I feel a bit sorry for the Academy. You know, that glorified golf club that hands out Oscars each year. Yes, it’s the creaking, sexagenarian hangover of an old Hollywood that thought Braveheart deserved five gongs and Titanic deserved 11. But the now routine bashing of the Academy each time the nominations are announced borders on the distasteful. Casually labelled troglodytes, sexists and racists, its members are the target for the sort of insults usually reserved for Top Gear viewers and kids who name their kids ‘Sapphire’.
The Oscar noms, once respected as the entertainment-press cannon fodder that they are, have now been imbued with a bizarre socio-political significance. Each year’s list is now a launchpad for pre-packaged polemic on a host of issues. In 2013, it was Zero Dark Thirty’s alleged pro-Bush propaganda; last year, it was Jared Leto’s ‘trans-misogyny’; and this year it’s the ‘whitewash’. That’s right, the announcement of the list revealed that all of the named nominees – from Best Actor to Best Script to Best Prosthetic Nose Technician – were white. Most of them, as it happens, were also male.
It took all of six seconds for the shitstorm to gather. It was a sad reminder, wrote one critic, that ‘the Oscar statuette is a gilded white man’. It was the confirmation, wrote another, of a ‘white backlash’, an ‘unexpressed and not-quite-conscious feeling’ that, after showering prizes on 12 Years A Slave last year, it was time to return to white-cis-heterosexual business as usual.
Given that the Oscars is little more than an annual PR exercise for Team Hollywood, it is, admittedly, incredible that the Academy let this slip through the net. Controversy is not what the Oscars do – at least, not intentionally. This was the blunder to beat Seth MacFarlane-gate. Yet more proof that the committee is painfully out of touch with our twitch-hunting age.
Even so, the reaction was more than a bit overblown. Selma, Ava DuVernay’s portrait of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting-rights marches led by Martin Luther King, was dubbed the biggest loser of the whitewash – but it’s still nominated for Best Picture. And while enraged tweeters are still feeling the need to tweet the bleeding obvious – that white men have long had a bit of a winning streak at the Oscars – the iniquities of the past shouldn’t be used as an indictment of today. Times have changed. To suggest otherwise is to allege some sort of racist conspiracy at the heart of the Academy that the blundering old sods hardly seem capable of.