Color me NOT entertained: Award shows are made for white people & white ideas



I can’t… I just CAN’T with Hollywood.

Oscar nominees were announced today and while it’s no big surprise for anyone paying attention that few ethnic minorities are represented, my Mac nearly received a spewed-Earl-Grey shower at my shocked dismay that The Lone Ranger was nominated in not one but TWO categories: Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Visual Effects. Um, apparently you don’t need any kind of a good narrative or storyline to get nominated for an Oscar so long as one of your racist characters has a dead bird on his head.

This is how I feel today.

For a recap on everything #LoneRangerRacism, read my post on dangerous Hollywood imagery, plus check out anything Adrienne K. has ever written on her amazing Native Appropriations blog. 

I don’t think we in the POC activist crowd really expect a whole lot from the entertainment industry in terms of fair representation (I mean, nothing for Fruitville Station???), but when a movie that flopped BIG TIME – a movie that caused a lot of anguish in Indian Country – gets two nods from Hollywood’s most prestigious (and totally overrated) awards show, it really smacks in the face. And all this after my Twitter feed went NUTS the other night after the show How I Met Your Mother took a nosedive into yellowface by channeling their best Katy Perry impersonations and appropriating Asian cultures with stereotypical makeup and costuming – you know, super-similar racist BS The Lone Ranger shoved onto indigenous peoples.

HIMYRacism #fail
HIMYRacism #fail

This is why studios and writing teams NEED marginalized voices on the payroll, to help avoid disasters and also to recognize talent (go watch Fruitville Station – now) that is too often passed over in favor of white faces and white narratives. Look at the photo below: Not ONE person of color won a Golden Globe this year; sure, 12 Years a Slave won best picture, but that award goes to the producer – the money behind the show – not the director or acting team behind it. Golden? Nah. These globes are definitely white. As the Oscars will surely be, too. The following Ebony article said it best:

Is it just me or is it bright in  here?
Is it just me or is it bright in here?

It may be easy for those of us keeping track at home to console ourselves with the “awards are pointless” musings, but there are measurable reasons why this matters to Ejiofor, the seasoned British veteran who’s gone so often under-awarded, or Nyong’o, whose future in Hollywood may very well be contingent on how well this season goes. It would’ve mattered to first-time director Ryan Coogler, as well, if his riveting “Fruitvale Station” had received even one Globe nomination.

In truth, audiences of color will always have an emotional, perhaps even psychic, stake in Hollywood’s awards season. According to a 2011 BET Networks Corporate Research study, Black consumers make 195 million trips to the movies annually. What we see, how we connect to it, and how that connection is acknowledged matters to us. As great as it would be to be able to ignore the import of mainstream validation, we can’t and we shouldn’t. In a year like this, when the front-running films featuring Black actors are based on real people and events, we should feel fully justified in wanting these powerful dramatizations to be revered. Award wins are one way to affirm that we’ve told our stories to someone other than ourselves, to someone who would not have otherwise known them, to someone who may have been loath to acknowledge that they happened.

The only shining light here is that The Lone Ranger is up for several Razzie noms, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Johnny Depp – hey, wasn’t he supposed to buy land in Wounded Knee???), and worst director, among others. At least it’s getting some earned recognition here. Hi-ho Silver – GO AWAY!

And at least Canada knows how to rep its First Nations at awards shows.

4 thoughts on “Color me NOT entertained: Award shows are made for white people & white ideas

  1. Well, the Oscars are self-congratulatory awards, by union members who have the most box office success in the industry. It’s not “The People’s Choice” awards. The nominations aren’t made by critics, and audience memories are getting shorter every year. None of the heavily-nominated films opened prior to October. I don’t have a clue what “white ideas” are, but the term made me laugh.

    1. White ideas = white narratives

      The People’s Choice awards aren’t any better. POC just don’t have the representation in mainstream media. One or two great shows (I’m thinking something like Scandal or Luther) – out of how many? – do not even out the playing (or voting) field.

      1. Ah, thanks for the clarification, not that “white narratives” makes much more sense to me. You mean stories written by white people? Pretty much inevitable in an industry that’s mostly made up of white people. I also don’t see why an insider’s game needs to have a level playing field. I wouldn’t be so concerned with awards. There’s no such thing as “best” when comparing works of art. The bottom line for artists of all colors is getting to keep working, selling enough tickets to be able to get backing for your next project.

        I do enjoy excellent films that center on stories from tribal culture, since that’s part of my heritage, but I don’t expect them to be plentiful. My favorites include Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, Rabbit-Proof Fence and Dead Man, the latter showcasing the most accurate portrayal of NW native life on film despite being written and directed by a white guy.

      2. Eh, I’m not content with last place. I will continue to advocate for those level playing fields so the next generations can benefit.

        The piss-poor images Hollywood dredges up to represent POC in films/TV have damaging effects on our psyches, whether we’re aware of them or not. It’s how we get “but the Redsk!ns team honors tribal people” motif — Hollywood, mass-distributed awards shows (inside job??? tell that to the millions of people who watch them and then go watch the shows nominated), sports teams, books… These images/narratives/ideas are by and large not POC-made and therefore stereotypical at best.

        I will be checking out your suggestions. Post more, if you’re inclined. Always looking to expand my views.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s