Jan 24, 2016

Dr. B on #OscarsSoWhite

Full-color movies: Not nearly here yet

BY Dr. Todd Boyd
January 24, 2016
D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 manifesto “Birth of a Nation” is the seed that would eventually develop into an industry that we now know as Hollywood. Considering that racism was at the root, it makes sense that the fruit produced by this tree is reflective of what was originally planted.

In other words, the apple don’t fall far from the tree.

The ongoing controversy surrounding this year’s second annual Academy Awards “white out” represents this tainted fruit. In this age of hashtag activism, the criticism of Hollywood’s exclusionary practices has now gone viral. Beware of public consensus though; it’s often misguided and uninformed.

The current discussion about the lack of diversity among this year’s acting and directing nominees ignores the fact that, even when there has been broader representation, once you get beyond these categories, the Oscars have always been as white as the cliffs of Dover. And always will be, unless something big changes.

The Oscars telecast unfolds over several hours giving awards to a range of people who work in all aspects of production; most people outside the industry only pay attention to the acting categories and Best Picture. What about set design, sound editing and art direction, for instance? These areas are more emblematic of the industry as a whole.

Turns out, the industry, with precious few exceptions, is white, from top to bottom and side to side. The studio heads and the people who have the power to greenlight movies are overwhelmingly white and male. The same is true of the casting directors, the heads of the various guilds and the people who run the talent agencies.

Hollywood is basically a private club. And this particular private club has a liberal reputation in the larger culture. In many ways this makes things worse — because liberals can be very defensive when challenged about their own acts of bias. Meaning: If there is ever going to be true change, Hollywood will first need to get over itself.

Begging to be invited to join a private club, just like pleading with an indifferent public that “black lives matter,” represents a certain thirst for validation. Asking people who once excluded you to now grace you with honors demonstrates the illusion of inclusion. These awards are mere tokens, not unlike the dreaded participation trophies that they hand out to children who engage in competitive activities these days.

The Academy Awards used to be one of the biggest cultural events of the year. But rising generations don’t have the connection to the Oscars that previous generations did. If the Academy’s brand continues to be tainted with charges of discrimination, then future audiences will be even less likely to pay attention.

Being charged with racism is not a good red-carpet look; no doubt an image-obsessed industry will react defensively to contain the public relations damage it is now suffering.

But the type of change that is needed now is not a desperate, defensive announcement like that made on Friday — that the Academy will attempt to double the number of minorities and women in its ranks by 2020. What we need instead is the type of slow but lasting structural change that transforms the entire industry.

Unless this happens, the announced changes are cosmetic, akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

One of the best lines from the film “Steve Jobs” involves the Jobs character telling his daughter that his flaws as a father are due to the fact that he’s “poorly made.” Hollywood as we know it is poorly made to accommodate diversity and inclusion.

Boyd is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He appeared in “20 Feet From Stardom,” winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Jan 23, 2016

Dr. B on Marketplace (NPR)

The Oscar Nominations Roil Hollywood Racial Tensions

This year's Academy Awards nominations received a wave of backlash for being too white. Dr. Todd Boyd of the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts discusses the deep-rooted problems within the film industry.

On whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is losing credibility:
It is an issue of whether or not the film industry is operating in a way that is consistent with the environment that we live in. This is not the 1940s, it's 2016. It's the era of the nation's first African-American president, so I think there's a light being pointed in Hollywood's direction right now. It's a critical light, and it's necessary for the industry to take heed and to do something about this if they want to be able to continue to exist and have a positive representation in the culture at large. 
On the influence of marketing in the Oscar nomination process:
The industry itself is not diverse and is not inclusive. What we need to focus on is what takes place on the front end: who runs the studio, who has the power to say "yes," who has the ability to hire people to cast certain films. These are the sorts of things that I think are more important than, ultimately, who gets nominated or who wins the award because at the end of the day there's always going to be arguments about somebody being excluded from the Oscars for a variety of different reasons. The bigger picture, however, is the lack of diversity and inclusiveness and the way in which this has denied people opportunities. 

Dr. B on the Oscars

CBS News

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelly

Dr. Boyd and Ken Burns (Jackie Robinson)

Dr. B w/ documentary filmmaker Ken Burns
Preview of Burns' new PBS Jackie Robinson documentary conversation (post game)
Huntington Library, Pasadena (January, 17, 2016)