#OscarsTooBlack?

From the mid-‘70s to mid-‘80s I was an adjunct at Temple University, usually teaching introduction to newswriting.

Adjuncts were outsiders, freelancers who were paid by the number of courses they taught without benefits such as health insurance or paid vacation. They were like Uber drivers with briefcases.

Cast of “The Wiz.” Cultural appropriation?

I taught one course each semester. While I considered myself an Owl, and still do, I wasn’t part of the bloodstream of the campus.

One day in the late ‘70s, I was surprised to receive a memo to staff from the head of the journalism department, that all grades had to be earned. Those weren’t the exact words, but the intent was to put an end to “social promotions” and grading “on the curve” for minority students.

Puzzled, I asked her what it meant.

She told me it had been school policy to make allowances for race, to cut some slack for Black students, and that policy was being curtailed. 

The reason, I heard, was the university was getting negative feedback from employers who said too many Temple grads were unable to properly fill out employment applications. They had been “passed” from one grade to the next, by one instructor after another, who thought they were doing the students a favor.

They weren’t.

I had not been aware of the policy and I probably wouldn’t have observed it, anyway. Because it was dishonest, to the system and to the students.

Since my course was an introduction to newswriting, most of my students were freshman, and almost all of them were local — kids from Philly and the suburbs. 

What I discovered immediately was that suburban students were better educated. Not in every case, but in most.

What I also learned was that the few Black students I had, from (what we then called) inner city schools did worst of all. 

Very early in the term, several times I was forced to take a Black student — who often was a high school honor student — aside and tell him he should drop my class and transfer to a remedial English class. The student had no knowledge of punctuation, no idea of what quote marks were, and was unable to write a grammatical sentence. 

It was heart-breaking to watch the kid’s face melt. He thought he was smart and I just blew up his world.

“You are smart,” I would say. “You are ambitious, but you have been short-changed by Philadelphia’s miserable school system. It’s not your fault. You were not taught the basics you should have learned and I can’t do it in this class. If you stay here, you will fail. Take remedial English and come back next term. If you want to transfer, I will see the department lets you.”

It happened a few times, the students were hurt, but none seemed mad at me.

I was mad at the system.

That’s the prologue for this, which some might take for racism. I will take that chance.

In this year’s Academy Awards, 9 of the top 20 acting nominees are people of color. That means 45% of the nominees are Black, while Blacks are no more than 13% of the population.

So — #OscarsTooBlack?

Two of the five nominated directors are Asian — that’s 40%. But Asians are only 5% of the U.S. population. #OscarsTooYellow?

Ridiculous, right?

But did you say the same five years ago when #OscarsSoWhite decried the unusual lack of any Black nominees?

We were off to the racist races.

Is Hollywood racist?

Hollywood is the most liberal bastion of America — at least superficially — outside the Harvard faculty lounge. 

But racist anyway?

Could be.

Hypocritical? Likely.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, admittedly, is overwhelmingly white and male because, duh, that’s who’s been making motion pictures since they were invented. They were organized into an industry by, duh, white males.  

Reacting to the Twitterverse, the Academy made changes. Membership was made, um, easier for people who were not white and male, and, as long as they are qualified, that’s fine.

The Academy has created new “inclusion standards” as part of the eligibility for Best Picture, looking for more “diversity” and “equity,” to better reflect the movie-going public.

Producers worth their salt will be casting — somehow — Blacks in movies set in 18th Century Polish shtetls, and Hispanics in the Punic Wars to get those diversity credits.

Ah, diversity and inclusion.

You know what? We already have that, but going the other way.

How many American Founding Fathers were nonwhite? Let’s say none.

But what happened when New York Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda cast Blacks and Hispanics in those roles — in racist America?

Riots in the streets? No, he was hailed as a genius. Go figure.

Was there an uprising when “Hello Dolly!” was remade with a Black cast (even keeping the characters Jewish names)? There was not. When “The Wizard of Oz” was remade as “The Wiz,” with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, everyone cheered. There are other examples. Was that — gasp! — cultural appropriation? That term is woke garbage. 

Here’s the problem with awards: Most of those nominated do not win, and they are in the majority, at least 4-1, sometimes more. In fields not controlled by infantile intellects with raging egos, the losers politely applaud the winners and bite their tongues if they feel slighted.

