For Minorities, It’s Better to Have Deserving Oscar Nominees Than Token Lip Service

Oscars

There used to be a time when I went to the movies quite frequently. I was, at one point in my life, very active in seeing Hollywood’s greatest – and sometimes not-so-great – cinematic efforts as soon as they came out, simply for the entertainment value of it all (at that time, I was also working in radio, so I used it as fodder for my on-air commentary). Thus, I was at one time quite knowledgeable when it came down to the films that were nominated for the Academy Awards and the actors and directors that were put up in their particular categories.

As the years have gone by, however, I’ve gotten less tolerant of what goes on in movie theaters. Maybe it’s the price that is being paid to get into seeing these cinematic efforts. There was a time you could pay as little as $.50 to see a film that came out three months previous and, if it was in its first week of release, you could catch the matinee for $2.50 or $3; now, you can’t touch a film for under $7.50 in its first week and these bargain movie theaters don’t exist for the most part. Maybe it’s the concessions and the jacked-up prices there, maybe it’s the incivility of the people going to the movies…I’ve gotten to the point that I wait until the film I REALLY want to see comes to my house On Demand where I can sit with my microwave popcorn and my beverage of choice in my recliner and watch the movie (not to mention if I have to go to the bathroom, I just pause the film). Thus, my knowledge of the movie world isn’t quite as extensive as it has been in the past.

When the 2016 Academy Awards announced their nominees last week, I took note accordingly to potentially get some ideas for Movie Night with my lovely wife. Unfortunately, from looking at the Best Picture nominations, there aren’t many that will pass both of our stringent guidelines. Trumbo may be something that interests me (and thus might see Bryan Cranston’s Best Actor nominated role), but Lovely Wife may be interested in something along the lines of Joy or  Brooklyn (knocking off one of the Best Picture nominees and Jennifer Lawrence, who earned another Best Actress nomination). As you can see, the Movie Night decision is a difficult one in the Burton household (the last movie watched? Inside Out and don’t judge us…that was a more adult film than many you get out of Hollywood!).

The point being made here is that, from the glance over the list of nominees, there were some excellent choices made by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Some may tilt the head a bit at Mad Max:  Fury Road or The Martian, two films that were extremely popular with moviegoers, but this installment of the Mad Max franchise was a visually stunning and exhausting exercise for viewers while The Martian was a well told story. In the acting categories, there were no weak spots save for maybe the sentimental nomination of Sylvester Stallone in the Best Supporting Actor category for bringing back his iconic boxer Rocky Balboa in Creed (he’s probably also the favorite, however). The one thing I didn’t think of was “Who do I drop so that some minority actors can get into the mix? What film do I eliminate so that a minority film gets some attention?”

Most of the attention after the announcement of the nominees for the Oscars has been the factor that, over the five major awards (Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress and, hell, let’s throw in Best Director just for shits and giggles), no minority actor – and, in particular, no black actors – were nominated for any of the awards. This was a point brought up by the host of this year’s Oscars telecast, comedian Chris Rock, who Tweeted that the Oscars had become “the White BET Awards.”

While that was probably meant half funny/half serious, what has happened since has been all serious. The wife of actor Will Smith (who himself has supposedly done some great work in the movie Concussion as the doctor who discovered CTE in pro football players – I only say supposedly because I haven’t seen the film), Jada Pinkett-Smith, went on a tirade about how black actors should boycott the Academy Awards ceremonies over the lack of “diversity in nominations.” For his part, director Spike Lee has jumped on the bandwagon also, saying that he will not attend as a protest over the situation.

A boycott or protest are completely unnecessary on several aspects. First, the head of the AMPAS has noted that the organization is in the midst of changing its membership and, as that takes time, seismic shifts aren’t going to happen overnight. In an announcement following Pinkett-Smith’s hissy fit, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone said “dramatic steps” were being taken to “alter the makeup of our membership” to become more diverse, but more time was needed. The average member of AMPAS is a white male that is 62 years of age so, yes, it needs some changes. Boone and those in charge are sharp to realize this and some time has to be given to be able to make those changes.

