White Oscar Night: It's Obama's Fault

The average person who sees the photo line-up of the current Oscars nominees does not immediately think, oh, my God, how terrible, they're all white!

Journalists obsessed with identity politics think however that there's a big story here, some kind of lesson to be drawn about race relations in Hollywood, and by extension, in the American society that Hollywood reflects. It doesn't seem to matter that the 2010 Oscars saw nominations for "The Blind Side," Mo'Nique and "Precious," Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and Disney's first animated feature with a black princess. When liberals talk about climate change, they reassure us that weather is different from climate, and one cold year does not disprove anthropogenic global warming. When it comes to the Oscars, one year indicates a long-term trend. As A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis write in their Sunday New York Times Arts exposé, Hollywood's Whiteout Year:

[I]t was possible, over much of the past decade, to believe that a few of the old demons of suspicion and exclusion might finally be laid to rest. Are the coming Oscars an anomaly, or an unsettling sign of the times?

It is not stated overtly but when they talk about  "unsettling...times," they refer no doubt to the conservative upsurge in the country, i.e., the popularity of the Tea Party and politicians like Sarah Palin. It therefore stands to reason by this logic that since these groups are inherently racist, the country's movie industry will exclude African-Americans. (Or, wait...things have been getting better in the past decade, in other words since 2001, when George W. Bush took office...? And getting worse since...?)

I'm a little unclear how this works. Hollywood does indeed reflect the times, but every film is a separate project. Did Ben Affleck have some subconscious idea to exclude blacks when he came up with a script idea about white bank robbers in Charlestown? Do we need some form of affirmative action on Oscar night? Separate (but equal) African-American Oscars?

Some of Scott and Dargis's convoluted explanations are comical:

What happened? Is 2010 an exception to a general rule of growing diversity? Or has Hollywood, a supposed bastion of liberalism so eager in 2008 to help Mr. Obama make it to the White House, slid back into its old, timid ways? Can it be that the president's status as the most visible and powerful African-American man in the world has inaugurated a new era of racial confusion -- or perhaps a crisis in representation? Mr. Obama's complex, seemingly contradictory identity as both a man (black, white, mixed) and a politician (right, left, center) have inspired puzzlement among his supporters who want him to be one thing and detractors who fear that he might be something else.

A "new era of racial confusion" because Obama is right, left and center, black, white and mixed? Now I'm really confused. It's true that some on the Daily Kos left think Obama has moved to the right, and it's true that he's half black and half white, but what does this have to do with the Oscars?

The authors conclude:

"Precious" now looks more like a one-off than a harbinger of change.

Our incredibly talented African-American actors, directors, producers and musicians contribute far more to the entertainment industry than the 13% of the U.S. population they represent. Does any sane person believe are now victims of some suspicious Hollywood conspiracy to exclude them? Tell that to Denzel, Spike, Will, Morgan and Oprah.
The average person who sees the photo line-up of the current Oscars nominees does not immediately think, oh, my God, how terrible, they're all white!

Journalists obsessed with identity politics think however that there's a big story here, some kind of lesson to be drawn about race relations in Hollywood, and by extension, in the American society that Hollywood reflects. It doesn't seem to matter that the 2010 Oscars saw nominations for "The Blind Side," Mo'Nique and "Precious," Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and Disney's first animated feature with a black princess. When liberals talk about climate change, they reassure us that weather is different from climate, and one cold year does not disprove anthropogenic global warming. When it comes to the Oscars, one year indicates a long-term trend. As A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis write in their Sunday New York Times Arts exposé, Hollywood's Whiteout Year:

[I]t was possible, over much of the past decade, to believe that a few of the old demons of suspicion and exclusion might finally be laid to rest. Are the coming Oscars an anomaly, or an unsettling sign of the times?

It is not stated overtly but when they talk about  "unsettling...times," they refer no doubt to the conservative upsurge in the country, i.e., the popularity of the Tea Party and politicians like Sarah Palin. It therefore stands to reason by this logic that since these groups are inherently racist, the country's movie industry will exclude African-Americans. (Or, wait...things have been getting better in the past decade, in other words since 2001, when George W. Bush took office...? And getting worse since...?)

I'm a little unclear how this works. Hollywood does indeed reflect the times, but every film is a separate project. Did Ben Affleck have some subconscious idea to exclude blacks when he came up with a script idea about white bank robbers in Charlestown? Do we need some form of affirmative action on Oscar night? Separate (but equal) African-American Oscars?

Some of Scott and Dargis's convoluted explanations are comical:

What happened? Is 2010 an exception to a general rule of growing diversity? Or has Hollywood, a supposed bastion of liberalism so eager in 2008 to help Mr. Obama make it to the White House, slid back into its old, timid ways? Can it be that the president's status as the most visible and powerful African-American man in the world has inaugurated a new era of racial confusion -- or perhaps a crisis in representation? Mr. Obama's complex, seemingly contradictory identity as both a man (black, white, mixed) and a politician (right, left, center) have inspired puzzlement among his supporters who want him to be one thing and detractors who fear that he might be something else.

A "new era of racial confusion" because Obama is right, left and center, black, white and mixed? Now I'm really confused. It's true that some on the Daily Kos left think Obama has moved to the right, and it's true that he's half black and half white, but what does this have to do with the Oscars?

The authors conclude:

"Precious" now looks more like a one-off than a harbinger of change.

Our incredibly talented African-American actors, directors, producers and musicians contribute far more to the entertainment industry than the 13% of the U.S. population they represent. Does any sane person believe are now victims of some suspicious Hollywood conspiracy to exclude them? Tell that to Denzel, Spike, Will, Morgan and Oprah.

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