Don’t Blame Oscar

It’s Oscar award season. As a screenwriter, it is one of my favorite times of the year. There is quite a bit of talk about the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations…as usual. We all remember the #oscarsowhite campaign. While Black Panther is setting records this year, the best director category — officially known as “Achievement in Directing” — is conspicuously missing a woman nominee. But in all fairness, the best actress category is missing men. LOL! No? Too soon?  

All jokes aside, our disappointment with the unequal representation of the nominations is misdirected. Award shows are about merit. I feel silly even saying that. Duh! We cannot blame Oscar or Emmy or that little MTV man on the moon. Blame the system…and I don’t mean Hollywood. Hollywood is only an organism that has grown in the petri dish of American History. Unless you just got back from a moon vacation, you know that Americans are as divided as ever. It feels like we just pick things to disagree about…including the Oscar nominations.

While most of my twitter timeline is outraged about the Oscar Noms, there were a few good opposing arguments that I had to agree with. Awards are based on merit and performance. That’s true. But when a merit (or penal) system is so glaringly disproportionate, the system is clearly broken. Consequently, we need to take a look at our intuitive human biases on an individual level to make systemic change.

This is not a new issue. In Galatians 3:28, Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” People have always let their differences guide their thoughts…race, religion, gender, education, economics, etc. But those of us in Christ, know better. So we also have to be better. The early church was challenged by their differences and had to continuously be redirected toward Christian values. Sound familiar?

A hashtag campaign did not lead to the historic Black Panther nominations or the rising star of Mahershala Ali. No! Black Panther is an amazing movie and Mahershala is outstanding in everything. He’s on his way to becoming the next… Jack Nicholson. See…you were thinking Denzel Washington, weren’t you? But Jack Nicholson is the bar for “Best Actor” in the Academy with the most wins and nominations. I’m not going to lie, Denzel was my first thought, too, but I redirected myself beyond my initial thinking. That’s the same thing we do with our faith. Our first thought may not be aligned with Christ but we purposely bring our thoughts and behaviors into alignment with what we believe. That’s what Shine TYC is all about.

It wasn’t the #oscarsowhite campaign that caused the Academy to award more African-Americans. It was that the campaign awareness encouraged individual producers, directors, and studio heads take a look at their own biases. Marvel said, “Hey, let’s give Ryan Coogler $200 million and see what he can do. Quite frankly, with $200 million we could all make a pretty decent movie. Coogler’s skills made it extraordinary. But he had to be given the ability to play the game, to come in through the front door and sit down at the table to eat with everyone else.

Spike Lee has 82 director credits on IMDB and 21 feature films. This is his first nomination for Best Director. Is Black Klansman his best directing? Probably not. Is it the best the Academy has paid attention to? You betcha. Do the Right Thing had a $6.5M in 1989. That’s not much different than the $15M for Black Klansman today. But today, the Academy is becoming more aware of its biases and the studios are recognizing talent in places they’ve never thought to look.

So, whose fault is it?

In short, it’s your fault…and mine. We all have the power to overcome our intrinsic biases even though they may have been ingrained in us through history and experience. We have to challenge ourselves. We also have to use our voices when we see broken systems that unfairly impact certain groups of people. We have to pray and speak up. Remember this… “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land” – 2 Chronicles 7:14

As Christians we can lead the way to a culture that embodies the love of Jesus for all people. That love will then transform our way of life, our societal systems. The passage above from 2 Chronicles lets me know that the pain and disappointment we see around us is not Oscar’s fault. It’s ours.

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