Oscars Pass Over People of Color
By Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times
It's a wonder that the security guards at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn't stop Mo'nique and make her show ID when she arrived to help announce the Oscar nominations early Tuesday at the organization's Beverly Hills headquarters. After all, she was the only person of color involved with the extravaganza, since the 83rd annual Oscar nominations have the dubious distinction of being an all-white affair.
Setting aside the more obscure, technical categories, when it comes to the best picture award along with the major nominations for acting, writing and directing, there are, ahem, zero people of color in the Oscar race this year.
There are so few significant African-American characters in any of the 10 films nominated for best picture that comedian Aziz Ansari did a bit about it at the Producers Guild Awards on Saturday night, wondering why there couldn't have been at least one black kid checking his Facebook account in "The Social Network," adding that things were so white that in "127 Hours," when James Franco's hiker character cuts off his arm, it doesn't even turn black.
It's hard not to notice how few minorities had any visible roles in this year's most lauded films. "The Social Network" offers us a virtually lilywhite Harvard; "The Fighter" is set in a oh-so-white, blue-collar Boston neighborhood; "The King's Speech" depicts an all-white, upper-crust, 1930s-era London; "Toy Story 3," like most Pixar films, is set in a fantasy suburbia without any obvious references to minorities; while "True Grit" takes us back to the Old West, where the only black faces I can remember seeing are that of a manservant and a stable boy.
And if you're wondering about lead actor nominee Javier Bardem, he's from Spain.
The fault lies not with the academy, which has in recent years happily given out the occasional statuette to a black actor or actress lucky enough to get a big part in a serious film. Mo'Nique was on hand Tuesday morning because she won for supporting actress last year for her role in "Precious," a film made by Lee Daniels, an African-American filmmaker. Forest Whitaker won a lead actor Oscar in 2007 for "The Last King of Scotland," and Halle Berry won a lead actress Oscar in 2002 for "Monster's Ball" on the same night Denzel Washington won lead actor for "Training Day."
You can argue that some minorities have been snubbed, starting with Spike Lee, who's never been nominated for a directing award, not even for landmark films such as "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." But the Oscars reflect what's happening in the marketplace. And the cold truth is that black talent rarely receives Oscar opportunities because it works in one of the most minority-free industries in America.
Two African-American coaches have faced off in the Super Bowl. Black coaches have won NBA championships. A black man has served on the Supreme Court, been a senator, an astronaut, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, won a Pulitzer Prize and - oh, yes - is currently serving as president of the United States. But if you look at the people who make the decisions about what movies are made in Hollywood, you'd have to look far and wide to find any prominent African-American or Latino executives.
There are no studio chairmen or heads of production who are black or Latino. In fact, there are barely any people of color in any high-level positions at any major studio, talent agency or management firm. When I asked a couple of reporter pals to name the most powerful black executive in town, a lot of head-scratching ensued before we decided that the person with the most clout was probably James Lassiter, Will Smith's longtime business partner and production company chief.
Smith has plenty of juice in town, with every studio salivating at the chance to make his next project. But he's an anomaly and largely more interested in making commercial movies than Oscar-oriented fare (although he has twice been nominated for an acting Oscar).
Of last year's top-grossing films, only one in the top 40 was directed by anyone of color, "The Book of Eli," which starred Washington and was directed by the Hughes Brothers. Tyler Perry had two films in the Top 100 box-office grossers domestically, but like most films with African-American casts, they made virtually no money overseas, which is where Hollywood increasingly looks for its profits.
What does this have to do with the Oscars? The films that end up being Academy Award nominees are usually labors of love and rarely feature the kind of easily accessible action heroes or broadly comic characters that suit a studio's bottom-line sensibility. If you don't have a person of color in the room where the decision-making happens, fervently arguing why a film should be brought into the world, it's awfully hard for a project revolving around African-American characters to emerge with a greenlight or any substantial financial backing.
Black and Latino actors can get parts as soldiers in an action film or comic sidekicks in a comedy, but when it comes to the kind of dramatic roles that attract Oscar attention, they need a lucky break, like the one Mo'Nique got from having a black filmmaker making the casting choices. Or the one Jennifer Hudson got, with her role in "Dreamgirls" established on the stage. Or the one Morgan Freeman got, landing a Oscar nomination last year as Nelson Mandela in "Invictus," because he has a long track record of working with Clint Eastwood.
Hollywood is usually impervious to embarrassment, but perhaps this is one of those signal moments when the industry should engage in a little soul-searching about the image it projects to the outside world. At Oscar time, the spotlight is on show business, which in an increasingly multicultural country turns out to be a business that is just as white on the outside as it is on the inside.
Patrick Goldstein: firstname.lastname@example.org
INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: Sundance & Intelligent Filmmaking
By Stacey Parks, pre-conference speaker at NALIP's 2011 National Conference THE NEW NOW. You can read more of Stacey's wisdom, plus take her online workshops and resources, at FilmSpecific.com.
