A Tale Of Two Protests: #OscarsSoWhite Vs. #FlintWaterCrisis

Dear social justice warriors, armchair activists, and hashtaggers:

The #OscarsSoWhite issue is not that important.

Yes, I said it. The issue that is being treated as a modern-day injustice and setback for diversity really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

And you know why? Because facts don’t uphold the racially divisive narrative that is being advertised. The main argument within the outrage of #OscarsSoWhite is that the Academy nominees for this year are a white-washed group devoid of diversity.

On the topic of Hollywood gatekeepers, Spike Lee–who is boycotting the Oscars–wrote on his Instagram page, “People, the truth is we ain’t in those rooms, and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white.”

In her vocal takedown of the Oscars, Jada Pinkett Smith–also boycotting–commented: “Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?” she said. “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people, and we are powerful…So let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us, differently.”

At the moment, the Academy is seen as a racist organization. But my friends, have we forgotten:

  • (2015) The Weeknd – Best Original Song for Fifty Shades of Grey (nominated)
  • (2014) John Legend and Common – Best Original Song for Selma (won)
  • (2014) Harry Belafonte – Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
  • (2014) Oprah Winfrey – Best Picture (as producer) for Selma (nominated)
  • (2013) Chiwetel Ejiofor – Best Actor for 12 Years A Slave (nominated)
  • (2013) Steve McQueen – Best Picture (as director) for 12 Years A Slave (won)
  • (2013) John Ridley – Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years A Slave (won)
  • (2013) Pharrell Williams – Best Original Song for Despicable Me 2 (nominated)
  • (2013) Barkhad Abdi – Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Captain Phillips (nominated)
  • (2012) Denzel Washington – Best Actor for Flight (nominated)
  • (2012) Quvenzhané Wallis – Best Actress for Beasts of Southern Wild (nominated)
  • (2012) Lupita Nyong’o – Best Actress in a Supporting Role for 12 Years A Slave (won)
  • (2012) Steve McQueen – Best Director for 12 Years A Slave (nominated)
  • (2012) T.J. Martin – Best Documentary Feature (won)
  • (2012) Reginald Hudlin – Best Picture (as producer) for Django Unchained (nominated)
  • (2011) Viola Davis – Best Actress for The Help (nominated)
  • (2011) Octavia Spencer – Best Actress in a Supporting Role for The Help (won)
  • (2009) Geoffrey Fletcher – Adapted Screenplay for Precious (won)

I agree that the Academy should diversity it’s panel in reviewing films across the wide spectrum of film-making; I agree that more creative scripts should be developed to show the diverse, cultural experiences and perspectives of mankind. But to describe the Academy as a wholly racist body simply because there are no minorities nominated this year is an exaggeration (and insult) the prior nominees and winners. Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Will Smith are playing a dangerous game of “cry wolf” by invoking racism where it doesn’t exist.

This just wasn’t our year for film, folks.

Additionally, it’s amazing that the #‎OscarsSoWhite debate has fully eclipsed theFlint, Michigan, water contamination disaster. As a city, Flint has one of the largest African-American populations in the country…and yet the collection of activism and social media / social justice efforts have been directed towards the diversity issue within the Oscars instead.

This is just another example that the grip pop culture has on American issues and/or relevancy of those issues.

I’m not saying the two discussion points are not mutually inclusive (both are important); instead, I’m pointing out the privilege that exists for one group and not the other; the lop-sided attention to one issue and silent coverage of another; the woes of the Hollywood accomplished in recognition of a golden statue versus the gritty reality of our poor Americans who can’t bathe, cook, or drink their city’s water.

It reminds me of the opening of Dickens’s “A Tale Of Two Cities”:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Racism is a very real thing, but it needs to be used in a better context; if it is invoked to describe things in a wide canvas, then it’s meaning will be ultimately misconstrued.  The lesson: We have to choose our battles–and activism–better, not just personal slights that we are sensitive to.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “What kind of extremists will we be?”

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