When the 2017 Academy Awards roll around, this year’s show will be highlighted as the one that went too far, or didn’t go far enough for diversity. Possibly, next year will be different - more black films will receive nominations and we’ll look back on the last two years as a period that provided the much needed push for change.
On the other hand, 2017 could be just like 2016 and like right now there’ll be #OscarsSoWhite outcry, more calls for a boycott and more lists of who was snubbed will be published. This will undoubtedly dominate the media and inevitably steer away from a more important discussion, and the greater cause for concern - the deep inequality that governs how many black films are developed, made and distributed paling in comparison to the behemoth that is white film.
In Hollywood, white films are the default, so you’ll hardly hear of a shortage production companies, studios and distribution companies wanting to get involved in a project. Black film, on the other hand, is still somewhat seen as a gamble or a niche market that can get by with fewer releases. The fact that we can only come up with 4 or 5 black movies and actors that were snubbed sums up the whole problem – if we were making the great strides we so desire to make, wouldn’t there be 20+ black films that could have been considered? As Whoopi Goldberg put it, “Let me tell you what the problem is: it’s not that the people doing the nominating are too white, the problem is the people who can be helping to make movies that have Blacks and Latinos and women and all that—that money doesn’t come to you because the idea is that there is no place for Black movies.”
If there’s no place for black movies, who created that issue? It can’t exclusively be an issue with Academy, because right or wrong, the awards are a reflection of the status quo. By the time we reach Oscar nominations, many checkpoints would have been crossed. Trying to just correct the awards is like trying to repair a huge product flaw at the end of the assembly line. Successful repair means examining the raw materials, the machinery, the process and the practitioners, and the same applies for Hollywood. The awards are easy to attack but the problems run far deeper. Consider the Academy Awards as a small indication of a wider problem.
The Academy Awards are a fishnet filtering in tiny openings whatever the net let through. The scarcity of black films filtering through is a direct result of what’s in the water in the first place - very few opportunities. This won’t change until we take a deeper look into the actual processes of filmmaking.
Maybe, the idea of boycotting is being applied to the wrong part of the problem. Instead of boycotting the awards, how about boycotting the industry and setting up our own autonomous filmmaking behemoth to rival the one that exists and hasn’t done enough for us? Black owned studios and black owned production companies could turn the tide for the thousands of black projects that have never seen the green light. It could be exactly what is needed to get these projects to the screen. Don’t let the “there were no good black movies this year” narrative fool you, there is plenty of black made brilliance but Hollywood doesn’t look in that direction as often as it should, and maybe our mistake is waiting for them to.
“Imperial Dreams,” a film starring pre-Star Wars John Boyega is one such project which struggled to find a distributor. Hopes are, with his “Star Wars” star power, it will finally find its way to cinemas. It just goes to show that what’s lacking isn’t the material, but rather the opportunities for the material to get made and handled in the same way white films are.
The barons of cinema, the ones we imagine sitting in a cushy office somewhere pulling the strings, have been served well by the system as it stands today. And while we continue to cry #OscarsSoWhite, we’re still in the same position. The move forward requires the whole industry to take a leap forward, and that means every single aspect of it. While the conversation about the Oscars needs to continue let us not forget that the problems begin way before those nominees are announced.