I’m writing today to talk about race. That’s a daunting task for many reasons – the first is that while I am passionate about matters around social justice, I’m hardly an expert. I’m not well-read on the subject, I’ve never taken a class – but more than anything I am a white guy in his 20’s. Well, I’m Jewish, but generally that is the same thing in our modern society. I’ve never experienced real injustice and it would take a lot for me to truly understand the difficulties experienced by those who have. I can write all I want about these topics, but ultimately listening to me white-splain race is going to be at-best boring and possibly infuriating. So instead I’ll make fun of other white people who did it poorly.
Anyone who is woke (I don’t claim to be, but I try) knows that representation has been a huge issue in the movie business for a long time, but it’s finally getting mainstream attention in the fallout to all the #OscarsSoWhite outrage (if you’re not familiar, for the second year in a row all 20 acting nominees are white – super white). Apart from holding up 12 Years a Slave‘s Best Picture win a few years ago (aka the “my best friend is black” defense), supporters of the Academy Awards haven’t had much of a leg to stand on in terms of backing up the list of nominees. This problem is hardly restricted to the Oscars, but Hollywood’s pervasiveness makes this as good a place to strive for change as any.
Well it turns out not everyone is so on-board and for some reason today was a banner day for identifying oneself as such. From a radio interview on BBC this morning, Michael Caine (from Austin Powers in Goldmember) shared his thoughts on the controversy and the fact that a number of actors of color are preparing to boycott the ceremony at the end of February. “You can’t vote for an actor because he’s black,” Caine said, “You’ve got to give a good performance, and I’m sure there were very good [performances].” Poor choice of words definitely, but Michael’s heart seems to be in the right place here, and he actually seems surprised that Idris Elba wasn’t nominated for his turn in Beasts of No Nation. But then he continues: “Be patient. Of course it will come. It took me years to get an Oscar.” The “be patient” thing is a super easy quote to pass around (and it has been) and it speaks to Caine’s privileged misunderstanding of the whole issue, as if black people as a whole just started acting a few years ago and aren’t willing to pay their dues in the industry. It’s a crazy statement from an old man, which I don’t say to excuse the fact that he said it – when popular public figures say such things it is damaging, whether they reflect what the person truly believes or not.
But what about when you’re not as well-know as Alfred from The Dark Knight? British actress Charlotte Rampling (from Dexter, after everyone stopped watching it) gave an interview on a French radio program around the same time as Caine, during which the same subject was brought up. Rampling said some similar things about actors needing to deliver performances strong enough to be nominated, but presumably wasn’t content just to match Caine’s willful ignorance. When the backlash was brought up she called it (based on the translation going around) “racist to whites.” Oh no. Charlotte. No no no. There is no such thing as racism against white people! White people have everything! Too much, in fact. Rampling is nominated for Best Actress for her performance in 45 Years, and she is a major factor behind why that movie ended up at number two in my 2015 top ten list – I was really bummed to read her asinine comments. Maybe they came from a place of self-preservation as she probably knows she squeaked into that category and would likely be the first bumped in favor of a non-white actress as an alternative, but that’s hardly sound reasoning behind saying what she said. The silver lining is that Rampling isn’t notable enough for her comments to get much traction among individuals who might agree with them, however they will probably hurt her already slim chances of winning the award. I don’t care anymore, that’s her problem.
As if the younger members of the acting community were worried that their elders were getting all of the attention, Julie Delpy (who I legitimately love for her work in Richard Linklater’s Before movies) came to their rescue. During a panel at the Sundance Film Festival Delpy said “there’s nothing worse than being a woman in this business,” following it up with “I sometimes wish I were African American.” I don’t bring this up to minimize the hardships experienced by any women (the way Delpy just did to the black community), but just to point out how stupid all of these actors are being. Delpy is clearly conscious of social issues to some extent, but can’t help herself from saying something incredibly ill-advised. No one’s inequalities are going to be made better by trying to elevate them above others. It is once again misguided, once again harmful, and clearly Delpy has no regard or awareness of the concept of intersectionality.
Luckily for all of us the Academy didn’t get a chance to hear the comments made by Caine, Rampling, and Delpy, otherwise they might have changed their mind about altering their policies. Instead they responded to the large outcry (though let’s be real, they mostly responded to George Clooney’s outcry) by announcing huge reforms in their membership policies with the goal of accommodating greater inclusion by 2020. It probably won’t fix the problem overnight, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, actors shouldn’t talk, and interviewers should stop asking them about this subject – though I doubt any publications regret the page views these stories have generated for them today (probably won’t do me much good). Plus there are plenty of other people in the industry willing to make racist comments for them, such as Schindler’s List producer Gerald Molen, who called the protesters “spoiled brats.” See Charlotte Rampling – you don’t have to say stupid shit. Keep your racism to yourself until you die and just let me like you. It’s not that hard.
White European Actors Saying Racist Stuff gets one out of five Anti-Oscars: