Last Thursday, the Academy released the full list of Oscar nominees and, as is annually the case, people are seeking reasons to be offended by it. This year’s pet cause is diversity, with activists (see: people with social media accounts) calling for a boycott of the ceremony in reaction to a list of nominees that is largely white.
Before I start criticizing this movement, allow me to make a point very clear: I fully agree that Hollywood is lacking in diversity. I also understand that a lot of the ins and outs of the film business are racially biased, with less opportunity afforded to minority performers. With Hollywood being a relatively young business, existing in a world that is anything but post-racial, there is still a lot of work to be done. I believe the term “systemic” is applicable to many of the prejudices. That being said, an Oscar boycott will do nothing to promote diversity in film.
Why do I say this? Because boycotting an awards ceremony that occurs post-release sends the message to the wrong end of the business. Sure, a lower number of viewers may hurt ABC’s future ability to charge for advertisement space (albeit at a negligible level), but that’s really it. There is not a single film producer in the business that scans the Nielsen ratings of the Oscars and uses the info to (somehow) decide how culturally progressive their movies will be. There is no perceivable correlation between the Oscars and film production, outside of the fact that a film with an Oscar win has a longer shelf life, and perhaps that the talent involved will find it easier to attach themselves to bigger projects. With this in mind, it would be incredible to see a more diverse list of nominees, and resultantly more opportunities for minority talent, but a boycott is not the way to do it. When you look at the films released in 2014, it’s clear that the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations is not indicative of the Academy being racist or exclusive, so much as it illustrates that culturally diverse films aren’t being made in the first place. It’s hard to nominate a movie that doesn’t exist*, so the issue isn’t with the Academy, but with film production in general.
So how do we promote diversity in film? Easy. Just start speaking the only language that every producer speaks: money. Get up out of your chair, log off of Twitter, and go pay money to see a movie that promotes diversity. Movies that won’t make money don’t get made. It’s as simple as that. If you want more movies that champion diversity to be made, you should go out and support them when they are, and I assure you someone is at the studio checking the numbers and thinking “people pay to see movies like this, and we’d be idiots not to take advantage of that.”
While publicly calling for a boycott of the Oscars is a great way to look progressive on Facebook, please be advised that outside of your own self-satisfaction it accomplishes nothing. Don’t be a slacktivist (or worse yet, a hashtag warrior). Be an activist! And if being an activist means seeing more movies, you’ve found yourself in a win-win situation. In future years, perhaps the pool of potential nominees will be larger and more diverse**, and the Academy will be able to support diversity in film with their choices. And if they still don’t, then we’ve reached a point where a boycott would be in order. Until then, send a message to the right people and go see a movie, er #GoSeeAMovie
*Yes, David Oyelowo was absolutely snubbed for his role in Selma, but we should remember that the producers of Selma neglected to fully participate in awards season, waiting until after the bulk of votes were cast to issue screeners, thusly limiting the potential for awards success.
**Its important to remember that, much the same way a demanded apology is empty, a nomination based on diversity for diversity’s sake makes the award less meaningful.