Despite a few recent polls that suggest most Americans don’t really care about the Oscars, I think we secretly do. It may not seem hip to have an opinion about who gets to “thank the academy” and a hundred thousand minor acquaintances before the music drowns them out, but I am one of the Americans who does care.
This is not surprising, because I have never aspired to hipness. That possibility was squelched in the fourth grade with my Coke-bottle glasses and pocket-size calorie counter.
But I don’t believe I’ll be alone this weekend, watching gorgeous women walk the red carpet in their gowns, handsome men strut by in elegant black tie and Bruce Jenner do a great impression of Caitlyn Jenner. The Oscars are the gold standard of awards shows.
It’s nice to leave our drab and cluttered lives for the 10 hours it takes to watch the entire program.
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At the beginning, the whole affair was pretty low-key, involving just a dinner and a couple of microphones. As the years progressed, however, it became the equivalent of a coronation, only it happened every year and our royalty was a lot better looking than England’s.
There were a few controversies here and there. One year, George C. Scott boycotted the whole affair, even though the academy had chosen him to receive the best actor award. Another year, Marlon Brando sent a Native American activist to pick up his Oscar for “The Godfather.”
One year, there was even a streaker. Those of you who are under the age of 40 probably have no idea what that is, but there was a fad in the early ’70s where people would run by in their birthday suits and flash you indiscriminately.
This time, the undistinguished fellow barged onto the stage behind David Niven, who had the genius comeback: “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” Tina Fey hasn’t written anything funnier in her entire career, and it only took Niven three seconds.
But recently, the Academy Awards have been pretty quiet, leaving the craziness and the noteworthy controversies to the Grammys, where Kanye West has spent the last few years calling everyone except his white wife – she’s part Armenian – and her family racist.
Which is a nice segue into the point of this column. Now that we have resolved the problem with the Native Americans, crotchety old men and nudists, there is only one thing left for the Oscars to confront: racism.
Of course, they have given it the nice, high-minded label of “lack of diversity,” but we all know that they’re not talking about integrating conservatives into the mix of presenters and nominees. The only type of diversity the complainers seem concerned about is the kind that is only, and you will pardon the expression, skin deep.
There has been a violent backlash against the fact that none of the 20 main acting nominees are black. There has been a slight nod to the fact that very few other minorities were included in the acting categories, but the overall anger has been focused on the fact that there would be no shot at a black best actor, actress, supporting actor or supporting actress.
The stupid hashtag #oscarssowhite has became ubiquitous, almost as trendy as #blacklivesmatter. It became all the rage to say that you were going to boycott the Oscars because your husband wasn’t nominated for an award.
A lot of members of the Hollywood elite fell in line and took politically correct umbrage at the fact that minority actors and actresses were “snubbed.” They accused the voting members of the academy of being stupid enough to actually believe ethnicity was irrelevant when measuring excellence.
They complained about how rude it was for mainstream society to ignore the achievements of minorities in the industry, thereby forcing them to finance their own shows like the BET Awards and Miss Black America, where ethnicity is irrelevant (oh, wait …).
And when some white actors tried to explain that this preoccupation with color was counterproductive – people like the notoriously racist Meryl Streep, Michael Caine and Charlotte Rampling, who waited more than 50 years for her first nomination – they were called the sort of names that would make even Spike Lee blush.
As someone who works with immigrants, I get the importance of diversity. Latino, Arab, Asian, African – they are all wonderful spices added to the Cream of Wheat mix, rescuing our melting pot from being a bland and easily digestible stew.
But the idea that we owe people anything more than an opportunity is as offensive as telling someone their color was more important than their skill.
Fortunately, there are some people who do get it.
At a recent awards ceremony, Jamie Foxx, who won a best actor Oscar for “Ray,” said this: “I was with Sidney Poitier just a couple of weeks ago, and in 1963 all he asked for was an opportunity to act. That’s all we have to do: opportunity. If you turn the camera on and say ‘OK, win an award, action’ we’ll all have taken 10 steps back. It’s all about the art. Who cares about anything else?”
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.