Roger L. Simon

Sorry, Spike: I'm to Blame for the 'White Oscars'

It’s my fault, Spike Lee.  I’m to blame for the “White Oscars.”  I’m an Academy member and I didn’t even bother to vote in the nominating process.  And, to make matters worse, I would probably have voted to nominate Straight Outta Compton, the raucous story of the ground-breaking hip-hop band N.W.A. for Best Picture and possibly for Best Original Screenplay as well. It’s no masterpiece, but it was entertaining and energetic enough to have made my top ten.

Was my not voting then an act of racism? I’ll leave that for Spike to decide. For me it was an act of sloth, coupled with a general distaste for the entire process.  To put it bluntly, I am so over that overblown fiesta of narcissism known as the Academy Awards, not to mention the idiotic knee-jerk liberal rhetoric that almost always accompanies it, that the idea of voting made me a little sick to my stomach.

On top of that, I wasn’t that impressed with any of the movies I saw.  Sure, some of them were reasonably good, but worthy Oscar winners?  Oh, please.  Not a single one would I ever consider seeing again.  It’s obvious: movies, as an art form, are, if not over, basically asleep.  It’s been years since we’ve seen films of the quality of Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, Chinatown or Casablanca. Nothing even close.  The movies are not central to our culture anymore.  They’re just another entertainment choice in a seemingly endless stream available on our smart phones.

So when I hear the various black millionaires in the industry whining about their lack of Oscar nominations, you’ll have to excuse me if I roll my eyes.  They seem just about as relevant as Leonardo DiCaprio complaining about global warming while zipping off to Davos on a private jet.  The moral narcissism is more than a bit much.

But leaving my slothful self aside, I cry foul that my fellow Academy members were being the slightest bit racist in largely neglecting this year’s Straight Outta Compton and Concussion, the film about the perils of the NFL.  In the past, it’s been my observation that we white geezers that dominate the Academy have been more than willing — excited, in fact — to reward films starring or directed by African-Americans, way back to the nomination for Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958)  and his Oscar for Lilies of the Field (1963).  That’s over fifty years ago!  Have things changed since then?  I sincerely doubt it.  Just two years ago, 12 Years a Slave deservedly cleaned up at the Academy Awards with three Oscars, including Best Picture, and a host of nominations.

Sure, the percentage of OTWGs (Other Than White Geezers) in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should go up, and no doubt it will, but enough already. What our society doesn’t need an ounce more of these days is divisiveness.  Special pleading by privileged multi-millionaires of whatever color is really tacky.

And one more thing, while I’m on the subject of awards.  Woody Allen is famous for not attending the Oscars and not even reading his reviews.  I used to find that a bit pretentious, but then I read an interview with Woody (with whom I worked decades ago) in the latest edition of Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild.  In answer to the question “You don’t read reviews?” Woody responded as follows:

I’m usually on to another film at the time.  Because the whole fun is making the film.  The results of the film and the notions of legacies and things like that never interested me. … I never joined the Academy.  I never participated in any of that stuff.  I just want to work and enjoy myself working.  And one day either people will say, “We’re never going to back a film of yours again,” or I’ll suddenly get a massive coronary on the set and that will be the end.  But apart from that, I just like to work.  I’m happy in the room writing and I’m happy on the set working.

Academy members — black, white and heliotrope — would be wise to listen to Woody’s words.  Anyone who is fortunate enough to earn tons of money making movies is far and away among the most privileged human beings on the planet.  Pretending you’re a  “social justice warrior” while living in a thirty million dollar mansion is creepy beyond words.