#OscarsSoWhite – Black History Month

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In honour of February being Black History Month – a time where we celebrate Black culture, shed light on and stand in solidarity with the Black community on Black issues, and recognize the strength and resilience of the Black community and its history – I thought it would be prudent to talk about a recent issue on hand that is affecting the Black community.

#OscarsSoWhite

For those of you out of the loop with Hollywood-related issues, or simply for those of you who don’t know, there has been significant controversy surrounding the annual Academy Awards Ceremony. The Academy Awards (“Oscars”) has been a night of celebration and recognition of actors, actresses, directors, producers, and motion pictures. It has been an opportunity to acknowledge the success of such people and such projects and has been a way to encourage the film industry to continue producing quality creative content for its viewers.

I would like to say that this issue is recent but if we’re being quite honest, this has been an issue for several years. That issue being: There is a significant lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially, the Academy Awards. #OscarsSoWhite is a campaign initiated to urge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be more inclusive in their acknowledgements and recognitions. It is a movement for diversification and equity – it is a movement to urge a very influential platform to facilitate an industry that accurately represents its target audience. This year – quite similar to last year – all 20 actors who have been nominated for lead and supporting acting categories are white. Significantly “Black” films are only recognized for a white actor within that film.

For example: Creed, whereby Michael B. Jordan (a black actor) was the lead role throughout the whole movie as he played Apollo Creed’s son, is only being recognized for Sylvestor Stallone (a white actor) and its screenwriters who also happen to be white, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. It seems quite ludicrous that a movie where a black actor is the clear lead throughout the entire movie is not being acknowledged, but his white co-star is being recognized, as well as the movie’s white screenwriters.

To give you even more context, in the last 88 years that the Academy Awards have been an established industry, only 14 black actors have actually won an Oscar, one of them being Lupita Nyong’o for her role in 12 Years a Slave. Only 5 Latina actors have one in the last 88 years as well and quite disappointingly, only one Indigenous acting winner (Ben Johnson for his role in The Last Picture Show in 1972). Furthermore, the Academu Awards Industry is made up of 94% white voters and 77% males.

It has always been clear that movies have misrepresented minorities for so many years. You have white actors playing black/Asian/Latino/Indigenous people. You have a predominantly white industry who is seemingly in charge of whether or not you get recognized for the hard work that you do, and will no doubt have a bias for their own kind. You have a completely un-diverse industry who is only willing to shed light on “white excellence” while Black excellence takes a back seat. It’s backwards, it’s completely un-progressive, and it’s disheartening to be misrepresented and unrecognized on such a public and popular platform.

Change has to start. This is such an influential platform and the more we emphasize visibility and diversification, the more society will mimic such ways and adopt such ideologies. We have to challenge white dominance and privilege, which seems such a strange thing to say in 2016, but don’t think for a second that we’ve overcome racism just because it’s not as apparent and “in your face” as it was in the 50s. We have come a long way but there is so much more work to do. I encourage you to look into the #OscarsSoWhite issue; get educated and be aware. Stand in solidarity with one another and fight for what’s right. This is so much more than movies at this point; this is about equity and unification as a global society.

Will you be boycotting the Oscars this year? #OscarsSoWhite

Resource: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2016/02/02/oscars-academy-award-nominations-diversity/79645542/

Picture this…

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Picture this…

You have just found a seat in the movie theatre.  Popcorn in hand you are excited to see the third movie in an action sci-fi series.  You have been waiting for this movie for months.  Finally the previews finish and the screen fades to black before the movie begins.

You sit stunned as the plot unfolds.  A dark skinned man is spurned by the smart, rich, attractive and light skinned heroes.  Ultimately, this makes the dark skinned character bitter and homicidal.  He finds a formula that will change his skin colour.  The formula also bestows super powers.  He takes revenge on the heroes who spurned him and the world that didn’t view him as attractive or value him.  He goes on a rampage but of course is defeated by the heroes of the movie.

Never gonna happen right?  No one would make a movie like that.  There would be an uproar if a movie used skin colour as a determinate of evil.  What if the character was spurned and ultimately made evil because of their gender? Their sexuality? Would as many people complain?

