We Need to Talk About the 2017 Oscars

“We Need to Talk About the 2017 Oscars”

By Windy Borman (Producer/Director and Founding Board Chair)

Wins for Inclusivity
We’re still talking about the Oscars. On the one hand, we saw several great firsts for inclusivity:
• Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to ever win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor for ‘Moonlight’).
• Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony for acting. (She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in ‘Fences’).
• ‘O.J.: Made in America’ by director-producer Ezra Edelman was the longest film to win Best Documentary Feature.
• Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney won Best Adapted Screenplay for ‘Moonlight’.
• ‘Moonlight’ became the first LGBTQ-themed film to win the Best Picture prize. It was also a win for its all-black ensemble and diverse creative team.

This was amazing progress, especially after two years without a single acting nominee of color and several behind-the-camera snubs (i.e. Ava DuVernay directing Selma), which spawned the hashtags #OscarsSoWhite.

In fact, as Bustle points out, “while there have been dozens of black nominees in the Oscar’s nearly 90-year history, no more than three have ever been awarded in the same year.”

More Work To Do
On the other hand, we still need to address a major issue that still plagues Hollywood: white, cis-gendered, male privilege. This reared its ugly head in two major ways at the Academy Awards, and not simply because no female directors were nominated for the Best Director’s prize.

First, Casey Affleck won Best Actor despite being accused of sexually terrorizing female colleagues on the set of the 2010 mockumentary ‘I’m Still Here’. By endlessly forgiving—and praising—abusive men like Affleck, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Roman Polanski, we tell women that the abuse they suffer is less important than some guy’s right to share his artistic point of view. While no one should get away with sexual violence, this privilege is not extended to men of color. (Read Gabrielle Union’s Op-Ed about ‘Birth of a Nation’ director Nate Parker’s rape allegations).

On February 27, 2017 Sady Doyle of Elle wrote a poignant piece, titled “What We Lose When We Give Awards to Men Like Casey Affleck”. She writes:

“Keeping great male ‘artists’ around while they endanger their female coworkers isn’t only unjust, it actively lowers the number of great female artists by creating a workplace in which women are primarily valued for their ability to accommodate and ingratiate themselves to sexist men, and not for their actual talents.”

When we face abysmal numbers of women in film as it is, just think how many talented female artists are quitting projects or quitting the industry all together because they cannot abide a culture that awards abusers and punishes survivors.

Next, we need to discuss how ‘Moonlight’ was robbed of its moment to shine. Yes, the ‘La La Land’ team was gracious, but they aren’t who we should be praising.

Throughout the ceremony we had wonderful overtures about inclusivity and diversity. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, spoke about her work as President of the Academy to make it more inclusive. Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian filmmaker, who won for Best Foreign Language film, stayed home in protest of Trump’s Muslim ban. And when Gael García Bernal came on stage to present an award, he said, “As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of walls that wants to separate us.”

But when the Best Picture debacle occurred, we missed the ‘Moonlight’ team’s moment to shine, the chance to applaud their work, and the opportunity for director-producer Barry Jenkins to share what the award meant for inclusivity. He later shared his thought with The Hollywood Reporter, but how amazing would it have been to hear them uninterrupted from the grand stage?

As Brittney Cooper at Cosmopolitan writes:

“Just because the error was unintentional doesn’t make it any less significant. We have to ask how messed up it is to ask black artists to win in an environment that screams, ‘There is no place for you!’ And we have to acknowledge that while diversity might be about sharing the stage, the work of dismantling white privilege is about the far more challenging task of white people having less access to the stages and awards that they’ve always had. Moonlight’s moment in the sun was well deserved, and it is unfortunate that the messy work of diversity almost eclipsed it out of view.”

How Can We Make Colorado Film and Media More Inclusive?
Dismantling centuries of white, male privilege is a tall order. It’s going to take all of us holding ourselves, each other and our communities accountable. So what can we do on the grassroots level to make Colorado more inclusive of women, people of color, LGBT and differently-abled media-makers?

We asked our Inclusive Oscar Party guests, and here are few suggestions you can apply today:
1. When writing a screenplay, write “A crowd gathers, half are women, half are people of color”.
2. Hold casting and auditions at accessible locations for people with mobility issues.
3. Teach consent and create a culture that supports everyone by asking, “Is it okay if I touch you?” before touching anyone.
4. Create mentorship programs for women, LGBT and people of color in the media.
5. Award film and media productions each year for the steps they take towards diversity and inclusivity in front of and behind the cameras.

What other ideas do you have for how Colorado can create a more inclusive film and media community? Share them on Social Media or leave a comment on our blog.

In meantime, if you ever doubt that the changes we create in media matter, check out this video from Dylan Morris on Seriously TV.

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