Acclaimed film director Ava DuVernay, who directed such acclaimed films as Selma (which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) and whose documentary 13th received an Oscar nomination, posted the following on Twitter yesterday --
In case it isn't familiar to you, the Best International Feature Film is the new name that the Motion Picture Academy has given to what used to be known as the Best Foreign Language Film. The Academy thought the old name was outdated in today's global world. However, the rules for the category stayed exactly the same. To qualify for this one award, a film's dialogue most be predominantly in a language other than English. The point was to create at least one category where a non-English movie had a serious chance to compete for an Oscar.
And for the record, my understanding is that a film from Nigeria could complete in the category if the dialogue in it was not predominantly in English.
In response to Ms. DuVernay, some posted their own complaint against the Motion Picture Academy and its poor record on People of Color. The person wrote --
Forgetting for the moment that the correct title of that movie was Pursuit of Happyness, I decided again to foolishly step into it. What I wrote back was -- "The year Will Smith was nominated for THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS was 2006. That year, the winner of Best Actor was Forest Whitaker, for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND".
Sometimes life creates realities that are just too perfect. I had been prepared to make a totally different argument when I first decided to check out who the other nominees were that year. When it turned out that the winner was another Black actor, I thanked the Whimsy of Life since it was a significantly easier point to make on Twitter, with its limit on characters.
(By the way, the issue of someone getting screwed out of an Oscar unfairly -- whether for race or just personal preference -- is a separate matter entirely and an profoundly thin one to make. I always say to people when they try to make it, "Okay, these are the five people who got nominated. Which one would you drop out to make room for the person you like?" Only on a very rare occasion is it easy to come up with an answer. Generally, everyone nominated did a very good job, and dropping any of them would seem just as unfair.)
Actually, I think I do know why I decided to step into both these potentially dicey situations. Whether it was wise and best to just let them pass is another matter. But I think the reason was not just that I like accuracy in pretty much everything where appropriate, but mostly because I think both people were trying to make points on a very serious and important topic -- and were doing those points a disservice.
The Motion Picture Academy does not have a great history in race relations. Much of that, in fairness, is because of poor race relations through the country as a whole, and it is reflected in the Academy rather than that standing out as unique. What I have argued elsewhere, by the way, is that people who rightly want to complain about diversity in Hollywood would be far-better served, I believe, to address the hiring practices throughout Hollywood on movie productions, which for most of its history were almost exclusively white, rather than pointing to who is getting awards. (It's worth noting that people who get nominated for Academy Awards -- or even are in consideration for them -- are more likely than not doing much better in their careers than most people in Hollywood.) But focusing more on hiring practices and bringing more diversity to movie and TV productions, as well as all of Hollywood, would directly impact many more people's lives -- and ultimately would likely make more people of color eligible to become Academy members, which would impact who got nominated for Academy Awards.
And in the end, that's all related to why I decided to respond. There is a great case to be made about diversity in Hollywood. And a great discussion to be had. But when you make the wrong case, you are not only diverting attention from what is actually important and meaningful, but you are allowing people to easily refute your point and thereby dismiss the argument out of hand for you being wrong, by suggesting that you don't know what you're talking about.
It's an important topic. These were very bad, wrong-headed points to make which diminished the topic which deserves much better.
At the moment, I don't know if I'll get pummeled for having responded on social media to all of this. I suspect I will, though if so, I'll now at least have this piece to point to for a longer explanation. As well as the explanation to the people that, while I understand you disagree, in this case I am demonstrably, objectively and factually 100% correct,
And if a person wants to step back and make a different argument about diversity in Hollywood, as well as in American society in general, the floor is open to that. Because it's a great place to start.