Now what if the character was spurned and evil because of their disability status?  Think that there would be any outrage?  The answer is a resounding no.  In fact, a movie like that would open to great reviews, would make a killing at the box office and would be a spring hit.

If you have been to the movies recently you probably know what movie I am talking about.

I would like to think that if Hollywood put out a blatantly racist or sexist plot filler in a movie as movie goers we would raise hell.  But put an ableist plot filler and everyone stays quiet.

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I am often told that I am making a big deal out of nothing.  That movies don’t really mean anything.  That it’s just a way to have fun and relax.  Perhaps.  But I think that movies are a way to tap into popular culture.  They reflect our deep rooted ideas about disability.  Personally, I can’t relax and have fun with that.  What’s even more upsetting is that very little has to change for the plot not fall into ableist stereotypes.

So, let’s fix the plot.  Picture this…

The heroes can still be white, rich and attractive.  (wouldn’t it be great to see a hero who was a person of colour rather than just being the sidekick…one issue at a time I guess).  The evil character is spurned, not because of their disability status, but because they are evil (obviously you don’t know how evil till later).  The formula the evil character uses grants super powers but there is no discussion of being “cured” or “perfected.”  The evil character goes on a rampage and is ultimately defeated.  Good triumphs and you still have a box office hit.

Simple.  Why can’t we make movies like that?

Fantasically Disappointing

I am a sucker for a good fantasy film.  Being transported to another place and time, another planet or world all togher is the perfect way for me to relax.  That is, it used to be.  Despite the recent glut of fantasy movies that have come out of Hollywood recently, I still find that many get caught up in ableist themes to push the plot along or to spoon feed to the audience how evil the character is.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those sits and analyzes every detail of a movie.  I just want to get through the movie without being made to think of disability in a negative way.  Is that too much to ask really?

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Let me provide you with a couple of examples.  I recently went to see Jack the Giant Slayer.  My partner and I both loved this fairy tale as kids and were excited to see the movie.  The main giant was meant to be evil.  There were many ways this could be emphasized.  The writers/producers/directors took the easy way.  The giant is depicted as having two heads.  The second one is smaller, it drools, it sounds as if it has a speech impairment when it talks, and it portrayed as the dumber of the two heads.  At one point in the film, the giant is about to eat one of the good characters, as giants are want to do and what does the good character say?  He calls the giant a freak.  Freak.  Really?  I remember cringing when I heard that word and the horde of little kids in the theatre laughing.

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I also recently saw Oz: The Great and Powerful.  Now, to be honest, I don’t like the Wizard of Oz story I was seeing the movie with friend.  The movie opens with Oz performing in Kanas.  You see a little girl in the front row in a wicker wheelchair.  This little girl and her family end up begging Oz to heal her, tears run down her face at the thought of remaining disabled.  Oz can’t and heads off stage and ultimately ends up in Oz. While in Oz he meets another crying little girl.  This time she is made of china and he can heal her.

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I am sick and tired of seeing these ableist, old themes in movies.  Fantasy movies, out of all kinds of movies, have so much potential.  Why can’t we tell a new story of disability?  Why can’t a character have a disability and not be evil or want a cure?  If Jack the Giant Slayer had portrayed the giant as a person of colour who was evil because of his colour there would be an uproar.  But when you mention the movie’s negative portrayal of disability people tend to say that you are analyzing the movie too closely, or it’s not really that big of a deal.  For me, it is a big deal.  It turned what could have been fun fantasy movies into something fantastically disappointing.

Post-Oscars Movies to Watch

I do not always have time to watch movies so I tend to use the Oscars as a way to catch up on movies I should watch. Mind you I do not actually watch the Oscars, but I take a look at the nominations, and make sure I see the movies that did not win. No really, the winners might be great, but the gems are sometimes the ones that do not get the full praise they deserve. Purely based on the nominations list, I compiled a list of movies that I plan to watch:

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Best Director – Michael Haneke – Amour

This Palme d’Or winning drama tells the harrowing tale of old age, the Telegraph reviewer, Tim Robey puts it best: “Amour, which won Michael Haneke his second Palme d’Or in a row and rightly so, may be the most enclosed film this master of discomfort has ever made, on the surface an almost anti-cinematic one. It’s about extreme old age, the gradual failing of a human body, and the responsibility suggested by its title — a film about what love costs as much as what it brings.” This sounds like a slower movie but seems like a nice thought provoking movie to make one just sit down and think about life.

