The 89th Annual Academy Awards is on Sunday, did you know? And as such it’s time for political speeches to dominate what is, essentially, a group of pretenders saying well done to each other. As is always the case, there will be plenty of opportunities for famous people to make political speeches, so prepare for so much Trump shaming that we might actually have to write him a sorry letter for bullying.
But is this kind of popularity-based grandstanding doing any good? After all, two years of Oscars so White hasn’t really changed much; as always, great people of colour have been forgotten this year: David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom), Neel Sethi (The Jungle Book), Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Amma Asante (director of A United Kingdom) to name but a few.
Yes, this year might see Barry Jenkins win Best Director (a deserved win), and he would be the fourth person of colour to win Best Director, and the first to be African American. But let us cast our minds back two years when Patricia Arquette won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her turn in Boyhood. Arquette made a plea for equal opportunities for women; admittedly this is an easy point to agree with, but her particular brand of white feminism has since been offset by the fact that there is many brilliant non-white women who are overlooked.
Not to mention, of course, Sean Penn, the perpetual douche bag that he is, has made a green card comment at the win of Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman. Of course he then went on to win again last year for the overrated The Revenant. Has anyone called Penn out for anything? No, Sean Penn a two-time winner himself is a notorious homophobe (who won an Oscar for playing gay-rights activist Harvey Milk) and woman beater, but was he called out when he was sat inches away from Arquette? No, of course not.
You see, the ongoing problem is two fold. One the political statements seems very near sighted with respect to the current trend i.e. no black people nominated, which in itself is a masive problem. We can in fact outline the small number of people of colour who have won Oscars for acting/directing all too easily:
Black Winners: Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington (twice) Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Halle Berry, Louis Gossett Jr, Cuba Gooding Jr, Morgan Freeman, Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali.
Asian Winners: Ben Kingsley, F. Murray Abraham, Haing S. Ngor, Miyoshu Umeki, Ang Lee (twice)
Latin American Winners: Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn (twice), Benicio del Toro, Rita Moreno
Native American Winners: None.
Surprising isn’t it? Now let’s take a look at the further non-winning nominations for those racial categories.
Black Nominees: Sidney Poitier, James Earl Jones, Paul Winfield, Dexter Gordon, Morgan Freeman (four times), Denzel Washington (Six so far), Laurence Fishburne, Will Smith (twice), Jamie Foxx, Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicerly Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, Viola Davis (three times), Quvenzhane Wallis, Ruth Negga, Rpert Crosse, Howard Rollins, Adolph Caesar, Jaye Davidson, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Djimon Hounsou (twice), Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Barkhad Abdi, Mahershala Ali, Ethel Waters, Juanita Moore, Beah Richards, Alfre Woodard, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, Ruby Dee, Taraji P. Henson, Naomie Harris, Octavia Spencer, John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins
Asian Nominees: Ben Kingsley (three times), Merle Oberon, Susseu Hayakawa, Mako Iwamatsu, Pat Morita, Ken Watanabe, Dev Patel, Meg Tilly, Jennifer Tilly, Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroshi Teshigahara, Akira Kurosawa, M. Night Shyamalan, Ang Lee
Latin American Nominees: Jose Ferrer (twice), Anthony Quinn (twice), Demian Birchir, Andy Garcia, Benicio del Toro, Fernanda Montenegro, Salma Hayek, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Katy Jurado, Norma Aleandro, Adriana Barraza, Berenice Bejo
Native American Nominees: Chief Dan George, Graham Greene
Does that not make you angry? The native race to the country has two non-winning nominations in their five biggest categories. As always there have been roles that could have been nominated that weren’t mentioned, the great work by young Neel Sethi, to name but one. But there’s something even more worrisome under all of this. Where are the names of LGBT winners and nominees?
This is another list which is far too easy to write. Let’s do it – though we’re not counting Marlon Brando, because his contribution is so up in the air it could just be sensationalism.
Homosexual Winners: George Chakiris, Joel Grey (by his own admission), John Gielgud, George Cukor, John Schlesinger
Lesbian Winners: Jodie Foster, Sandy Dennis, Linda Hunt,
Bisexual Winners: Janet Gaynor, Tatum O’Neal, Anna Paquin, Angelina Jolie, Vincente Minelli, Jerome Robbins, Tony Richardson,
Transgender Winners: None.
Again let’s look at the nominations for those categories.
Homosexual Nominees: Monty Whoolley (twice), Clifton Webb (three times), Rock Hudson, Paul Winfield, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian McKellen (twice), Thomas Gomez, Victor Buono, Leonard Frey, James Coco, Jaye Davidson, George Cukor (four times), Vincente Minelli, Charles Walters, Peter Glenville, Franco Zaffirelli, James Ivory (three times), Gus van Sant (twice), Pedro Almadova, Rob Marshall, Lee Daniels
Lesbian Nominees: Greta Garbo (three times), Jodie Foster (twice), Ellen Page, Spring Byington, Lily Tomlin, Eva Le Gaillienne
Bisexual Nominees: Charles Laughton (twice), Michael Redgrave, Montgomery Clift (four times), James Dean (twice – disputed), Laurence Harvey, Alan Bates, Marlene Deitrich, Angelina Jolie, Sal Mineo (twice), Anthony Perkins, Nick Adams (disputed), Denholm Elliot, Agnes Moorehead (four times), Stephen Daldry (three times),
Transgender Nominees: none.
But, let’s all congratulate those actors who play transgender people, because that’s what it is, a performance. Only joking, it’s the gender version of black face.
And this is the problem with the oscars, for all the posturing they do, they never actually do anything to sway the change, instead they look at the issue that affects their chance of another big pay packet.
When it comes to the transgender community, who really don’t have many actors to look up to, they have to settle for the sight of someone pretending to be transgender. After all, how would the world react to someone donning black or yellow make up ala Mickey Rooney to play Kim Jong-Il? Perhaps Mickey Rourke would make a great Martin Luther King. It’s coming down to one very important thing; that age old word that no one likes anymore: representation.
So, this Oscar night, if you watch the show (good luck Dev Patel), just remember, only two Native American nominees, no transgender nominees. Lack of decent performances? No. Lack of opportunities? You bet your backside. Let’s wonder if Meryl Streep will make a political comment about that. Doubt it. It’ll be a night about Trump.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.