Oscar voters, who are still overwhelmingly White, are obviously more apt to vote for the familiar and those whom they know and work with regularly. Martin Scorcese and Meryl Streep, nominees again this year, are among the most respected and Oscar-nominated people in Hollywood. And Oscar voters have messed up before – they are the ones who denied Al Pacino an award for both Godfather movies and Dog Day Afternoon, then granted him one for Scent of A Woman, largely viewed as a “makeup” Oscar.
But this year’s crop of nominated movies do not even share the critical consensus that usually makes them Oscar-worthy – top nominees Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle have earned mixed reviews. Sure, comparing works of artistic achievement is essentially like comparing apples and oranges. Some folks will just never like orange juice. But this year’s Best Actress category doesn’t have one new nominee; all of the actresses are previous nominees and/or winners. The same is true, with some exceptions, throughout most of the acting and directing categories.
I guess we can thank the Oscars for throwing Black folks a bone for nominating Pharell Williams in the Original Song category for “Happy” from Despicable Me 2. (No dis to Williams implied.) I’m sure he woke up in just that mood after hearing the news. And Twenty Feet From Stardom, the documentary about background singers seeking their own spotlight is a nominee with a good chance to win. But, um, Oscar…haven’t we branched out beyond music awards yet?
Hollywood’s choice to overlook Black movies that could and should have qualified given their subject matter and quality this year does give weight to the usual conspiracy theories more so than before. The fall whitewash of movies seemed a smug reminder that whites still got Hollywood on lock – if for no other reason that they control budgets and distribution, typically where Black films get shortchanged.
The 2014 Oscars, regardless if 12 Years a Slave continues its run (and there’s a whole ‘nother piece on why it’s good and bad that its still a frontrunner) will be the usual self-congratulatory celebration of the Hollywood elite. But for Black viewers, it’s just another bitter reminder that in the film industry, we are still second-class citizens.