they discovered that in almost half the movies examined, black people only made up around 5% of the speaking cast. A study performed by researchers at UCLA (2) seconds these findings; stating that 51.2% of the films they examined possessed a cast which consisted of 10% minority ethnicities or less, whilst 89.5% of all lead actors were white. This study also examined representations of ethnicity/race in other industry jobs, such as writers (92.4% white) and directors (87.8% white). The USC study presents even more unfavorable findings on the director front, stating that for every 1 black director, there are 16 white ones working in the film industry.
While Selma’s non-nominations is still the biggest snub of this year’s nominations, maybe next to Jennifer Anniston getting a pass for her performance in Cake, there is a bigger problem at hand. Because almost 90% of lead actors are white, the Academy Award voters have few black or minority ethnic candidates to choose from.
Thus, as Selma represents the only major production heavily featuring minority ethnicities this year, it is the industry that deserves the criticism, more than the racial bias of the voters committee.
Jenny Munro, Editor
A Failure to Truly Celebrate the LGBT Community
From Brokeback Mountain and Capote to Transamerica and The Kids Are All Right, the Academy has not shied away from rewarding movies representing LGBTQ characters... as long as those characters are portrayed by straight actors. I’d argue it’s not enough to have straight Sean Penn play a gay politician or cis-gendered Jared Leto play a trans* character. The absence of self-identified LGBTQ folks from the list of Oscar winners is incredibly disheartening.
To my knowledge, only two openly gay folks have won an acting Oscar to date. Jodie Foster has two wins, in 1988 and 1991, though she didn’t come out as a lesbian until 2012. And John Gielund, who was outed by a British tabloid prior to his success, won for best supporting actor in 1981. That’s it. Despite the prevalence of LGBTQ actors in Hollywood, they seem to be up against a “rainbow celling” when it comes to being awarded for their work.
In recent years, there has been some change in this pattern outside of the Oscars. For example, openly gay actor Jim Parsons won a Lead Actor Emmy in 2014 for his role in The Big Bang Theory. The cast of Orange is the New Black, with open lesbian Lea DeLaria and trans* woman Laverne Cox, collectively won a SAG award this year for their hit Netflix show and openly gay Jesse Tyler Ferguson has won the same award for his role in Modern Family 4 times. However, openly LGBTQ actors have been widely stymied when it comes to Hollywood’s top acting prize.
The Oscars have a long history of excluding various minorities from the awards. Women have largely been ignored for the directing and writing awards. People of color have been shut out of the awards in nearly every category. And the LGBTQ community has been left watching their lives played out on screen by straight and cis-gendered folks. And looking at the list of nominees this year it’s hard to imagine change is coming any time soon.
Bryce Bahler, Editor
Alleviating the Stigma: Representations as Pathways to Social Change
The Oscars this year are undeniably a white male affair. More precisely, this is the whitest the academy awards have been in the last 19 years. I will not provide another comment on whether this is the result of racial politics, or symptomatic of the make-up of the academy in particular and Hollywood in general. Instead, I want to turn the focus on the small silver lining in this year’s Oscars: the positive portrayal of members of stigmatised communities, irrespective of their number of nominations. Previous research shows that mainstream media has a strong influence on the acculturation of stigmatised groups1. It educates consumers about accepted lifestyles, as well as teaching societal values and norms.2,3,4 Birdman, Still Alice, Wild and The Theory of Everything, bring real stories of mental illness and physical disability to the big screen. Selma provides a touching look at the fight for suffrage of African-Americans, while The Imitation Game depicts a genius Mathematician, who happens to be of the LGBT community. Let us also not forget last year’s nominations for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Barkhad Abdi, and the awards for Lupita Nyong’o, Alfonso Cuaron and 12 Years a Slave. We still have a long way to go in the fight for equally; but at least these films are going a long way in stirring up the conversation and ensuring positive visibility.
 Peñaloza, L. (1996). We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re going shopping! A critical perspective on the accommodation of gays and lesbians in the U.S. marketplace. In D. L. Wardlow (Ed.), Gays, Lesbians, and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Practice, and Research Issues in Marketing (pp. 9–42). New York: The Haworth Press, Inc.
 Jones, E. E., Farina, A., Hastorf, A. H., & French, R. de S. (1984). Social stigma: The psychology of marked relationships. WH Freeman New York.
 Levy, S. J. (1981). Interpreting consumer mythology: a structural approach to consumer behavior. The Journal of Marketing, 49–61.
 Smith, R. a. (2007). Language of the Lost: An Explication of Stigma Communication. Communication Theory, 17(4), 462–485.
Ana-Isabel Nolke, Editor
The Bloody Red Carpet: Notes from an Angry Feminist
There are, sadly, a multiplicty of ways to suppress a group of people. You can legislate against them, you can restrict their access to material resources through discriminatory practices, you can threaten them with violence or you can, if you feel so inclinced, somehow prevent them from becoming involved in important decision making processes. I don’t suppose I need to point out that, at one time or another, women and girls have been subject to all of the above. A perhaps overlooked, though nonetheless significant mode of oppression takes place within the cultural and symbolic spheres – narratives and images which celebrate and give primacy to a heterosexual, white, male, anglo-american interpretation of the world (and which quietly exclude any deviation from such) polices minority behaviours, constrains choices and provides ideological support for continuing subjugation in other spheres. For me, the bloody red carpet provides a stark and undeniable example of this. Women actors become the cultural conduit for scrutinization of female existence – the press berates and mocks them for fat tummies, sweaty armpits, smeared lipstick, unplucked eyebrows, basic aging processes and so on and so on. And so women and girls continuously learn that they are disgusting and need to spend more time a) hating themselves, b) changing themselves and c) hating themselves some more. And everyone else learns that it doesn’t matter how rich a woman becomes, how successful an artist or prominent a public figure – what real matters is that she look like an impossibly and ridiculously „perfect“ (whatever that means) object, existent for outside consumption. Humph.
