SCROLLING THROUGH TWITTER after this year's Academy Award nominees were announced, it was impossible to avoid the backlash. Not only were the vast majority of nominees white—including all nominees for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress—but the Martin Luther King Jr. drama Selma, considered an awards frontrunner, had neither its star, David Oyelowo, nor its director, Ava DuVernay, nominated. "The Oscars don't matter because they're old and busted," David Brothers (@hermanos) tweeted, "but they do matter because they're still culturally significant. Recognition counts."
The Oscars are culturally significant because people keep watching them; they're old and busted because, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2012, "academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male. Blacks are about 2 percent of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2 percent." Age factors in, too: "Oscar voters have a median age of 62," the LA Times added. "People younger than 50 constitute just 14 percent of the membership."
That's also why many Oscar contenders look (and are) so similar: Producers, publicists, and academy voters still think of "fine cinema" as requiring srs bsns subject matter, sepia-toned reverence, and roles that give Benedict Cumberbatch as many chances to be as Benedictish Cumberbatchy as possible. You can try to convince me The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are different movies; I probably won't believe you.
So maybe it's good the Oscars' obsolescence seems near. "Deep thought, feel free to heckle," New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo (@fmanjoo) tweeted after the nominations were announced. "Awards will make less and less sense in an era of increasingly fragmented mass culture."
Manjoo's right. One has to go back to 2009's Avatar to think of a movie everyone saw and everyone talked about. Culture has shattered in the past few years, breaking into sharp, tiny pieces, and movies no longer need to appeal to everyone. They can entertain, satisfy, and challenge smaller groups.
That's not to say blockbusters aren't still important. Badass Digest Editor Devin Faraci (@devincf) also jumped into the fray over the nominations. "Why pop movies matter: In 2015 Star Wars will be more diverse than the Oscars," Faraci tweeted, pointing to the cast for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that's led by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
An even better example might be a series that some (like those who fit the academy's demographics) write off. None of the Fast & Furious movies will ever win a Best Picture Oscar—but that hardly matters, because people see them. One of the many great things about those movies (particularly those directed by Justin Lin, who broke into Sundance, and Hollywood, with 2002's Asian American crime flick Better Luck Tomorrow) is their casting.
"More than those bulging biceps and motorcycle flips, Furious 6 owes its weekend haul to its singular ability to attract an audience that reflects America's shifting demographics," Bloomberg Businessweek wrote in 2013, following Furious 6's blockbuster opening. "The Fast & Furious films may have the most ethnically diverse cast of any blockbuster franchise. The latest installment features black, Hispanic, and Asian actors such as Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz, and Sung Kang in key roles, alongside Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson (Samoan American) and Vin Diesel, who jokingly says he has 'ambiguous ethnicity.'"
Aside from seeing Furious 7 this spring (SEE YOU THERE, I WILL BE IN THE FRONT ROW), there are other ways moviegoers—particularly those in Portland—can undermine the institutionalized racism and sexism highlighted by this year's Oscars.
"Some feminist critics are calling for a 'girlcott' of the Oscars ceremony. I applaud the sentiment but wonder if that's giving the Oscars too much power," Tara Johnson-Medinger, executive director of the Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival (POWFest), said in a statement. "If you want to see things change for women in Hollywood, here's my two cents: See movies directed by women. Make a point to see Selma and Unbroken, and then go see the dozens of other wonderful, women-led independent productions that are virtually ignored by Hollywood and mainstream filmgoers every year."
The eighth annual POWFest runs from March 12-15, and if past years are any indication, it'll be well worth your time. So will the Portland Black Film Festival, now in its third year, running from February 5-21 and offering "diverse perspectives and stories in an art form all too often dominated by Caucasian men." This year, it features a particularly timely focus: "the important contributions to cinema of African American women directors."