The Oscars 2016 diversity row

Prior to the 88th Academy Awards on February 28th, film director Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Inside Man) caused huge controversy when he openly accused the Academy of discriminating against black filmmakers and therefore he demands a boycott of the Oscars by skipping the official Ceremony. The lack of diversity is also what convinced Jada Pinkett-Smith and her husband Will Smith. Questions about the Academy’s policies as an institution were inevitable.

15-spike-lee.w529.h529Incentive for the entire debate is that for the 2nd year in  a row, no black actors or filmmakers received a nomination. Due to Lee’s accusation, people around the world tend to use the word ‘racist’ and this is also how the media describes the entire debate. Using the terminology ‘racist’ is rather judgmental though, which I think should be avoided whenever possible. With all due respect, I think, in this heated discussion the use of ‘discrimination’ is more in place, leaving the issue raised by Spike Lee too one-sided when you take all aspects of race and gender into account. On the other hand, the USA and Hollywood are unfortunately still patriarchal systems dominated by a white male-only mentality. Consequently, amendments are necessary, but I do like to raise some other issues that could be raised, that make Spike Lee’s accusations too one-sided. What About Asian, Middle-East or North-African actors and actresses? Or the Hispanics, since they make up for 17,32% of the US population (in reports of 2014)? The US counts multiple nationalities from all over the world, so what about all the others and their ambitions. And I don’t even mention other minorities such as transgenders. Which means that other minorities than only the black actors also deserve representation, without denying the fact that black actors are facing severe institutional problems. This community now gets the acknowledgement and support by other Hollywood-actors and actresses, mainly Caucasian, like George Clooney.

Also Spike Lee raised the issue and although last year no black filmmakers were nominated as well, he nonetheless received and accepted an Honorary Award. And this year’s ceremony will be hosted by Chris Rock, who refused to step back, despite calls for him to quit the job. He will focus his opening speech on the #OscarsSoWhite-Issue though.

There are 3 possible solutions to avoid racial rows like this in the future and to keep the Oscars-ceremony a peaceful happening:

  1. The Academy could add 5 more nominees to each category to increase the likelihood for black actors and directors to become nominated. But taking Spike Lee’s words literally, that when the racism is a deeply-rooted institutional problem, the addition of more nominees will have no remarkable outcome for the minority group.
  2. The Academy could come up with diversity quota or a black filmmakers-only category, which would result in a revival of Apartheid, as we know from our history books. (Apartheid is the racial segregation system in South-Africa from 1948-1994)
  3. Maybe cutting members from the Academy, who haven’t been active in voting or in the film industry for a certain period would be the best way to change the entire institutional mindset.

According to recent news from The Guardian on January 24th, the Academy Awards organisers announced a series of substantial changes, like the aim to double the number of women and ethnic minority members by 2020 after above mentioned complaints. The changes also include a 10-year limit on a member’s voting abilities, which also can be removed if the member is no longer active in the film industry. President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said that “these new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing the membership composition.”

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It is an undeniable fact that the Academy and its approximately 6,000 members is a bit out-dated, because of those non-active members that also belong to a different generation in time. It is therefore important to point at the current US census and importance of diversity. According to reports by the US Census Bureau 13,2% of the US citizens is Afro-American. When you compare to the list of nominees and winners of the Oscars since the year 2000, 4 years were without any black nominees, but still you have 31 out of 320 nominees (and 9 winners) who were black, which makes up for 10% and is more or less equal to the census and therefore makes sense. Very talented black actors and actresses like Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, 2004), Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball, 2002) and Jamie Foxx (Ray, 2004) are being hired, nominated and winning Oscars at a proportional rate. And this is where you should keep the artistic, rather than political or racial, aspect of ‘talent’ in mind. Who the Academy considers the best logically gets nominated and many talented actors like those in Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, 2015) of to compete with actors with the calibre of Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant, 2015).

“Ride or Die” – Alec Tibaldi & Magaajyiah Silberfeld

naamloos (5).pngCheck out the trailer of Ride or Die, a thrilling coming-of-age shortfilm about an afternoon in the lives of 3 teenagers in LA! This 11-minutes long/shortfilm by Alec Tibaldi en Magaajyiah Silberfeld (also the producer!) got selected for so many international film festivals in 2015 (Cannes’ Court Métrage, Portsmouth, Chelsea,…) that I don’t need any more arguments for you to watch it…

“Spotlight” – Tom McCarthy

SPOILER-ALERT!

Spotlight tells the true story of how the  Spotlight-section of the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and its cover-up within the Bostonian Catholic Archdiocese in 2001, which shook the entire Catholic Church on a global scale. This new Hollywood production is by the hand of  director-actor Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler, 2014,..).spotlight-one-sheet

Spotlight is one of the most anticipated feature films next to Iñárritu’s The Revenant or Tarantino’s The H8teful Eight, with 6 Oscar nominations in this year’s 88th Academy Awards; namely Best Picture, Best Director, Mark Ruffalo in Best Supporting Actor, Rachel McAdams in Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing.

If I was asked to  describe Spotlight in just one single word, it would definitely be ‘Simplicity’. This could be found in every single aspect, like acting, editing, cinematography, setting, etc. When it comes to naturality and credibility, the film scores 100%. Frankly said,I don’t really know what entire buzz is. Yes, Spotlight indeed puts a ‘figurative’ spotlight on the scandal in the Catholic Church, which is a touchy subject, but the film felt a bit dull and actionless. When it wasn’t for the modest, humane and authentic acting performances, I would simply rank Spotlight with the endless reruns of the CSI-series we get to swallow every year again.

Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Mean Girls) shows her natural acting skills  as the only female member of the team, called Sacha Pfeiffer. Mark Ruffalo  (Shutter Island, The Avengers) as Mike Rezendes seems properly casted because of his ever-tormented facial expressions., which are not out of place for the somewhat frustrated and hard-working Rezendes. Stand-out was Brian D’Arcy James as Matt Carroll though, with his witty manners and fatherly care taken to the upper level, when he finds out that one of the suspect priests lives just around the corner.

Unfortunately, this film has a monotonous pace, which you really had to stay focused for. The lack of action and tsunami of dialogues creates a situation of information-overload and name-throwing, without even put a face to them. Although editor Tom McArdle, who also edited McCarthy’s The Visitor in 2007, is nominated for Best Film editing, I never witnessed any peculiarities which could make Spotlight so outstanding. Also the setting was simple in that sense. Offices, court rooms,.. all of them very late 90’s.

rachel-mcadams-mark-ruffalo-brian-dg-arcy-michael-keaton-and-john-slattery-in-spotlight-cred-kerry-hayes-open-road-films_wide-a9ace4a3a9d3d271a45d19c7c220201b7656c7eb-s900Remarkable once again is the cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi, who easily adapts his  work to the director’s style, but still is able to capitivate the atmosphere of the historical setting. The rather old-fashioned way of filming and use of colours (or lack of colours) reminded me of Scott Cooper’s Black Mass (2015). And guess what, its cinematography was also by the very same Takayanagi.

What kept me watching was the detailed narrative and accuracy of the features given. Could you imagine 90 accused priests in Boston since the ’70s? And they only came up with the report in 2001? Those are some details that really strike me. Hats of for the real-life journalists of the who went deep to get this case and report it in the Boston Globe in a humane and respectful way, although they involved many institutions in the controversy, namely Church and Law. The film based on these events is nonetheless too modest and not outstanding or provoking enough to be worth receiving 6 Oscar nominations.

Alan Rickman died at age 69

Normally, I am not really into sentimentality. But as you know, the British actor Alan Rickman, died from cancer yesterday on January 14th aged 69.
He was known for his outstanding performances in Love Actually (2003), Snow Cake (2006), Sweeney Todd (2007), etc… and for his soothing warm voice. Mostly, and I speak for my generation, he was Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter-series.

Raise your wands, wizards!
Dear Alan, rest in peace.

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“The Revenant” – Alejandro G. Iñárritu

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One of the most anticipated releases of 2016 is definitely The Revenant by the Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu starring Leonardo DiCaprio in its leading role. The latter won a Golden Globe last week for Best Actor. The former won 2 awards, namely Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director. The Revenant is based on a novel by Michael Punke, which is based on true events. You might also know Iñárritu from other feature films like Babel (2006), Biutiful(2010), and Birdman (2014).

The Revenant tells the story of American frontiersmen on a fur trading expedition in the 1820’s. When Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) gets mauled by a bear, he is left for dead by some of his hunting companions. From then onwards he is on his own in a journey through wilderness relying on his knowledge of nature and the language of the Indians. The story is mainly one about fellowship, revenge, love and most of all survival. You can easily put The Revenant in the same line as the biographical dramas Into The Wild (Sean Penn, 2007) or 127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010).

Next to DiCaprio the film also stars Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) as the treacherous FitzimagesJJSAYF8Ygerald, who is an opportunist liar and the Irish Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows Part II) as the reliable captain of the team. Fresh young talent is Forrest Goodluck, who plays Glass’s half-blood Indian son Hawk. The Revenant is Goodluck’s first feature film, in which he proves his ability to show authentic emotions and speak several languages (English and Caddoan). Rumours had it that part of the cast suffered from hypothermia during the shooting. In fact, the back to the roots atmosphere of the film shows us what it is to be cold and indirectly makes us shiver as we watch. I could almost feel the ice-cold wind on my back.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Sleepy Hollow) shows us the beauty of nature and in the same time its power to destroy. The film is shot partly in Canada and Argentina, to assure snowy landscapes. Lubezki catches every glaring sunbeam in the most aesthetic way. A viewer cannot be anything but moved by the peacefulness these images show in contrast to the roughness and pain these men experience.

naamloos (16)Although The Revenant is about survival-of-the-fittest in the most primitive way, some scenes may be disturbing, due to the violence and explicit skinning and eating of animals. None of them really got spared, so when you are a fundamental vegetarian or vegan, please don’t watch the 156 minutes long The Revenant, because some shots might be repelling. Iñárritu opted for the most naturalist way of representing reality. DiCaprio goes full-on in his performance, grunting, groaning, killing and guts-eating, and therefore won his award at the Golden Globes. Once again he proves himself to be an multi-talented actor on his way to an Oscar (-pretty please!)

Ready for the Tarantino-fever?

One of the most anticipated films of the year and maybe already in the Top 10 of 2016 is Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. His films are a matter of ‘love it or hate it’. They are full of cynical dialogues and a specific kind of humour, paired with ruthless violence. Personally, what I love most is Tarantino’s use of music, which seems incoherent with the stories’ historical context, but stills creates the kind of  atmosphere we like so much in his films. The Hateful Eight has a musical score by the famous composer Ennio Morricone. The two already siuccesfully worked together for Kill Bill Vol. I (2003), Inglorious Basterds (2009)and Django Unchained (2012).

The Hateful Eight is now playing in cinemas and already very hyped.

The Belgian filmmagazine Vertigo now has The Hateful Eight on its cver for the January issue, but 8 different versions so readers could collect all of them… which I obviously did!

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PS: Review coming soon.