A reader named Jason sent in this letter this morning:
I’m a huge fan of your site. I’m going to tell you that I’m a black man that loves movies ever since I was born. I read alot of reviews about movies. Most critics I don’t really care for. In all honesty, I dont think most critics are good at their jobs.
To tell you the truth, you are my favorite critic. Roger Ebert was a genius at his craft. I always enjoys reading and listening to his reviews about movies because he always dug deeper into what a movie was about. Most critics don’t do that. Another thing that I loved about Ebert, he understood race. He cared about the stories being told about black people. I always felt that he cared about us. Most critics I don’t get that sense from them. I dont get the feeling that they understand or even care about black or minority lives. Through Ebert’s writing, I got a sense that he cared about our journey and our lives. I got a sense he was open to us. He was intrigued by us. He had a respect for us that most critics do not.
This leads me to you. I love your website because you always understand the plight of black people. You care that we are represented and if we are not, you are angry and vocal about it. Most critics are white men and women. I always get the feeling they don’t know the feeling of rejection that black people go through. And how that can lead to anger, isolation, resentment, violence and so on.
I’m writing you because I’m so angry that the Academy has, yet again, disrespected me and my community. I understand that it is not completely their fault. I blame the CEOs of the studios, executive producers, actors, directors, etc. on the racism that is going on in Hollywood and the rest of the nation.
I’m just so angry right now because, yet again, hollywood has said my life is not important. White men have spoken and said, “We are the only ones who should be heard, applauded, and rewarded.” We are white men, and we are the ones that matter.
I’m writing you because I’m sad because to them, I mean nothing. And what do I do with that? Do I fight them or wait for them to die? I just want you to take them to task for their blatant disrepect and racist behavior.”
Here’s the good news. They’re going to have to deal with this being the lead story of the day, with very little breathing room for anything else. They’re going to have to deal with Chris Rock, who will certainly point out the obvious in a cutting way. Maybe they saw it coming, maybe they didn’t but it’s clear to me that the Academy specifically seems to be actively trying to marginalize itself from the rest of the film industry and from ticket buyers. They pick what they like. Or more importantly, and the dirty little secret most people don’t know about the Oscar voters? They pick what people put in front of them, what they are told to pick, with slight variations here or there. Many of them only watch a small pile of films. What’s clear to me is that things are changing, dramatically, around them. The Screen Actors Guild nominated Beasts of No Nation AND Straight Outta Compton. The Producers Guild nominated Straight Outta Compton and the AFI honored it. So did the Writers Guild.
The film critics play a huge part in shaping the narrative and that was what Roger Ebert – and Roger Ebert alone – did. He made it almost a lifelong ambition to fight for fairness and diversity. Most film critics take their job too “seriously” to care about diversity because they’re only supposed care about the art of film, forgetting, of course, that our relationship art or entertainment is entirely subjective. Our opinions are shaped by our experiences. Getting the good parts – the Oscar worthy parts – is about opportunity. When Viola Davis almost won – and should have won – for The Help – everyone said, oh, she’ll be fine. She’ll get many more chances. Like when? If you can’t get the parts, you can’t get the Oscars. If you can’t get the Oscars, you can’t get the parts. See how that works?
The Academy’s five slot ballot brings out their worst prejudices because it is, in effect, a mirror. They want to be thought of as the center of things – not just the only people who matter but the only people being seen as caring. They want to reward the one white guy who didn’t own slaves, or the one white guy who stood up for native Americans. This year, they did open their minds up to Brooklyn and Room and even Mad Max – all films that don’t represent the “one white guy who” – but a movie like Straight Outta Compton doesn’t paint the “One White Guy Who” as the one good guy, or Creed, which makes Michael B. Jordan, and not Sylvester Stallone, the hero and the emotional center.
What the Academy is doing with their membership is trying to change the demographic. Although the major categories – with the exception of Inarritu – are flat white (hey, Starbucks has a name for the Oscars – “Flat White”) the short categories, the documentary categories and the foreign language represent people from all over the world. Diversity flourishes when you move past the stars and most powerful players.
I am not sure I will live long enough to see them really change. They’re likely to go extinct before they really change. But I’d just like to say to you, Jason, that the world is changing. The old white guard is shrinking. I look at the Spirit Award nominations and the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild and I see change. It isn’t enough to change the Oscars, clearly, but in Ryan Coogler and F. Gary Gray and Ava DuVernay and Gina Prince Bythewood’s success those doors are being opened anyway – it is the Academy who will be left behind, the Oscars that will be forgotten, left sitting on the front stoop, covered in dust, while all of the footprints run past it, barely noticing it’s there.
Just remember this: success is the best revenge.