The lull between the Academy Awards nominations and the actual ceremony is about six weeks long, which allows for plenty of spilling of the proverbial (now “digital”) ink regarding the nominees, including opining on how 2016’s list of acting contenders could be as blindingly white as the previous year’s. Spike Lee has recently had his say which, along with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s, is a call to boycott the Oscars in protest of the lack of minority representation. But rather than focus solely on who is (and isn’t) recognized for their contributions to film in a given year, Lee would have us all scrutinize the film industry itself, which can limit opportunities for filmmakers and actors of color, which in turn results in fewer options from which the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences can choose to nominate (funny how that works).
Lee expressed his frustration at being one of the media’s most constant sources for an opinion on the underrepresentation of people of color in film, but at least some of that burden is shared by John Singleton. And the Boyz N The Hood director, who was the first black person nominated for the Best Director Oscar, is far more…charitable in his assessment of the nominees of the last two years. Talking to Variety, Singleton described a kind of embarrassment of cinematic riches, as recognition-worthy films will always outnumber the pertinent slots and categories that comprise the awards show. Although he noted that there are undoubtedly black actors, directors, and/or productions that might have “warranted” acknowledgement, Singleton said that the Academy’s voting has always been “subjective,” and that the proceedings are essentially a “lottery.”
The veteran director said he was neither fazed nor disappointed by the results, suggesting that a movie’s enduring appeal outweighs the golden statuette.
“Every year there’s at least a few films that don’t get nominated and you have all these films that do get nominated and then the films that aren’t nominated are elevated over time. Do The Right Thing never got nominated for best picture, but that year, nobody’s talking about Driving Miss Daisy anymore. Everybody’s still talking about Do The Right Thing.”
Singleton credited his abiding approach to Sidney Poitier who, around the time Boyz N The Hood was released, reassured him that instant recognition was no indication of a film’s lasting significance. And he ended the interview on an optimistic note: “The demographics of America and this business are changing. The Academy’s going to evolve. So I’m not really worried about it.”
Singleton’s tolerance for the Academy aside, he does appear to agree with Lee regarding a lack of representation. In a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Singleton echoed the Chi-Raq director’s exasperation over the stymied efforts of black filmmakers. Singleton criticized what he felt was the film studios’ stewardship of black culture, in which executives essentially tell black creators that “we’re going to take your stories but you know what, you’re going to go starve over here and we’re not going to let you get a job.” This is an issue that Singleton also raised in an op-ed for THR in 2013, so while he may not see eye-to-eye with Lee (and others) over the unbearable whiteness of the Oscars nominees, neither is he turning a blind eye to the film industry’s exclusionary tactics.