Second, would you rather have token actors and/or directors on the list rather than those who actually did outstanding work? When Denzel Washington and Halle Berry swept the Best Actor trophies in 2002, they were the most outstanding actors in film that year. When the movie 12 Years a Slave and actor Lupita Nyong’o won Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress in 2013, they were the best in those respective fields that year. I would rather see people nominated when they arguably deserve the nomination, not just because they are of a particular racial background.

Sure, there were some great performances this year by black actors (and, since this seems to be where much of the screaming is coming from, let’s focus here). The movie Straight Outta Compton was one of the bigger success stories of the year (grossing $188 million by the end of 2015, the best in the history of musical biopics), but which person gets the Best Actor nomination from the five men who performed as the rap group N.W.A. (as an aside, one of my favorite actors from Leverage, Aldis Hodge, was a part of that group)? O’Shea Jackson, Jr., might be the logical choice, but he was simply playing his father, Ice Cube, not a huge leap in any stretch.

Then there’s John Boyega, who is the British actor currently starring in the final three installments of the Star Wars franchise, starting with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, as Finn. Now, since I haven’t seen this film as of yet, I have to go on reports that say he has done an outstanding job of portraying a Stormtrooper whose loyalties are strained, and this may well be deserving of an acting nomination. But did you see how many Academy Award nominations that Star Wars:  The Force Awakens got overall? Five nominations are great for a film, but all were in technical categories, none of them in any acting categories.

There’s also some other well-known black actors, such as Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Will Smith (Concussion), Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and Latin actor/director Benicio del Toro (Sicario), who weren’t chosen for their roles on screen in 2016. I don’t believe that they are being slighted in any way due to their skin tone or racial background. It more than likely is due to a certain snootiness of Oscar voters – who will often go for “artistic” films rather than “popular” ones when it comes to the Academy Awards – more so than any conspiracy over skin color.

Finally, there’s the simple logic of the numbers. Most of the films that come out of Hollywood feature actors that are Caucasians. In a study in 2014 from the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, only 10.5% of the 172 films that were released in 2011 featured minorities in lead roles. The study found that many of those films were comedies, such as efforts from noted black director Tyler Perry, and films like the action flick Fast Five, not exactly the fare that Academy Award voters are considering. Furthermore, more than half the films (51.2%) featured a cast that was 10% minority or less, the study found. You’d like to think that, by this point, it might have gotten better, but apparently not to the point where it would have an impact on the nominations.

What is the answer to the lack of minority nominees for the Academy Awards? Simply time and the proper vehicles. The more diverse that AMPAS becomes, perhaps the more diverse the nominee list will become also. Additionally, when there are more quality films for minority actors and directors to take part in – instead of movies like White Chicks – then perhaps the attention of AMPAS will be attracted. Either way, it isn’t a situation that will be fixed overnight.

Jade Helm 15 a Conspiracy Theory With No Basis in Fact

When Hollywood puts together a movie or television show, the better ones always have some basis in fact or reality. No matter the genre – horror, suspense, action, romcom, etc. – the closer to reality it is, the more impact it has on the viewing audience. In many cases, it is because it MIGHT have a chance of happening or it is factually feasible to someone or something that makes the thrills, scares or emotional investment viscerally important to people. The same thing can be said books; although some (alongside their acting brethren) do like to be removed to a fantasyland that allows the brain to take a pause, the more realistic a book is in the mind of the reader, the more of an impact it will have.

In many ways – possibly because they are works of fiction created by someone’s mind – the multitude of conspiracy theories that abound in today’s world fall into the same category that Hollywood’s best cinematic, theatric and episodic efforts reside in that they sometimes need just a flake of truth to them to be believable. Without the slimmest of possibilities that it could actually happen, conspiracy theories often die an ignoble death or, at best, find a life in the alternate history genre.

