Storming the White House from the Hollywood Glass House

LOS ANGELES – And the prize for the best political stemwinder goes to…

After a season of film awards that was already one for the political history books, it was the Oscars’ turn to speak the truth to power from a place of privilege on Sunday night.

After a reserved and choppy start, the show delivered some of the political punch that Washington and Los Angeles – and everyone in between – were waiting for. There have been statements against Mr. Trump’s border wall and immigration restrictions, and pointed messages extolling the virtues of “opposing without hatred” and journalism that has the “moral courage” to ” defy authority, ”conveyed in a message that flashed above Sting as he sang.

Given the cultural and political divisions that followed President Trump’s election and the aggressive manner in which Mr. Trump pursued his agenda, it was only natural that some wanted to use their international Oscar platforms to make big statements on the issue. freedom of speech, diversity and cherished American values.

But they were advancing over difficult terrain. First, there was the question of who they were actually seducing with a political speech delivered in the midst of a self-celebrating and haute couture bacchanalia, some of which cost as much as the down payment of an average American. . (A poll by The Hollywood Reporter last week found that two-thirds of Trump voters turn off awards at first political clue.)

And despite all the talk about inclusion in the political speeches leading up to and during the Oscars, how inclusive is Hollywood?

The answer is that despite the top honors black actors and black-themed films took on Sunday night – after two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite controversy – the industry still has a long way to go to improve the diversity within its ranks. .

This year’s nominations and Sunday’s victories haven’t changed the fact that the number of minorities in the studio executive ranks remains woefully low; that the female director continues to be the rarest species (it’s still a year without a woman among the nominated directors), and that the consequences of bad behavior – presumed or confirmed – always seem to unfold on a sliding scale depending on who your connections are or your box office potential.

And the entire celebration of black nominees this year has been tempered by complaints from Asian Americans, Hispanics, women – whose nominations have declined in non-acting categories from last year – and Americans. older.

“The OscarsSoWhite hashtag should be seen as a synecdoche for ‘such a white industry’,” said Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, a script crowdsourcing site. “If you consider that #OscarsSoWhite is all about more nominations for black actors at the Oscars, then you totally missed the point, and a lot of people missed the point.”

Hollywood’s diversity concerns, of course, are not that different from those of American corporations, the United States Senate, or, I might add, the news industry. And for Mr. Trump’s critics, Hollywood’s flaws would be pale in comparison to the president’s actions against immigration, transgender rights, and environmental protection, among other indignities.

Mr. Leonard’s argument is that in Hollywood, the more diverse the ranks of leaders, the better the chances of diversity in storytelling. As The Atlantic reports in its latest issue, its list – which quizzes hundreds of filmmakers about the best ignored scripts they’ve read – has helped push into the production of great screenplays, including “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Spotlight”, both of which won Best Picture.

This year’s more diverse Oscar roster centered on unexpected hits like “Moonlight” (about a young black man struggling with his gender identity in violent environments at home and at school); “Hidden Figures” (about black female mathematicians not announced to NASA during the space race); and “Fences” (based on August Wilson’s play on the generational struggles of a working-class black family in Pittsburgh).

Some of the nominees for these films – Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures”, winner of supporting actress Viola Davis in “Fences” and winner of supporting actor Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight” – “were in the show. ‘industry has always been, ”Mr. Leonard noted. “But the rise of a new generation of filmmakers and the slow realization that diversity can lead to box office results has ultimately given many of these actors roles that match their talents.”

Slow, however, is the key word.

Janice Min, co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter, told me that Hollywood has always functioned “like a series of private country clubs” where members and outsiders depend on membership committees largely controlled by the powerful Hollywoodians, who are mostly white and male. .

“As any sociology student will tell you, people flock to people they know and people who look like them,” Ms. Min said.

This was evident, for example, when “Jurassic World” producer Frank Marshall told SlashFilm in 2015 that he and Steven Spielberg took their chances and hired the relatively unknown Colin Trevorrow to direct the big-budget movie after another. White male director in their clique, Brad Bird, said he “reminds me”. The women in the business have noticed.

Ms. Min was so fed up with the lack of progress for women in Hollywood that she announced that same year that The Reporter was going to stop ranking for women on their “Power 100” list. The leaderboard, she wrote, pitted women against each other when they needed to unite in the face of their many obstacles here.

The magazine’s current list of the most powerful people in Hollywood – people “with the ability to say ‘yes’ and run a show or a movie,” as magazine editorial director Matthew Belloni described it – has her share of top 25 women, including Universal Pictures president Donna Langley; Fox Television Group President Dana Walden; and Oprah Winfrey.

But it was otherwise lacking in blacks, Hispanics and Asians. The studios I contacted last week weren’t eager to talk to me about the matter, possibly because the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission is considering taking legal action against the workers. major studios for accusations by the American Civil Liberties Union that the studios have discriminated against. against women in board hiring decisions.

The ACLU highlighted research from the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California showing that women made up only 1.9% of directors of the 100 highest-grossing films in 2013 and 2014. .

The author of this research, Stacy L. Smith, said in an interview that part of the problem is with myths across the industry – that women don’t want to direct big-budget blockbusters, for example. example, or that some movies won does not earn money.

Ms Smith said she viewed the success of “Hidden Figures” as essential as it would speak in Hollywood in her preferred language – cash. “Here we have a film that is not only nominated for Best Picture, but it’s financially lucrative,” she said. It had generated nearly $ 170 million in global revenue last week, Bloomberg reported.

Despite all of its strides towards diversity, awards season had its wrinkles. As The Times reported in January, some viewed race as a factor in how Nate Parker’s film, “The Birth of a Nation,” lost its luster after a redesign of a case in which Mr Parker was acquitted of charges of raping a student at Penn State. However, Casey Affleck achieved a Best Actor nomination for “Manchester by the Sea” and won, although he settled the sexual harassment allegations against him in two civil lawsuits (he denied the allegations).

Plus, this year’s awards gave Mel Gibson a second chance, whose nomination for Best Director for “Hacksaw Ridge” came just over 10 years after making anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments during an arrest. for driving while intoxicated.

It was around the same time that Mr. Trump was filmed by “Access Hollywood” bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.

Mr. Gibson, of course, is an actor and a director. Mr. Trump is now President and Los Angeles is such a stronghold of opposition to him that it was only natural that he would inspire political speeches at the Oscars this year.

But Hollywood’s judgment would go much further if it directed some of that political energy to itself.

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