January 20, 2015
by Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Should there be quotas for Oscar nominations? Is it time to extend affirmative action beyond government contracting and college admissions, and apply it to something that our society really cares about — the Academy Awards?
The process for selecting Oscar nominees is under fire, and some critics seem to be suggesting that members of the academy should take nominees’ race and ethnicity into account — and weigh them as positive factors in the deliberations. It would be helpful to be able to show a pattern of discrimination.
Exhibit A could be the embarrassing e-mails that surfaced following the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Sony Co-Chairman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin yukked it up over President Obama’s taste in movies, which they guessed was limited to black-themed films. And, in another exchange with Pascal, screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin resisted writing a screenplay that would be centered around an Asian American protagonist, declaring that “there aren’t any Asian movie stars” who could play the role.
As illustrated by that boneheaded comment by Sorkin, a big reason for the lack of diversity among actors and actresses is that writers, producers and directors don’t create enough quality roles for nonwhites.
Making the problem worse, nonwhite roles are sometimes played by whites. One example: Ben Affleck playing Hispanic CIA officer Tony Mendez in the film “Argo.”
Well, as a community whose influence can be seen everywhere except Hollywood, Hispanics have a message for African Americans who feel shut out: We feel your pain. Or rather, you feel ours.
There have been many African American nominees in acting categories over the years, and more than a dozen actors and actresses — including Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx and Whoopi Goldberg — have emerged as winners.
By contrast, sightings of Hispanic actors and actresses at the Oscars are much rarer. Jose Ferrer won for best actor in 1950. For best supporting actor, the winners include Anthony Quinn in 1952 and 1956, Benicio del Toro in 2000 and Javier Bardem in 2007. For best supporting actress, the winners include Rita Moreno in 1961, Mercedes Ruehl in 1991, and Penelope Cruz in 2008.
In the nearly 100-year history of the Academy Awards, only a tiny handful of Latinos have snagged Oscars. That’s pathetic.
Of course, there will be those who oppose the idea of extending affirmative action to the Oscars. Some of the opponents will say that taking race and ethnicity of potential acting nominees undermines the concept of merit.
Oh, come on. Merit? This is Hollywood we’re talking about. This may be the land of make-believe, but we don’t have to go so far as to make believe that the entertainment industry is an arena where everyone who succeeds has earned his success.
So should there be racial and ethnic quotas at the Oscars?
Absolutely not. Diversity — while nice to have — shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself. Voters should strive to nominate the best performers, without regard to skin color but also without the kind of blind spot that this year is so evident.
Source: San Francisco Gate