Before we dive into the latest example of the conspiracy theory concept, we have to look at why conspiracy theories abound. What is it about conspiracy theories that draw people in? Why do conspiracy theories continually pop up in society? What should be done if they’re false claims? These are all good questions and we’ll start at the beginning.

The thing about conspiracy theories that draw people in is the desire by humanity to understand their conditions for existence. For humans it is highly desirable to know that the sun comes up in the morning, sets in the evening and it will do the same thing tomorrow. It can be highly desirable to believe that good always vanquishes evil, right triumphs over wrong and all is copacetic with the world when they lay their head on the pillow at night. These desires, if not met, can cause otherwise normal people to concoct an alternate reality that fits into their desired existence.

For example, let’s take a look at one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all-time, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. People who saw the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, couldn’t believe that such a “small” person could be responsible for taking down the most powerful leader on Earth. To help their minds cope with this, many dredged up scenarios that helped their minds to make sense of the situation:  the Cubans were involved because of the Bay of Pigs fiasco; the Chicago and Miami arms of La Cosa Nostra joined forces with the Central Intelligence Agency to do the deed; the Russians (for being shown up in the Cuban Missile Crisis)…the list goes on. For many, believing that these powerful and mysterious bodies killed the President of the United States made more sense than a single man who was allegedly an awful shooter picking off the President from the window of a building as he drove by in a limousine.

As the world draws closer together, it also becomes much more difficult to explain; this causes an increase in conspiracy theories in society. Whereas 30-40 years ago it would have been unheard of for some of the actions that, for example, the twenty 9/11 terrorists took – training for over two to three years and immersing yourself in a foreign culture for what would eventually be a suicide mission – today those jihadists have the spiritual, emotional and “obligation to duty” wherewithal to pull off these horrendous acts. It would be easier for some to force up a story that the attacks of 14 years ago were the work of a “shadow world government” or even our own political leadership (to push us closer to a military state and allow for those in power to take more of it) rather than to believe a group of people could even get close to the destruction that occurred on 9/11.

Recently one of those “conspiracy theories” came to a close and it gives us an opportunity to look at how we should handle those that promote them when they are proven to be untrue. On Tuesday, the military exercises known as Jade Helm 15 came to a close after eight weeks of operations across the Southwestern United States. Troops from every branch of the U. S. Armed Forces spread across several states, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Colorado (if I left you out, don’t feel bad), to train in terrain, temperatures and combat situations that they would be facing in the Middle East. This training is much like what U. S. Marines do with their amphibious landings off the coast of North Carolina or Virginia or the U. S. Navy or Air Force does with bombing runs or aerial combat in the deserts of Death Valley or Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

This time, however, a preconceived “conspiracy theory” was developed, by which jackass nobody knows. The “conspiracy theory” promoted by these brain-dead individuals was that the federal government, under the auspices of the Muslim king Barack Obama, was going to take over Texas and put it under government martial law. To achieve this goal, the training exercise “Jade Helm” was the cover to allow armed troops to move freely across the Southwest, picking up “true patriots” and putting them into “internment camps.” These “internment camps” were linked by underground tunnels between closed Wal-Mart stores, which the Walton Family (a dastardly part of the conspiracy due to their complicit involvement in the New World Order) had donated to the government for this exact purpose. Once martial law was in place, King Barack would “eliminate” any opposition through mass executions or reeducation programs.

Hopefully you were able to read through that mass of crazy…

The first inklings of this story worthy of Hollywood bubbled up in meetings of the County Commissioners of Bastrop, TX, where “concerned citizens” forced their way to the front of the meetings demanding answers from their elected officials. Were they a part of the conspiracy to enslave their constituents? Were they letting the feds “take over?” Even after bringing in a highly decorated Army officer to explain the situation, people still believed the “conspiracy theory” rather than the logical explanations provided by some in government and the military men who met with them.