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Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook

This quirky film takes the romantic comedy formula and puts it through a blender. Here’s IMDB’s summary: “After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.” Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and this seems like a fun movie to watch.

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Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix – The Master

When I saw the trailer for ‘The Master’ [http://www.imdb.com/rg/s/1/title/tt1560747/#lb-vi1378657561], I could not help but think it was about the origins of scientology. It turns out (according to Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Master_(2012_film)#Analogies_with_Scientology]), the writers of the movie did not truly intend to draw any direct analogies to Scientology. Nonetheless, critical reception of this movie has been warm. It will be interesting to watch and maybe even see what Tom Cruise thinks.

Highlights from the Toronto imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival

The 12th annual imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival just finished its run. More than ever, I was astounded at the quality of work shown and humbled by the obscurity in which the films shown find themselves outside of this festival.

This festival is the largest of its kind in the world, and has begun to expand to include works by Indigenous populations of countries other than Canada. This year, a large number of films were from South Africa. For a people that have historically faced extreme censorship, and continue to be oppressed today, being able to show their creative works on an international stage is a triumph in and of itself.

imagineNATIVE is also aware of the socioeconomic challenges of certain marginalized groups within Toronto, and offers free tickets to students, seniors, and the underemployed.

Perhaps most importantly, imagineNATIVE is committed to deconstructing stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and providing Indigenous filmmakers, media artists, and curators, with an accessible environment conducive to showcasing their work and also enhancing their personal and creative skills. The festival offers a number of workshops, from ‘Funding Indigenous Media Arts in Canada’ to ‘Director/Producer Relationships’. All of the workshops are offered free of charge.

All that being said, let’s move on to some of the highlights from this year’s festival.

The festival kicked this year off with a Welcome Gathering at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. There, Indigenous community leaders shared prayers and greetings, traditional dancers performed, and locally-made Indigenous arts and crafts were available from a number of local artisans. The event was free and open to all, and included lunch and a free shuttle to the TIFF Bell Lightbox for imagineNATIVE’s Opening Night Gala.

The opening feature film of the festival was On the Ice, a haunting and engaging film about friendship and morality from the perspective of two Alaskan teenagers. On the Ice has been lauded with awards at many of the festivals it has been shown at, including the Berlin International Film Festival, and is well worth seeking out.

‘A Tribe Called Red’, an Indigenous DJ crew, closed out the first night of imagineNATIVE by performing at The Century Room.

From there, the next few days saw a number of topical workshops and fantastic films. My personal favourites include Up Heartbreak Hill, Yudhakalma Jawafdehita (Wounds of War), Shirley Adams, and Mesnak.

Part of the festival this year was a free public interview with the imcomparable Buffy Sainte-Marie. A prominent Indigenous artist for many decades, her insights and experiences were enlightening. Her performance a day later at imagineNATIVE’s Beat concert was equally thrilling.

The festival’s Closing Night Gala was Wapos Bay: Long Goodbyes, a film adaptation of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network’s (APTN) stop-motion animated series. Bringing together issues of family, community and love, the final film of imagineNATIVE closed the festival on a warm note.

The Closing Night Awards Ceremony was held at the Mod Club directly after the closing gala.Here I Am won Best Dramatic Feature, Amaqqut Nunaat took home Best Canadian Short, and The Tall Man was honoured with Best Documentary.

Waiting a whole year for the next imagineNATIVE film festival will be hard, but I’m keeping track of the films I missed out so that I can catch them on DVD or Digital Download. I’d reccomend looking into the films I’ve mentioned in this blog, and the rest of the program here, and watching out for your own opportunities to watch some of these unforgettable films.