LANDINGIN: Politics of privilege plague artists of color
Opinions Column: Reason in Revolt
A conversation that had the potential of opening up other discussions around the problems with diversity in Hollywood fell short of expectations by looking more like a black and white issue.
With actors from Jada Pinkett Smith to Spike Lee boycotting the Oscars' white-dominated nominations that snubbed worthy performances from Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation" and Jason Mitchell in "Straight Outta Compton," this year’s Oscars was expected to be a four-hour-long, tense program.
First on the menu was Hollywood’s token black friend, Chris Rock, the host for the 88th Academy Awards. The only spot in the Oscars that didn't need a grand nomination. With great a role came great expectations about how Chris Rock was going to both entertain and discuss #OscarsSoWhite with television viewers all over the world and all throughout Hollywood.
His comedic jab of a monologue ended with a discussion largely focused on the representation of black actors. Not only did he fail to use his platform to discuss the larger systematic, intersectional issues of marginalization in Hollywood, but he also came with a tinge of sexism and racism on the way.
Rock included references to boycotting Rihanna’s panties, because why not include the same “let’s make fun of black women artists” humor, and why not perpetuate Asian and Jewish stereotypes as model minorities who are good at math? But as Rock predicted, “if anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.”
Asian Twitter decried, they're done being the Asian sidekick that y’all keep making fun of. As Jeremy Lin eloquently tweeted, “When is this going to change?!? Tired of it being 'cool' and 'ok' to bash Asians smh #Oscars.” We’re not really sure if it was another model minority joke or a reference to labor issues pertaining to outsourcing tech companies to Asian countries, but I do hope he understands the latter.
All in all, it was a cringe-worthy ceremony full of tiny awkward silences and half-smiled reactions from our A-list white celebrities. The rest of us either applauded Rock’s roast or, like me, got mad about how much time I wasted on this whole Oscars debacle. But let’s cut the guy some slack because Hollywood’s issue is more than black and white, and this diversity issue extends beyond Hollywood. As an audience, we deserve so much more than just a dimension of diversity.
Diversity is like your fickle but enticing cool friend, who gives lip service on including you in their team, but really just wants to hang with you to look cool-with-it or to save his ass, but leaves you hanging when the going gets tough. As TLC perfectly describes my feelings, “I don’t want no scrub / A scrub is a guy who can’t get no love from me.”
As of 2012, the Academy has a 93 percent white and 76 percent male membership base. No wonder no woman of color has won Best Actress in more than 10 years. And the list continues, or lack thereof — the lack of recognition of groundbreaking diverse faces and voices in Hollywood.
Many would argue on the notion of duality and contention between diversity and talent. The actors, directors, film producers and more are worried that diversity would impede excellence. But when you give people of color the same stereotypical roles, heck yeah, that impedes excellence.
This notion that diversity and talent cannot mix is a nearsighted vision, failing to see how this can open up to multitudes of untold stories and greater imagination. No wonder Oscar nominations are predictable every year.
But something in Chris Rock’s monologue did stuck with me: “We just want opportunities.” The main opportunity I’m talking about is access to the arts, may it be visual or theater. Access to the arts are left to the ones who can afford to make it a living, yet funding for art programs are slashed in inner cities and underprivileged communities. The last thing to dream about is winning an Oscar when surviving is all what your life is about. During that first audition, and the countless more after, this dismal reality first struck in a child's heart that their talent was not enough. That their skin tones, their creativity and pockets were not deep, white or rich enough. That being an artist is not about talent, but a whole lot of privilege and politics.
Rae Landingin is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in art history and digital, communication, information and media. Her column, “Reason in Revolt,” runs monthly on Thursdays.
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