Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Does Criticism of Oscar Nominations Ring Hollow?

With the conclusion of the 2016 Oscar nominations and the lack of any black individuals in any of the major categories the black populous has commenced with their criticism of such an outcome with social media tags like #OscarsSoWhite or calling the Oscars “the White BET Awards”. Unfortunately almost all of this criticism represents a significant problem in society, not because one may disagree with the nomination results, but instead because the criticism is sound bite in nature without any substance behind it.

Overall there are two principal motivations behind criticizing these nominations. First, certain individuals feel that the Oscars missed an opportunity to promote diversity by not having black nominees (or other minorities, but it is unlikely that most in the black community care about the nomination of a non-black minority). The underlying motivation of this argument is that every year the Oscars should nominate at least one black individual, i.e. basically there should be a “diversity” quota.

Congratulations to anyone with this belief for you are a racist. You believe that someone should receive different treatment based on the color of that individual’s skin. Oscar nominations do not fall under the umbrella of “affirmative action” because acting, directing or writing performances are not significantly hindered by potential detriments from possible racism in the upbringing or the acquisition of the role for once you have the role those issues become irrelevant. To argue otherwise would be akin to saying Wrestler A in the U.S. Olympic Trials should start with a 2-point advantage over Wrestler B due to the background of Wrestler A. College admissions and employment opportunities are much more complex and need deeper analysis versus a direct merit based analysis like an Oscar nomination.

So now that the ridiculous idea that the Oscars need diversity for the sake of diversity has been revealed as what it is, a racist based quota system, it is time to address the second and actual legitimate criticizing motivation, the idea of the snub. Unfortunately for individuals supporting a particular person or movie for an Oscars, almost every year there are more deserving candidates than there are nominations; therefore, clearly a number of deserving individuals will not be nominated. Where is the criticism from the black community about the lack of nominations for Steve Carell (Big Short), Michael Keaton (Spotlight) or Johnny Depp (Black Mass) or does their lack of nominations not matter because they are white?

If one feels that Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Will Smith (Concussion), Ryan Coogler (Creed director), etc. should have been nominated then one must articulate the rationality behind why a nomination was deserved. Also one must go further and then discuss why nominee x did not deserve his/her nomination, thus it would have been appropriate for one of the above individuals to have taken nominee x’s place. Failing to conduct such an analysis simply places one in the first criticism motivation camp, i.e. you are a racist, because you fail to produce a rational argument to counter the decision of the nomination committee beyond “there should be a black person simply for faux diversity reasons”.

Now some individuals could contend a flaw in the nominations because out of all of the possible worthy contenders, there were no black nominees? While on its face this argument may seem convincing, the chief problem is that it fails to take into consideration the demographical participation rate of both overall contenders and those who would be deemed worthy contenders. The black participation rate is rather low in the movie industry on both counts; for example of the worthy nominees for Best Actor (most likely the strongest category for blacks to receive a nomination) just the sheer math lists the worthy black participation rate at no more than 20%, thus significantly reducing the probability of receiving a nomination.

The above argument would have much more merit if the black participation rate were higher. For example if the NBA All-Star team selection was carried out by a committee of individuals and both teams were selected without any black participants, then one would have a much stronger argument for racial motivations behind the selection because of both the number of available black participants and their overall quality. However, in the movie business the participation rate hardly matches that seen in the NBA.

Some could counter-argue that the low participation rate implies racism in the movie business, but such an argument is difficult to make because of simple natural demographics. A number people, including many individuals in the black populous, seem to forget that black individuals only make up approximately 13% of the U.S. population. So it is not unreasonable for a number of fields to have similar participation rates because the overall population is low to begin with as well as the pool of individuals with sufficient talent to sufficient participate and even excel in these fields (which is similar as a percentage for all demographics not just blacks).

Overall if one wants to criticize the Oscar nominations then make sure to do so using rational analysis regarding why candidate x should have been nominated over nominee y. That way your criticism will at least have a measurable element to judge its validity. Otherwise, if one forgoes this type or similar rational analysis one is simply acknowledging that he/she is a racist.