Snubbing of ‘Middle of Nowhere’ highlights Hollywood’s failure to address diversity issues

Emayatzy Corinealdi and David Oyelowo in 'Middle of Nowhere'
Emayatzy Corinealdi and David Oyelowo in ‘Middle of Nowhere’

It’s a very small list with only 20 names on it. The names of ten men and ten women will be read on January 10, 2013 as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the nominees for the four acting categories for the year 2012.

If the nominees already named, by the Broadcast Film Critics, SAG and other awards are illustrative of any trends, there will be very few minorities among those nominated.

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Hollywood likes to pretend it is making great strides in diversity but the truth is that’s not the case. When a film as wonderful as Middle of Nowhere gets snubbed almost everywhere except the Spirit Awards then it becomes a situation where “Houston, we have a problem…”

Statistics from SAG for 2008 showed that minority actors cast in film and television actually declined from the prior year. Minorities represented 29.3% of total roles in 2007 and that dropped to 27.5% in 2008.

I did a quick analysis of my own. At this writing I’ve seen and reviewed over 100 films even when you subtract out documentaries (I’ve seen more than I’ve reviewed but I’m only counting those where I wrote a review). Crediting each film with two lead performances for men and for women, and three supporting performances for each gender (using the main supporting performers), by my count 10.75% of the lead performances were done by minority males, 12.6% by minority females, and for supporting performances 16.5% by minority males and 9.6% by minority females.

Denzel Washington delivers in 'Flight'
Denzel Washington in ‘Flight’ is the only African American actor to get recognition by Golden Globes

I admit this isn’t scientific and because there are so many small roles performed by minorities, that’s why the SAG stats are much higher. But I suspect my numbers when it comes to lead performances are pretty close to the mark.

Last year was a banner year for people of color being nominated in the acting categories. Demian Bechir, Berenice Bejo, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis were nominated. Spencer actually won. Will next year’s nomination lists contain 25% minority representation? You shouldn’t hold your breath. The Critic’s Choice Award nominations actually have six people in each of the four main acting categories. Of those 24 names, there are only three that belong to minorities. Denzel Washington, Javier Bardem and Quvenzhane Wallis will probably receive Oscar nominations as well. On the list of those 20 people who were nominated for the Screen Actors Guild awards, it was only two of 20. Ms Wallis was overlooked.

Then there were the Golden Globe nominations. Denzel’s name was among the nominees, but Ms. Wallis and Mr. Dardem were not among the nominees. Apparently Mr. Washington gave the only acting performance in 2012 worthy of recognition by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. More snubs for fine film performances by people of color. Good thing Denzel brings audiences in to see his movies or his excellent work might have been overlooked as well.

Tyler Perry gets into the action genre with 'Alex Cross'
Tyler Perry likely gets award attention because of his box office success, taking attention away from other, more deserving African American performers

Even those awards that are supposed to involve recognizing the significant achievements of minorities in film aren’t getting it right. The NAACP Image awards completely ignored Middle of Nowhere in favor of Good Deeds. Why does a film that led to the first ever win for a Black woman as Best Director at Sundance get passed over? Because Tyler Perry is a big name? He’s a very talented man but that film and his acting in Alex Cross are not worthy of consideration in any award for best anything. Just to be fair let me mention that I saw and reviewed all three of those films. Perhaps those who were involved in the nomination selection process for the Image awards can’t make the same statement.

The point here is not to say that any of the 20 men and women who will ultimately receive those Oscar nominations next month didn’t do wonderful work. They did. But the process that is used is flawed. If Hollywood doesn’t want to improve minority representation in both casting and recognition then audiences should express their displeasure with their wallets.

Industry people vote for awards. Audiences vote with ticket sales. Seven of the ten films nominated for the Critic’s Choice awards haven’t been released yet. Of the remaining seven, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln and Moonrise Kingdom are all commercially successful. Silver Linings Playbook will probably be profitable for its investors in the long run. The Master probably won’t be. The jury is still out on Life of Pi but I suspect even with its big budget it will make money. But commercial success shouldn’t be the benchmark by which a film is measured when it comes to “best” awards except of course as “best moneymaker”. By that measure, Marvel’s The Avengers should be best picture.

In the end, while Tyler Perry probably doesn’t deserve those two nominations for Image Awards that he received, he has the right idea. Minorities who want to make films need to not rely on Hollywood reaching out to them. They should raise their own money and make their own films. When they start generating profits, believe me, the bean-counters in Hollywood will sit up and take notice. Maybe then, the various groups that hand out awards will also finally give them the recognition they deserve.

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