#OscarsSoWhat

I grew up on movies where Comanche and Apache warriors were played by Italians and Jews (even by Boris Karloff) with big pectorals but never by real Indians.  “Negroes” had to be bugeyed and spooked by ghosts.  “Half breeds” usually played by the same actor Charlie Stevens were bad medicine.  And women had their faces mashed by grapefruit hurled by gangster lovers.  None of the movies we kids loved ever made it to the Academy Awards.  Why would they?  The “prestige movie” was always duller than a Randolph Scott western.

For the second straight year because the Academy has refused to nominate any actors “of color” the organization is frantically changing voting rules to run up and down the age and ethnic scale hoping to dodge the flak.   This secretive “elite” clique (with only 2% black members and fewer Latinos) is institutionally racist despite a black woman president and a black presenter this year.

Lest we forget the Academy was born in 1927 out of Louis B. Mayer’s anti union brain to “handle labor problems”, with the awards an afterthought.

As Michael Moore says, the Academy is run by dug-in white males who  have the “loudest voices in the room”.   Thick skins, thick ears.  All four white writers of Straight Outta Compton are invited to the Academy ceremony but NONE of the black actors.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, four of the six awards by the Screen Actors Guild have gone to black performers including Idris Alba – twice.  (Oscar ignored Alba.)

Hating bad publicity, like the return of hashtag OscarsSoWhite, the Academy now promises to bring in new “diverse” voting members and in order to make room for newbies will dump the wonderful old guys and women.  82-year old director Sidney Furie, with film credits up the kazoo, is Furious and bewildered. “The very people who voted for those Oscars (eg, Sidney Poitier in In The Heat of the Night) are now being accused of being the roadblocks to the diversity the academy now seems committed to.”   So even with the best will in the world old-style Hollywood liberals have yet to process that Black Lives Matter is a game changer.

Talk about Hollywood racial diversity.  On my first movie gig Curt Siodmak’s “Bride of the Gorilla” (what, you haven’t seen it?), I was a Brazilian “native boy” blacked up with Kiwi shoe polish.  On my final appearance before a feature camera in a Republic movie whose title I never knew I was a good Indian brave stabbed through the heart with a rubber knife by a Jew-or-Italian-or-East European-of-some-kind playing a bad Indian.

In the Eisenhower Fifties I was an agent when most blacks except Dorothy Dandridge, tap dancers and shufflin’ comics were excluded, and there were only two featured Latino actors, Ricardo Montalban and Katy Jurado, plus Irish-Mexican Anthony Quinn who probably broke a Guinness World Record playing every ethnic born under a tropical sun.

There’s some progress.  The 1958 The Quiet American had an Italian beauty imported to play the Vietnamese woman; its 2002 remake at least hired an actual Vietnam actress. On the other hand, a white woman Emma Stone plays a part Asian in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, director Alex Proyas hires whites to play black and tan Egyptians in his $140 million Gods of Egypt. and – can you believe it? – a white actor Joe Fiennes is Michael Jackson in an upcoming TV show. As Galileo is said to have said, And yet it moves.  Slowly.

Hollywood, partly due to its Jewish origins, is a liberal town; that is, mostly votes Democratic and quite deaf and blind to oncoming ethnic thunder until Ka-ching! The cash register sounds an alarm.  (How will studio bosses process the spectacular Broadway success of hiphop-rap-racially-inclusive Hamilton?)  This is especially true today when 75% of movie profits come from overseas where audiences insist (or so studio execs tell us) on exploding cars and spattered brains.  So Carol, Joy, Room, The Danish Girl and Spotlight get made as “indies” – always a miracle – but don’t really factor in Hollywood’s Big Brain.

To boycott or not?  Hollywood’s most interesting film maker – Spike Lee – and its former most bankable star – Will Smith – won’t be there.  Lucky them, they’ll miss the annual Most Dumbest Show.  On the other hand I’d sooner miss Monday night football than the Academy’s red carpet.  Oh, that dress, how can Eva, Kate, Alicia, Reese, Keira – really now?!  (I used to work for Vogue).  How I miss Joan Rivers!

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

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