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Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this year’s crop of nominees for the Academy Awards, and for the second year in a row, not a single black person was nominated. This, in a year that the bestselling film of all time, Star Wars VII, was released, starring English actor John Boyega, a black man, in the top-tier role of FN-2187, or “Finn,” a reformed AWOL stormtrooper. Many other films released in 2015 included excellent performances by black actors as well, including “Straight Outta Compton” and “Concussion” just to name a few.
In a reaction to this “lack of diversity” in nominees, film director Spike Lee, a twice-nominated winner of one “honorary Academy Award,” has called for a boycott of the Oscars by people of color. Several big name Hollywooders have signed on already, including Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. Predictably, there has been a pushback from other actors, spearheaded by Charlotte Rampling, a nominee for Best Actress this year. It’s understandable, because nobody wants to be called a racist, or privileged for garnering an honor that they feel they have earned on their own merit. G.K. Chesterton once observed, “Whatever we may think of the merits of torturing children for pleasure, and no doubt there is much to be said on both sides, I am sure we all agree that it should be done with sterilized instruments.” Everything is relative.
Who can say what this boycott may lead to? Is Spike Lee going to boycott the Nobel Prize ceremonies in response to the fact that, in 115 years of history, there has been only one black Nobel Laureate in economics, and none in sciences? I would offer that a Nobel Prize carries a measure more substance than an “Oscar.” The hard, cold truth that Mr. Lee is going to have to embrace at some point is, the Academy chose nominees and they didn’t include any people that he wanted included. It is called “life” by most of us. Charlotte Rampling was not nominated for an award by the African American Film Critics Association this year, despite an outstanding performance as Kate Mercer in the film “ 45 Years.” I’m sure she is taking the snub in stride. Everybody can’t win, or winning ceases to have any significance. You can’t expect the Academy to throw in a “token” black nominee, even though they don’t think the performance merits the honor. Wouldn’t that be more insulting? It would be like a ribbon for “participation” that schools and clubs hand out to modern children, thus warping them for real-world competition that they will encounter soon enough. Nobody wants that.
My advice to future nominees? Keep at it. After all, it took Kiss until 2014 to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite selling more than 100 million records in the course of a forty-year career.