Journalists who don’t win the Pulitzer may bitch to their buddies at the bar or hair salon, but they don’t rage on Twitter or have their agents launch whispering campaigns about how the judges were bought.

Physicists who aren’t awarded the Nobel may punch the wall, but shut up. 

Just before last Sunday’s Grammys someone who can’t spell named The Weeknd loudly griped about being overlooked. 

He was overlooked. Was it racial? Was it jealousy? Who knows? So he’ll get a “make good” next year. 

Back to the Oscars.

With 40% of the nominated actors Black, can we even ask if so many were nominated to compensate for prior years when “too few” Blacks were nominated? As a “make good”?

If “too few” being nominated is racism, is “too many” being nominated reverse racism?

If we accept that the 40% were deserving this year, why can’t we also accept there was a year where no Black gave a performance that most of their liberal peers thought was worthy?

I am just asking questions.

It could be racism, but must it be racism?

I know race was one reason I voted for Barack Obama. Not the only reason, but one.

Was that racist? Racial? 

I know most American Blacks don’t think highly of Justice Clarence Thomas.

Many Black leaders excoriate him because of his very conservative views, and some because of his alleged conduct with Anita Hill.

Thomas is opposed to racial preferences of any kind. He says the government must be color blind.

His opponents say the government is not capable of being color blind, or it should not be, to make up for past discrimination.

Thomas believes that if you allow racial preferences,  Blacks hired for a job always will live under a blanket of suspicion that they didn’t earn the job on merit. (Like the suspicion that “white privilege” seeks to cast.)

Is that suspicion fair? Is it human? Is it racist?

Returning again to the Oscars: Does the disproportionate number of Blacks nominated mean anything other than their quality? What if only 5% are nominated next year? Would that mean racism is back?

Does the Academy need a quota system setting the minimum number of nominees by race, gender, religion, age? Will identity outweigh talent? 

I am generally satisfied with the Oscar winners, even though they don’t affect me in any way, and I rarely see all the nominated films.

I don’t know that this year’s nominees prove that we have reached a color blind society — or a society that is afraid to be color blind. 

26 thoughts on “#OscarsTooBlack?”

  1. HAPPY SATURDAY !!!
    Stu,
    You are so right about the educational system. As you are aware, the problems concerning race did not go away. Sorry to say, those problems have not been properly addressed, either. “Tinsel Town”. I don’t think that they were/are very liberal. I think that they are very good at acting. California was racist before the word was invented. The Hollywood elite are and have been that same way, and will continue to be so. The only color that the elite likes is GREEN !
    I don’t watch much T.V. nor movies. I don’t really care if you are pink. I, however do expect you, the individual, to do the job that you were hired to do. If acting is your profession, and you are good at it, then you should be compensated accordingly. And the rest of us, pink, blue or what have you, GET A LIFE !
    Tony

  2. You cover quite a large group of individual careers so I will touch briefly on each. You remember a colleague whose column had the heading Hollywierd referring to the personalities and happenings there. Producers and Directors were always known for their couch interviews which I believe still go on today. My two favorite actors that happen to be black and speak out with great conservative views on Hollywood and black issues are Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. As to schooling your point was well made years ago by the economist Thomas Sowell showing students were pushed through to graduate High school who could not read and needed help to fill out any form and it still persists today in inner-city schools. The sad part is the success of Charter schools which are fought by the Teachers Union but have higher scores in all of the state test requirements. The push back against the white guilt crowd and the hate hucksters must be a priority of courageous elected officials, and black leaders who don’t fear repercussions from their own constituencies. School choice should be implemented by the state legislature even against the Teachers lobby to allow black students the ability to fill out a job application and enter the world of Journalism with the proper credentials.

  3. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    It seems crystal clear to me that the U.S. simply won’t work as a country if it is organized politically by racial groups, ethnicities and identity groups. This is a central mistake of the Clinton Democrats. They are playing with fire.

    We may hope that Mr. Biden will show some reserve on this?

    Giant corporations and Hollywood studios, too, often like to have everything organized neatly, top-down, maximizing executive control; and there is a kind of puritanism (I use the small “p” advisedly, its not merely the Protestants who have puritans) implicit in this (Harvey Weinstein and the studio couch not to the contrary). Moralistic catering to and promotion of minority resentments belongs to the overall configuration. Those at the top of these heavily top-down structures know what they can get away with (following the bottom line and gathering in all the perks), so when the opportunity rolls around for public confessions, they take the currently approved political line. This helps insure political connections.

