Note from BW of Brazil: In the today’s piece, we bring you a followup to a story posted here less than a week ago about controversy surrounding the 2016 Academy Award nominations ‘blackout’. The issue made headlines when famed director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith promoted the idea that black artists should boycott the film industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony due to its extreme lack of racial diversity. Before we offer our views on the story, let’s see what Afro-Brazilian artists had to say about the suggestion of Lee and Pinkett-Smith.
Black artists from Brazil criticize the Oscars that only nominated whites
By Carolina Braga with additional information courtesy of Brasil 247
“No wonder he has a movie called Do the Right Thing (1989, released as Faça a coisa certa in Brazil). It was another goal by Spike Lee,” says Brazilian actress Zezé Motta. The American actor and director had been chosen to receive the honorary Oscar in 2016. The day before yesterday, Spike Lee announced his decision not to attend the ceremony, scheduled for February 28. More than that, alongside the actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, he advocated the boycott of the most celebrated film ceremony in the film industry in protest to the recurring exclusion of blacks among the nominees.
Spike Lee’s protest had worldwide repercussions and impelled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Hollywood to a forceful reaction. In a statement released yesterday, the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (the first black woman to assume the post), recognized the gap and announced measures to change the criteria of admission of new members to ensure diversity in the profile of voters.
Zezé Motta believes that Spike Lee’s boycott of the Oscar ceremony is an example: “You have to seize these opportunities and put his mouth into the world,” says actress
“In the coming days and weeks we will analyze the selection process of our members in order to reflect the diversity of our class in 2016,” she said. According to Cheryl, it is not the first time that the renovation of the Academy has become urgent.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, pointed the note, the goal was to rejuvenate the group, “to remain vital and relevant.” “In 2016, the order is to include in all its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize that they are very real concerns of our community and we count on the support of everyone so that we can move forward together,” she said.
The controversy came to a head on Monday, on the birthday of Martin Luther King. By Instagram, Spike Lee published a text justifying his decision. “Dr. King said ‘the day will come when you must take a position that will not be safe, political or popular, but necessary because conscience says is right,’” he quoted. “The Oscars is not where the real battle is.” Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith protested through a video posted on Facebook.
With the hashtags #OscarsSoWhite (Oscar as white) and #OscarsBoycott the movement gained momentum and fans. Snubbed last year for his performance in Selma, actor David Oyelowo, in an interview with the Vulture website, questioned the immutability of the Oscar. “The Academy is an institution in which all say the radical changes cannot occur fast. It’s best that that changes.”
Voting in the documentary category, filmmaker Michael Moore also echoed the boycott. “I thought about it all day. I don’t intend to go to the ceremony. I don’t intend to attend the ceremony and I don’t intend to go to any party related to it,” said the director of Bowling for Columbine (2002, released as Tiros em Columbine in Brazil) and Fahrenheit 911 (2004, released as Fahrenheit 11 de Setembro in Brazil).
“Spike Lee found the right time to speak. The struggle persists, and we have to keep giving a nudge and increasingly demanding our rights,” says Zezé Motta. With a 50-year career, the Brazilian actress notes a greater concern related to racial diversity. “I am very happy with leading roles of Taís (Araújo) and Lázaro (Ramos), but I think there is still room for many people,” she says. It’s also necessary to move forward in relation to the characters.
In 2014, Zezé Motta experienced something that she ranks as humiliating. She was called to play Sebastiana, a maid in the novela (soap opera) Boogie Oogie (1). “Nothing against it, but I want to know the content,” she said. The promise is that she would be the mother of actor Fabrício Boliveira’s character, whose dream was to become a diplomat. She would be the person responsible so her son fights for that, but the incisive performance that her maid would have been lost throughout the novela, written by the Portuguese Rui Vilhena. “We have a lot of fighting ahead and have to take advantage of these opportunities (as Spike Lee does) and put his mouth into the world,” says Zezé.
For the filmmaker Joel Zito Araújo, director of A negação do Brasil (Denying Brazil), the distortion presented in the list of Oscar nominees is the fruit of the profile of voters of the Academy. Therefore, he considers interesting not only Lee’s protest but also the response of the institution. According to a survey done by the Los Angeles Times, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood now has 6,000 members. Of these, 94% are white, 77% men and 86% over 50 years of age.
For choreographer Rui Moreira, Brazil’s situation is worse than in Hollywood; here, he points out, the absence of black people among the “nominees and winners in a prize passes by unnoticed”
“These older generations not only don’t have eyes for diversity but are also reactive. All these changes in society, in their eyes, are seen as an aberration, undue pressure. They want to maintain the mentality of another era,” says Joel Zito.
Dean of Brazilian cinema, actor Milton Gonçalves has a different opinion from that of his peers. “We will not put this (the fact that no black had been nominated) as this prejudice. The American cinema and theater have always been very kind to black actors. This year not nominating any, it’s because there wasn’t a great movie with them (in it).”
Gonçalves said he’s more worried about Brazil. “In the US, the president is black and well liked. We never had a black president, or one close to it.” Dancer and choreographer Rui Moreira is another that brings the issue to the country. “It is interesting to note the absence of blacks in a grand prize causes manifestations around the world. In Brazil, one of the strongest black diasporas in the world, the lack of nominees and winners in a prize (theater or cinema) passes by unnoticed.”
A victim of racist attacks on Facebook, actress Taís Araújo praised Spike Lee’s the courage to propose, in the US, a boycott of the Oscars:
“I think Spike Lee is being courageous, because you’re messing with the market. However, it is logical that the director of a film like Do the Right Thing not remaining silent. That’s his cause, for which he fought a lifetime. They will honor him without placing a representative of his cause? I find it interesting that American radicalism, ‘Don’t represent me, I don’t consume’”
“Besides that, it’s impossible that there wasn’t a black actor with a good performance in film,” she said in an interview with columnist Sonia Racy.
She said the solution of the problem lies in education. “The policy of quotas is important, yes, even as an emergency measure. But it’s education for everyone that can change the country.”
Actor Luis Miranda says the Academy of Hollywood needs to make itself conscious. “(The lack of black nominees) is a disrespect not only to black actors, but to the artistic community as a whole.”
In this century, the Oscar was already white (or so white, as evidenced by hashtag #OscarsSoWhite) other times. The first, in 2001 (which gave the best film trophy for Gladiator, actor for Russell Crowe and actress Julia Roberts). The second, a decade later, it awarded The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth and Natalie Portman as best film, actor and actress.
The whitening of the highest award of the industry was still repeated in the 2015 edition. Selma (released as Selma – Uma luta pela igualdade in Brazil), a feature film on the historical peace march organized by Martin Luther King in 1965, competed for best picture. But even so none of its actors was nominated, nor its director, Ava Duvernay.
The last edition of the Oscar went down in history as one in which no black was nominated and no woman appeared in the categories of direction, script and photography. The most damning acceptance speeches – such as that of Patricia Arquette, voted best supporting actress – emphasized the differences between men and women in Hollywood.
The same Spike Lee who will boycott the awards in 2016 said in 2015, to the website The Daily Beast, that “whoever thought this year was going to be like last year is retarded.” He referred to the 2014 edition, which gave 12 years a Slave (12 Anos de Escravidão in Brazil) the major trophies.
It is also from Spike Lee from which one of the most notorious brawls in the industry came. In 2012, when Quentin Tarantino released Django (released as Django Livre in Brazil), the black filmmaker described as “disrespectful” the western set during the American Civil War. “Slavery in the United States was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western but a Holocaust. My ancestors were slaves stolen from Africa. I will honor them,” he added.
The controversy between the two filmmakers resurfaced in November when Tarantino was in Brazil to release The Hateful Eight (Os oito odiados in Brazil), currently in theaters. When asked if he would make a film with Lee, Tarantino, who plans to only direct two more films, said: “I only have two more movies to make. I will not spoil them with Spike Lee.”
Note from BW of Brazil: Let’s be honest here, perhaps the only thing that can be really celebrated here is the diasporic nature of black actors supporting each other. The sad thing is the fact that both the American and Brazilian situations show how little power artists of African descent really have. As we pointed out in the previous post on this story, Afro-Brazilians haven’t been able attain anywhere near the clout that African-Americans have in show business. But on the other hand, when considering the idea of true power, African-Americans come up with the short end of the stick in terms of having the force to really provoke change in the industry. Besides the fact that black American artists still depend so heavily on Hollywood finance and distribution to even have a chance for their work to be commercially available and/or successful, the other glaring detail here is that even having an African-American woman as president of the Academy had no influence on the whitewashing of the Oscars. Her position, like that of President Barack Obama, appears to be only that and doesn’t reveal who is in fact really running the show. Isaacs’s response is very typical of what someone says after being caught in a situation that garners negative publicity with the intent of actually doing little to nothing to change the situation. This extra detail simply re-enforces the point I made in the previous post: as long as black artists continue trying to push for recognition in events/things that are not owned and operated by themselves, these sorts of ‘blackouts’ will continue to happen and will be business as usual.
- Motta’s view should be understandable. The fact that a well-known actress who has been in the business for 50 years speaks volumes about the precarious position of Afro-Brazilian actors. Actress Solange Couto recently reflected on this topic and the number of times she has played a maid in her career.