Rebecca Hewer, Editor in Chief
Not the Place for Politics
I think that the most absurd part of the entire Oscars hoopla is when celebrities try to shoehorn their own political views into interview questions, answers, or speeches. While some actors are legitimately involved in charities or other causes, most are about as informed on a subject as someone who considers Buzzfeed to be a real news outlet.
Yet the Oscars themselves are not to blame for such a turn, but rather politics itself. The media always makes a big deal out of celebrity endorsements for politicians, especially when it happens at a campaign rally or an expensive fundraiser. I’m not saying that actors shouldn’t be allowed to do this, but playing a trustworthy and wise character on screen does not qualify an actor to tell people how to vote. And yet celebrity endorsements are a big deal precisely because they do matter. The media talks about it, the politicians name-drop in subsequent speeches and interviews, and people vote for whomever movie stars tell them to vote for. It’s like when models at beauty pageants are asked to solve world hunger or how to combat ISIS in a 15 second answer. Impossibility aside, some questions just shouldn’t be asked.
George Ligon, Columnist
A Celebration of The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is another delightful Wes Andersen film, full with quirky and charming characters existing in a colourful, fairy-tale world. But when I saw the film it reminded me of something else; a hazy memory of a long lost world which may never have existed. I couldn’t pin this feeling down until the closing credits: “inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig”. In his autobiography “The World of Yesterday”, Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) paints a vibrant portrait of Vienna negotiating its way between tradition and modernity and as the cultural capital of Central Europe at the beginning of the century. The book, written during Zweig’s flight from the Nazis, is a love letter to a Europe which was multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan and flamboyant, but ultimately short-lived. During Europe’s descent into fascism and self-destruction, and a day after completing the book in 1942, Zweig committed suicide. Despite his tragic end and criticism by some that the move was un-political and naive, I think Zweig should nevertheless live as a reminder that a pacifist, open and tolerant Europe is imaginable. And shrouded in Anderson‘s candy-coloured surreality, the Grand Budapest Hotel implicitly exposes the absurdity and arbitrariness of the need to have the ‘right’ travel documents in order to be part of Europe.
Anna Pultar, Editor
A Celebration of the Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything is an inspirational, though sometimes harrowing, film about the life of famous physicist Stephen Hawking, diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) many years ago. In a brilliant portrayal by Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything presents us with the image of a young, highly intelligent individual who is diagnosed with MND whilst studying for his PhD. As a Medical Anthropologist, I found the portrayal of the illness experience thought provoking and well crafted. The Theory of Everything expertly sets the scene of the impending calamity of illness, with shots of Hawking stumbling and beginning to struggle with basic coordination. By trading on such depictions before an illness has been identified, such scences act as an ominous precusor to the awfulness which is about to descend upon the individual as the disease is diagnosed and the illness experience is created. This skillfully exhibits the intersection between the bodily and social aspects of disease. The film then goes on to show how intensely illness can affect the lives of those surrounding the individual, typified by his wife, Jane’s, decision to give up her autonomous existence to care for her loved one. It shows the extent to which illness and disease can infiltrate a relationship and how much it can affect those around the individual diagnosed. The most moving and disturbing scene in the film is perhaps when Hawking sits in his bath attempting to move his fingers - at this point the magnitude of the realisation of the disease and illness of MND seem to descend and the wider repercussions and consequences of a life altering diagnosis begin to be understood. One comes away from this film with a sense of how precious life is, how easily it can all be altered by a diagnosis, and how we must never give up in the face of adversity.
Kirsty Bailey, Editor
Oscar – celebrating film since 1927
There are many things you can say about the Oscars: they are nothing but self-adulation in fancy dress; a stringing together of boring speeches; self-congratulation of the elites, and many other things. But I simply love it. Why? I love films and I love the cinema and the Oscars might be many things, but they are above all a gathering and celebration of talent – talent in front of and behind the camera. Actors, writers, directors, costume designers and so many more get recognized for their work, and it’s not just the few who get to take the little golden man home, but everyone else involved in the industry – It’s as simple as that.
It’s about great films. Fortunately, you will not see a “Transformers”-Sequel taking it all. This year “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, two independent films, are leading the race. And I was particularly pleased to hear that Paweł Pawlikowskis’ Polish-Danish drama “Ida” (no US involvement there) was nominated twice – not only for Best Foreign Language Film (the Cinderella of Award Categories) but also for Best Cinematography.
It’s about the people making films: film veterans are nominated (19th nomination for Meryl Streep this year) but so are new talents (Felicity Jones for her moving performance in The Theory of Everything or Lupita Nyong’o winning the Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance of Patsey in 12 Years a Slave). It’s their evening: you will see them excited, nervous and overwhelmed just as anyone else would be; you will see them laugh about themselves and be up for nearly any kind of nonsense the host has up his sleeve. It’s also nice to see that a successful actress like Jennifer Lawrence can turn into a massive groupie when meet with the likes of Jeff Bridges.
So celebrate it, get your popcorn out and enjoy this year’s show. It might not be legendary, and yes its contentious, but its great night nonetheless.
Meghann Munro, Guest Contributor, Graduate from the Goethe University Frankfurt