I love movies.
I love stories, really, but movies have a special place in my heart. With books and TV shows, for example, I have to make frequent decisions on whether I should keep reading or watching. This episode’s done…should I watch the next? Or, I want to read the next chapter, but I should probably write, or run, or eat a sandwich.
That’s the magic of movies: I pay money, I go into the theater, and I sit there until the lights come up and I’m forced to leave.
For somewhere between 90 and 150 minutes, I have no decisions to make. I just watch.
I love this feeling so much, that I go to the movie theater multiple times a week. I watch movies at night, but I also watch them in the morning and afternoon. I watch them on double dates, regular dates, or by myself. I once watched a Winnie the Pooh movie (I thought it was an adult Winnie the Pooh movie, but I was mistaken) at 10 p.m. in an otherwise empty theater — just me and my man-beard. The movie kind of sucked, but I stayed because that’s how much I love movies.
As a result of this love, the Oscars end up being a night I look forward to. I see all the movies ahead of time (like, seriously, nearly all of them — not just the Best Picture nominees — I even saw all 15+ of the Oscar-nominated shorts this year). My friends and I have one of those Oscar-winners betting pools. (I won, but some of my friends are lame and we don’t bet money on it. Still, though — a win’s a win.)
For quite a few years, people have been noting the lack of diversity at the Oscars. I beleive “OscarsSoWhite” is the hashtag, and I couldn’t agree more. When there’s only one person of color out of the 20 nominated for acting awards, that seems screwy — particularly when the Best Movie of the Year ONLY had people of color in it. Like…maybe nominate some of them?
But this year, I heard a different version of the complaint from a lot of my friends and social media acquaintances. Though, the difference is small-ish, I think it misses the problem and causes additional problems. The quote I heard a lot this year was something like this:
“There are too many movies about white men!”
Before I continue, I should clarify two things:
1) I am — somewhat inconveniently, for this argument — a white man.
2) I’m writing a book about myself, who — as mentioned above — happens to be a white man. So…clearly I have a horse in this race and hope people of any ethnicity or gender will find at least a little value in the stories I create.
I think what we mean to say instead of “There are too many movies about white men!” is something like this:
“There are not enough movies about African Americans, and women, and Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people, and Asians, and American Indians, and disabled people, and (I’m afraid to stop without getting everyone…but also the point is there’s no reason to stop because…)…
It’s really important we hear stories from as many voices as want to say something. To me, accomplishing that isn’t about shutting other people up. It’s about empowering others to tell their stories, and giving them a platform on which to create their stories, and then working our asses off to make sure our local theaters know we want to view those stories.
I get it. There are so many movies about white people in World War I. (Don’t even get me started on World War II, amirite?) But c’mon…a grandpa used to tell his grandson personal stories about one of the most desperate times in human history. That grandson happened to be Sam Mendes, and those stories happened to be incredible (and pushed cinematography in a direction we didn’t even know was possible). Why wouldn’t we want Sam Mendes to tell a story so dear to his heart? Even if that heart happened to be beating for a white male.
I get it. Two white people getting a divorce. It’s been done. But the hours of debate so many of us have had after watching Marriage Story — did filmmaker, Noah Baumbach treat each character equally? did he push us toward liking one character more than the other? are either of these characters good people? are they both good people? — was, I thought, a masterpiece on how hard it is to be the good person we aspire to be when life gets fucked up.
(It’s also worth noting that while Mendes, Baumbach and Tarantino share the same skin color in a hypothetical world in which there are only three skin colors, their backgrounds, experiences and voices are very different. And the more difference we can get, the better.)
WHAT CAN WE DO?
This year felt like one of the strongest years for movies in a long time. And, while the Best Picture nominees weren’t the most diverse, I do think it was a strong group. Do I wish Uncut Gems was in? Yes. Do I wish Queen & Slim was in? Very much yes. Clemency? Ohmygawd yes. Do I wish Jojo Rabbit was out? Kind of yes. (But this is the thing — it’s art, it’s subjective, and we can disagree!)
But I don’t think the answer is to stop making movies like Jojo Rabbit, or 1917, or Marriage Story, or Ford v. Ferrari. The answer is to make sure more movies by marginalized groups are being created. Imagine there was a world in which Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was NOT nominated for Best Picture. That can happen because a) the movie wasn’t made; b) the movie wasn’t as good; or c) better movies were made that didn’t exist in our current world.
Why would we root for A and B? What good does that do?
But, holy moly, if a movie as strong as Tarantino’s didn’t get a nomination because there were other voices creating better films? Well that would be good news for everyone (except possibly Quentin Tarantino, in this particular case).
So instead of A and B, let’s push for C. Instead of saying, “I’m sick and tired of seeing movies by white people,” let’s be proactive and get more movies by other people in front of our eyeballs. Here a few possibilities I can think of:
- Let’s donate to organizations that support future and current minority storytellers! Here are seven national organizations right here. Here’s one for women filmmakers. You can donate to New Orleans’ Black Film Festival, or to NOVAC — which works to make our local digital media community a more diverse one.
- We need to keep an eye on what movies are being released (here’s a list for 2020, but I think we also have to cast a wider net than this list allows — this one‘s a little better.), and then we need to send emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls to our favorite local theaters to make sure they’ll be showing the movies we want to see, and to let them know there’ll be an audience excited to see them. How many of us went to see Harriet this year? Queen & Slim? Clemency? We can be better audience members.
- We don’t have a huge impact on who votes for movie awards, but obviously this has a big impact on the back-end. The Oscars say that they recently increased the number of voting Academy members to 9,226 members. With the additions, 32% of Academy members will be female (up from 25% in 2015) and 16% will be people of color (up from 8% in 2015). That’s good improvement, but nowhere near representative. So there’s still lots of work to do here. I preferred Adam Driver’s performance in Marriage Story over Eddie Murphy’s in Dolemite is my Name. There’s nothing wrong with me having that opinion, but I’m biased. Everyone is. That’s why we need to have a more diverse selection committee — so our biases are balanced.
So let’s do our small part to get more great movies from a wider range of people in front of a broader audience! I’d love to see more great movies from white men, and black men, and black women, and white women, and everyone else under the sun who has something they’d like to say.
If you have suggestions on how to do that, I’d love to hear it. Please post it in the comments section, and thank you for reading!