Sasha Stone is hopping mad about the Academy’s older-white-guy bias and particularly the preferential voting system, instituted in 2011, which has seemed to encourage the selecting of compassionate, positive-minded, safe-wheelhouse default films for Best Picture — films that are largely about making white guys look good, she claims. The Golden Globe Awards and Critics Choice Awards (which are happening this evening by the way) are arguably more reflective of the culture at large, she argues, while the Oscar nominations mostly reflect the tastes of an elite fraternity of old, priveleged fellows. Guys who think a certain way and who want to applaud a certain kind of uplifting film…a lament we’ve been hearing for years.
Maybe so, but I deduced a long time ago that the overwhelmingly gray-haired makeup of the Academy (an L.A. Times survey determined that only about 14% of Academy membership is under 50) means that a certain laziness and lack of stamina is coloring everything. And for this older women are just as much to blame as older men.
Last year I became friendly with a smart, sophisticated, once-happening actress who had recently served on a SAG committee of some kind. Her basic attitude about seeing films was to not see them for the first nine to ten months of the year, she once told me, and then start paying attention in late October or November. On her own she never sought out well-reviewed flicks playing at the Sundance Cinemas or the West L.A. Landmark or the Royal. She never seemed to go to the Aero to see an occasional special revival or preview of something new. She just wrote her stage plays (a pretty good playwright) and watched television and walked her dog and hung with her friends through the winter, spring, summer and early fall.
And then, when duty called in the mid to late fall, she would begin to attend screenings or watch screeners now and then. Movies were not her passion or a way of life or even a source of once-a-month diversion. She saw them over the last two or three months every year so she could remain an active voter and an honorable SAG member. But she mainly seemed to regard new films as an energy-draining chore.
“The reason it’s harder for movies about unlikable characters to get into the Oscar race now is the preferential ballot,” Stone writes. “It’s really time for them to dump it and go back to five, or preferably a solid ten, just to overcome…the thing that is killing the Oscars from the inside out.” Academy members, she contends, “are selecting themselves out from the broader culture at large by sticking to the ‘Oscar Movie’ model which doesn’t reward daring, nor does it allow for them to reward films about the darker sides of the human experience.”
Stone’s wording is a little vague but I think she means that the Best Picture Oscar noms “have become, in effect, one big Stanley Kramer award for heroic films about heroic people.” The industry therefore feels “it must coddle, placate and enable their choices. They set certain movies aside for their older white-leaning voters and [otherwise] they go about their business [of] making films the public likes.”
The main problem, as I’ve been saying for years bow, is not old white guys much as older people in general who are more or less coasting along in their 60s, 70s and 80s and who haven’t worked very much, if at all, over the past two or three decades. Their votes have to weighted so that they don’t count as much as the votes of AMPAS members who are still working or even those who’ve worked with the last five or ten years.
Stone is also pissed that Ava DuVernay wasn’t handed a Best Director nomination for making a respectable, mostly sturdy film about the struggle to achieve voting rights legislation in 1965. But we’ll let that slide.