"Buyers and sellers said the indie business is past its painful bottoming-out phase of the last few years. A leaner, smarter model has emerged and while minimum guarantees and P&A commitments are smaller than years past, filmmakers are keeping their budgets at sensible levels."
I read this quote yesterday about what's happening at Sundance Film Festival and was as excited as you probably are to see that the worst is behind us. But the part that stuck with me most is the part that says filmmakers are keeping their budgets sensible. What does that mean exactly? Well let's break that down....
Remember how I said in a previous post how I'm bored with Distribution? Well one reason why is because by the time you get to the Distribution phase you're in reactionary mode. The film has been made, any damage has been done, and now you're left to deal with what you've got and what if there are no takers? Versus..... when you're in the Pre-Production stage and you still have a chance to 'back into' your budget and craft your film specifically for distribution. This is what I call Intelligent Filmmaking.
Intelligent Filmmaking = Sensible Budgets + 'Third Way' Distribution Strategy
From Prada to Nada in Theaters this Friday, Jan. 28
Don't miss From Prada to Nada - a Latina twist to the classic Jane Austen novel "Sense and Sensibility" - opening in theaters this Friday, Jan. 28. The film stars Camilla Belle, Alexa Vega, Wilmer Valderrama, Kuno Becker and Academy Award nominee Adriana Barraza.
From Prada to Nada follows two spoiled sisters when they are left penniless after the sudden death of their father. Forced to move in with their estranged aunt in East Los Angeles, this is a fish-out-of-water story where the girls ultimately find romance, as well as a love for their culture.
Watch the trailer on the film's website, or visit its Facebook page for updates.
From Prada to Nada is the debut film of Pantelion Films, the new venture between Televisa and Lionsgate. The film is directed by Angel Gracia and co-written by Fina Torres, Luis Alfaro and Craig Fernandez.
Call for Scripts: Performing 1070 Short-Play Festival
New Carpa Theater Company in Phoenix, Arizona, is soliciting short-play scripts, monologues, play excerpts and performance pieces, 5 to 10 minutes long, to be presented as a part of the "Performing 1070 Short-Play Festival" to be held March 30 and April 1 at Arizona State University West as part of the 8th Annual Border Justice event and on the grounds of the Arizona State Capitol.
All plays/performance pieces submitted should speak to the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 or related topics and the impact on immigrants and our current and longstanding national debate of the issue. The submission deadline is midnight, February 18, 2011.
General Guidelines and Information:
- All scripts must be typed and delivered via e-mail to email@example.com or mailed to New Carpa Theater Co., 15017 S. 28th Street, Phoenix, AZ. Please not send original copies of your scripts. Submissions cannot be returned. (Sorry, we don't have the budget or the staff.)
- Play excerpts (5 to 10 minutes long) will be considered. Plays may be submitted in English or Spanish.
- Eight to 10 short plays/performance pieces will be selected for staging on the evening of March 30 at ASU West and at the State Capitol, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on April 1, 2011. (Additional local and national performances may be scheduled.)
- Playwrights retain all rights to their work.
- A five-member panel of local playwrights/writers/producers will select the plays to be performed.
- A team of local actors, directors and crew will be assembled to stage the plays -- though playwrights/producers have the option of making advance arrangements to provide their own crew and performers. Set and costuming will be minimal.
- None of the theater artists, crew or producers will receive compensation or royalties.
- Please note that the performances at the Arizona State Capitol will be staged outdoors and will be open to the general public.
A Message from New Carpa Theater Co.
The purpose of this short-play festival is to highlight the effects of a series of draconian, state-based immigration-related legislation enacted or proposed in Arizona over the past decade, culminating in the signing of SB 1070 by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. This is a non-partisan, grassroots, community-based theater project designed to provide theater and performance artists an opportunity to express their views on one of the most compelling human and civil rights issues of our time. -- James E. Garcia, Producing Artistic Director, New Carpa Theater Co., NewCarpa.org
Tom Malloy's Film Financing Seminar, Feb. 19
Tom Malloy, author of "Bankroll: A New Approach to Financing Feature Films," is giving a $39 seminar at Raleigh Studios on February 19, 9am to 4pm to celebrate his 2nd Edition of Bankroll! Produced by From the Heart Productions at this discounted price, there will be NEW topics covered, such as Finding "Vested Interest" Investors, Funding Documentaries, and the return of Section 181!
You will learn:
How to Attract Investors for Your Feature or Doc!
Where to Find Investors for Your Feature or Doc!
How to Prep Your Project!
How to Make Sure You Have a Killer Script!
How to Find Distributors!
How to Find Sales Agents!
How to Get Attachments!
How to Set up an Operating Agreement!
How to Make a Business Plan!
The State of The Film Industry!
...and So Much More!
Click here to view a PDF flyer with more information, and register online here.
Tom has just completed the documentary The Inner Weigh with Dr. Dave Smiley, a student from one of Tom's Speeches!
Any questions, call Carole Dean 805-984-0098.