The story took on a life of its own when other idiots began to pump it ad nauseam. In the media, conspiracy wacko Alan Jones was the major driver of the short bus, pushing the gruel of misinformation to the point where there was no tinfoil left in the H-E-B’s located around the Lone Star State. Then former actor Chuck Norris – yes, Walker, Texas Ranger himself – fanned the ignorance flames by saying that the exercises could be related to an attack by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. Most special about Norris is that, to mainstream media, he tried to say he had been misquoted, but to other members of the Insanity Posse he repeated his beliefs.

While these two men made some extremely idiotic statements regarding the federal government and our U. S. troops and their exercises, they have to be cut a little slack. Both are preening celebrity members of society, not news correspondents, reporters or respected anchors that are expected to be held to a high standard (Brian Williams, anybody?). While both Jones and Norris have sizeable followings, they often have to carve up some red meat for them to nosh on to keep them around, listening and contributing millions to their bank accounts for bullshit “survival” items or trying to maintain their relevance that disappeared 25 years ago.

The problem comes when the adults in the room – the elected officials who run the governments – fail to meet their responsibilities. First on the list is now-Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who ordered the Texas Guard (not the Texas National Guard, a branch of the U. S. Armed Forces, but a special militia under the auspices of the Governor of the state) to “monitor the Jade Helm exercises.” Eventually outrage – including the statement “Why are you pandering to idiots?” uttered to his face – forced Abbott to reexamine his stance and the Texas Guard didn’t head out into the field.

Not one but THREE members of our current Presidential campaign also bought into the conspiracy. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that Obama was going to allow IS terrorists into the U. S. during the exercises to allow for more upheaval, being sure to express that nothing like this would happen under “President” Perry’s watch (he dropped out last week, ending that dream for the second time in four years). Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz both opined on the subject, with Cruz saying he thought that the exercises weren’t nefarious but that the President wasn’t “trustworthy” and could pull something along the invasion line and Paul saying he “wasn’t sure” what was going on with the exercises. Finally, another member of Congress, current Texas Representative Louie Gomert, said the exercises were meant to be the vehicle for Obama to target “right wing conservatives” by declaring certain states “enemies” of his administration.

You can give hucksters and entertainers such as Jones and Norris leeway, but you cannot give sitting elected officials, members of Congress or people who wish to be the leader of this nation carte blanche to say whatever they want and inspire the imbecilic minds of some people to take action (there were three men arrested in North Carolina who were looking to stop the “Jade Helm” exercises by attacking a military base in the state and, in Mississippi, don’t forget about the disturbed man who drove by bases firing a rifle at them). At the minimum, these elected officials should be forced to apologize to the elected officials that they’ve slandered with their words. In particular, they need to apologize to those troops that they supposedly love so much that they thought they would take over their state. At the maximum – and I am looking at Abbott, Paul, Cruz and Gomert here – they should be officially sanctioned by their appropriate legislative bodies (but that isn’t going to happen because their party controls both houses). All should look in a fucking mirror and wonder how far that they’ve sunk that they would fall for what was an extremely easy “conspiracy theory” to decipher rather than fall into.

Part of intelligent dialogue – whether in debate or other discussion about particular subjects – is being able to sift the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. In this case, it means garnering the useful kernels of information (military exercises are necessary for a well-prepared armed forces, the government has to have some place to train, etc.) from the brainless meanderings of those that are the product of a lobotomy class. Once that is done, then a lucid conclusion can be reached. The “Jade Helm” exercises were a perfect example of a segment of society that has been left to run amok and, rather than use rational thought and reason to figure out what is happening, latch onto something that only serves to exacerbate their fears and not aid in any way reaching a logical conclusion.

Will the advent of “conspiracy theories” go away? Hell, no! There are those out there that see the boogeyman behind every tree, under every doorstep and in the halls of governments around the world. There is also no way to alleviate these unfortunate individuals pain, either; it just has to rot them from the inside until maintaining the many “conspiracy theories” leave them but a former shell of themselves rather than a functioning member of society.