    Its like the great puritanical worthies of old (the Baptist, J.D. Rockefeller comes to mind), as pious as you may please at church on Sunday, and skinning their neighbors of every red cent, by fair means or foul, for the rest of the week. The guilty “social” conscience is a tell-tale sign. You’ll perhaps recall that old J.D. Rockefeller used to give away dimes to street urchins during his public appearances. He also send much larger sums to prominent politicians.

    Sorry, I pay no attention to the Oscars.

    H.G. Callaway

  4. Well stated Stu! I’m really not interested in the Oscars any longer since most of the so called Host became
    Political and especially the last time I watched angry Robert De Niro making a vulgar speech. The has been actor
    should have stuck to acting. He’s now a very angry OLD man who I used to enjoy in his earlier years!
    Also, so true about the Public Schools.

  5. Good afternoon Mr. Bykofsky,

    Another excellent thought-provoking piece. Thank you.

    Every time I read your articles I can’t help but to wonder how it would be accepted by your former employer if you were still on their payroll. Would they be walking you out the door today?

    Their loss but not ours.

    Have a great weekend & keep up the good work.

  6. Stu,
    For some reason, education, or lack of, keeps showing up in our replys. I think that most people miss the point. Charter schools do out perform the rest of the public school system. Most people are in favor of them. So then, what do you do with the 80 % or so of the population that did not get selected or win the lottery or however your school system picks and chooses for entry into the charter schools ? They are lost souls.
    Silly me. How about we clean up the other swamp, commonly known as the teachers unions ! How about we make schools, institutes of education ? How can we continue to pay high taxes for a school system that does not educate ?
    Trying to find the U.S. in world ranking was not easy. We showed up in the 20th place on only one review. I’m pretty sure that we were a lot better than that when all of us were in grade school and high school.
    Tony

  7. Two comments:
    (1) The Oscars problem can be solved quite easily, and in a way acceptable to the crazy left: simply have everyone making or in a movie declare himself Black (or Spanish, or gay, or transsexual, whatever). Presto! Problem solved — no discrimination.
    (2) When I was head of personnel for a major Montco company I received a resume written in pencil with numerous misspellings, grammatical errors, etc. In the section marked ‘education’ the applicant had written MASTERS DEGREE – [I won’t name the Philadelphia university]. Coincidentally, the head of the company sat on the board of X university, so I brought the resume to his office and commented, “Either this person is lying through his teeth, or X university has lousy standards for its Masters program.” He swiveled around in his chair and telephoned the records department of X university and to his astonishment (and mine) learned the applicant had, indeed, graduated from X university and had gone on to earn a master’s degree. I won’t comment on the race of the applicant other than to say he was a minority. The only thing I could conclude was the so-called master had been passed along because it looked good on the university’s reports to the feds. lAnd Stu, if you want to know the name of the university, let me know and I will get that information to you. You too will be astonished.

    1. Vince,
      Nothing should astonish anyone on Stu’s blog. Case in point. A former mayor graduated from a very prestigious school right here in the city. HA ! ‘nough said………….
      Tony

      1. pallie, my Stu,
        I like communicating in this blog. I don’t like throwing stones, especially if the target is not amongst us.
        You and Bill Cosby and a few others helped out at Temple. It’s a good school. Location could be a lot better.
        Tony

        1. That’s not quite correct Vince, if your talking about Mayor Goode.
          from WIKIPEDIA.
          After arriving in Philadelphia, he graduated from John Bartram High School and then he earned his degree from Morgan State University. He also graduated from the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.[2]
          More correctly, my wife knew of Goode, being in the Dean’s office. I believe that he finished last at Wharton. My wife ( sic ) often wondered :
          1) how he got into U of P
          2) how he got into Wharton
          3) how he even graduated
          contacts, politics and timing !
          Tony

        2. Well, I am not shocked to hear that because of what I had written. Now… one employer that contacted Temple about some grads not being able to fill out an employment application was John Bunting, the banker, not the Eagle, according to the story I heard. Since he has passed, I cannot verify it.

  8. point of interest- my father was head of his department at a 3rd rate college in nowheresville.He was always frustrated by the lack of quality applicants for a teaching position thatmy mandate had to be filled by a minority.The primary applicants were over qualified white women but they could not be considered.The problem was- if you were a brilliant male minority why would you even consider his college when far superior leafier options were clamoring for your services?

