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Not enough blacks on the red carpet?

Hollywood is having a hissy fit over next week’s Oscars

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

20 February 2016

9:00 AM

The latest faux-scandal to raise the ire of Hollywood’s overactive social conscience comes from the lack of black nominees in this year’s Academy Awards. A number of stars including Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, Mark Ruffalo and Snoop Dogg have decided to thumb their nose at this year’s ceremony for it’s lack of diversity by very publicly confirming their non-attendance. And predictably enough, they have been joined by thousands of likeminded grievance mongers eager to stand in social-media solidarity with their benighted A-list brothers and sisters.

Calling the 6,000 strong Academy responsible for awarding Oscars prejudiced is no small charge. Yet the logic used by the #OscarsSoWhite rabble-rousers to reach this conclusion is actually very simple. The assumption is that the absence of African Americans in the acting categories can only be explained by racial bias on the part of the award’s selectors.

For those who regard ‘diversity’ (along with concern for climate change and gay marriage) as the supreme virtues of any self-respecting modern society, this seems perfectly plausible.

But a charge this hefty deserves scrutiny more serious than navel-gazing over whether Will Smith’s skin colour is the reason he wasn’t nominated for his performance in Concussion.

If it’s true that the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscars implies racial prejudice, what do we make of the Academy’s decisions (whose members haven’t changed much in the last decade) in years past? As the Economist has pointed out, blacks make up 12.6 per cent of the American population and have landed 10 per cent of the best acting Oscar nominations since 2000. And what about the winners? Out of the last 20 years, 15 per cent of Best Actor winners and 5 per cent of Best Actress winners were black. As for supporting roles, 10 per cent of male winners and 20 per cent of female winners were black.

Average these numbers out and what do you get? 12.5 per cent. That’s 0.1 per cent off matching how blacks are represented in the population overall.

It’s bad enough that the #OscarsSoWhite crowd have been cherry-picking figures that suit their grievance mongering while ignoring the ones that don’t. But to understand their biggest blunder, we have to take the plotline of this tawdry tale of victimhood to its logical conclusion. Despite making up 16 per cent of the population, Hispanics received a measly 3 per cent of Oscar nominations. Asian Americans don’t fare much better, comprising 5.6 per cent of the population but only 1 per cent of nominations.

So does the Academy favour white actors over blacks, but dislike Hispanics and Asians even more than blacks? Or, is it possible that when the Academy’s thousands distinguished actors, directors and producers decide the limited pool of recipients in line for Hollywood’s highest honour, race just isn’t front of mind?

If you make this point to an #OscarsSoWhite tweeting do-gooder don’t be surprised if they take offense at the mere suggestion that blacks could be lesser victims of racism than other minority groups. They’ll usually follow up with some vague emotional appeal that they just wished the Academy did more to recognise the efforts of (in their opinion) deserving black actors who were overlooked.

Sounds reasonable enough. But lets not pretend this is as simple as telling the Academy’s thousands of members to spare a thought for whether the race metrics are going to satisfy America’s A-list diversity activists. When you have thousands of people voting for the most esteemed accolade in showbiz, telling people to spare a thought for how the diversity metrics are going to play out doesn’t really cut it. Neither does it come without consequences for the perceived integrity of the Oscars in general. Do we really want what ought to be the crowning achievement of an actor’s career open to the question of whether it was handed to them courtesy of a diversity quota?

Although today’s climate of opinion makes it unfashionable to point out, different groups rarely perform exactly the same in life’s many pursuits. Despite being largely absent from prior Academy Award nominations lists, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that Asians are vastly overrepresented amongst those admitted to science and engineering degrees at MIT. Likewise, no one bats an eyelid that blacks make up 74.4 per cent of NBA players, or that over 54 per cent of players in the National Hockey League are in fact from Canada. And what about the fact that 48 per cent of America’s billionaires have Jewish heritage? Are the dark forces of racism behind Asians being knocked back for home loan applications and defaulting on their mortgages less often than whites?

This alone should be enough to pour cold water on knee-jerk complaints that this year’s lack of black nominees can only be put down to prejudice. But what really is absurd is that unlike many other high-end careers or sporting pursuits, the gap between white and black actors stands somewhere between nil and non-existent.

Just 3.8 per cent of doctors, 3 per cent of lawyers and 2 per cent of PhD recipients are African American. Even more alarmingly, blacks are almost three times more likely to live in poverty than whites and are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. The black unemployment rate is also double that of whites. And in spite of all this, we’re meant to light a candle because Will Smith won’t be adding a gold statue to the poolroom of his 25,000 square foot mansion?

Indeed, some might say the #OscarsSoWhite uproar makes a mockery of problems facing African Americans that are far more consequential than hurt feelings over an awards ceremony.

So what then, do we make of the elites who plan to spend the night of 28 February holed up in their Beverly Hills mansions, wallowing in self-pitying victimhood?

Above all, they provide insight into just how self-absorbed and egocentric much of the Hollywood hive mind really is. In fact, if anything good comes of this tempest in a teapot, it’ll be that people stop treating the shallow words of celebrities with any more than the little authority they actually deserve.

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