Will Spike Lee win an affirmative action Oscar?

By Jack Cashill

Thirty-three years after his directorial debut, Spike Lee was nominated last week for a “best director” Oscar, his first such nomination. The timing is suspect and, for Lee, unfortunate.

If Lee wins for his pedestrian film, “BlackkKlansman,” he and anyone paying attention will know that this Oscar would owe less to Lee’s talent than to Hollywood’s recent embrace of affirmative action.

Hollywood insiders are already patting themselves on the back for their largesse. “Are you eager to see continued support for filmmakers and stars of color after those embarrassing #OscarsSoWhite years?” asks Kristopher Tapley in Variety, the putative bible of the entertainment industry.

Of course, you’re eager – at least if you are interested in having a career in show business.

As Tapley explains, “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to diversify its ranks.” The Academy has done this by “aggressively adding hundreds upon hundreds of new members each year.”

These new members get to vote. This is the Hollywood equivalent of open borders or maybe even “knock-and-drag,” the historical Democratic practice of driving through skid rows, handing out a little swag and carting people to the polls.

One problem with the Academy’s strategy, like all affirmative action efforts, is that it cheapens the win for those who deserve it. This strategy has already claimed a victim, Alfonso Cuarón, the director of what is easily the best of this year’s nominated films, “Roma.”

Tapley had the bad taste to list Cuaron among the various people of color nominated for an Oscar as though he too were nominated for no other reason.

Cuaron, however, is as Caucasian as Elizabeth Warren. This should have been obvious to anyone who saw “Roma.” The highly biographical film contrasts the life of Cuaron’s affluent white family in Mexico with that of his Mexican-Indian housekeeper. Details, details.

“Roma” will not have much competition. Three of its seven rivals are black-themed, including the tedious “Black Panther,” the first movie made from a comic book to be nominated.

Two of the remaining seven have gay themes. One of the remaining two, “Vice,” was nominated for its witless attack on Vice President Dick Cheney and the Bush administration.

The only movie without political taint was the most entertaining of the eight, Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born.” That film, however, was also the least original, it being the fourth iteration of films with that very title.

“Roma” could conceivably win best picture and best foreign film. It Is nominated for both. The one film that could have beaten “Roma” for best picture was not nominated, namely Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War.”

Although Pawlikowski was nominated for best director and “Cold War” for best foreign film, this Polish movie could not have had much appeal for “the evolving group of voters” that selected this year’s films.

Set in post-war Poland, the film overflows with white people. Besides that, it is amply cis-gendered and bountifully heterosexual. Above all, it is anti-communist. I am surprised it was nominated for anything.

The readers of Variety, at least those who responded with a comment, overwhelmingly rejected the Academy’s fear-induced adoption of affirmative action.

When I read those comments soon after Tapley’s article was published Jan. 24, I was impressed to see how strongly worded were the criticisms of the Academy’s strategy.

Few of the commenters, almost all of whom used aliases, struck me as conservative. Most were film purists, like “Spirit of 58” who wrote, “All of which is disgraceful! It should be about the quality of the films – nothing more, nothing less.”

When I returned to the article several days later to gather more critical comments, I had to kick myself for not saving the originals right away. They were purged. Spirit of 58’s was the only one that remained.

“Comments are moderated,” Variety cautions. Yes, one gets that impression. One gets the impression too that the whole diversity regime would collapse if comments weren’t always and everywhere “moderated.”

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