    1. Steve: as head of personnel, I had to file quarterly reports to the feds showing the composition of the company’s [non-union] workforce. Of course, nothing was ever said about ‘quotas’ or the such, although such was the actuality. The [federal] emperor had no clothes, but G-d forbid anyone should say something!

      1. Vince,
        courtesy of lawsuits, feds, crooked everybodys, the organized labor force of America – commononly known as unions, had to file everything with everybody ! The building trades were hit the hardest. That can be credited to our thick skulls and thinking that if we strong armed you, then you would gave. No so with the feds. They came after us with force. The worst penalties were issued to one particular local. If a job was to be filled, then first hire was a minority. Back in the ’60s, minority really meant black. That same union, as a court order, hired a black buisness manager, business agents and right down the line. The top of the food change doubled in size and cost. This was in addition to fines, penalties, threats of all types and the best of it was…. annual review !
        Tony

        1. Tony: our company was ordered by the feds to integrate the Philadelphia union (the name of the union escapes me, but I think it was the Engineers union, virtually lily white). The lawyer assigned to the case was a real snot. At one meeting I asked him how many lawyers were in his firm.. He said 24. I asked how many were black. He said none. I smirked at him, which really pissed him off. He said, “It’s not the same thing!” OUR lawyer simply sat there and said nothing. She was a loser — or else lawyers treat all other lawyers as if one day they might be on the receiving end of a suit. BTW, we never did get the union to integrate, which wasn’t our job anyway. If the feds wanted the union to integrate, they could have ordered such, but never did. That’s because unions almost always vote for the left, so why upset the status quo? My time in personnel made me a worse cynic than ever.

          1. Vinnie,
            Sure hope that you don’t hold grudges, being Italian and all that .
            As I said. In the ’60s, Uncle Sam, the ACLU, et al, went after the unions. Not to break them up, but to open them up to blacks. The feds said minority, but they surely meant black. I didn’t have a problem with people coming into the union to make it a better organization. In construction, most trades were not only Lilly white, they were Lilly blood. Family . Almost makes sense. You bring in people that you know, who will help. Sorry to say, that was not necessarily true. Our international played the game better than others. We simply cleared out the reservations. We brought them down into the cities ( Philly ) and transferred them into our local. We that were already there, were documented. This is why I get annoyed when people hide behind “minority”. Say what you mean. On the east coast, black was a minority. There was not enough of anyone else to be considered minority. On the west coast. Southern California, in particular, Mexican or Spanish was not considered a minority. You do the math.
            As for your lawyer. She and the powers to be knew that no good would come from fighting integration. The feds have deep pockets and love to fight and seldom loose. Your company should have observed what was taking place around the country and try to broker a deal with the Feds. That’s what we did. When we saw what happened to the International Association of the Operating engineers, we broke away from our International and brokered our own deal. We did admit blacks along with American Indians while at the same time still bringing in Lilly white relatives. We under court supervision for ten years. The blacks didn’t like the deal, but they were forced to live by it.
            Here’s why I didn’t like it. By forcing their way into the building trades, the blacks got some brothers into the locals. They, for the most part, didn’t do a dam thing. They HAD to be on projects that had government funds. 25% minority – 20% black. They weren’t worth crap ! We took it the other way by negotiating a deal. We got people into our local that wanted to work for a living and take pride in their work. As we speak, the originals are all retired. Their off-spring are close to retirement age, as they bring their youngsters into OUR local. Big difference. It’s called respect.
            Tony

    2. I believe that. My Daily News tried hard to hire Black candidates, but if they were good, the NYTimes and Washington Post and Inquirer pitched for them. They could offer more $$$ and prestige.

  9. sidebar:
    Ask the city what the Powelton Village fireworks cost us ! Mayor Willie B. Goode was the man back then. He brought in black owned contractors with mostly all minority workers. At some point – safety comes to mind, everything was knocked done and redone by union construction ! And he ( HA ! ) graduated from what college ?

  10. I graduated from Central H.S. All students were held to the same high standards regardless of race.

    1. Same for me at Stuyvesant in NYC. Entrance exam. DeBlasio is trying to get rid of it because not enough Blacks get in (and “too many” Asians). Not diverse enough. Meritocracies can be a bitch.

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