Earlier in February, the title of an article in the New York Times seduced me: “Hollywood’s White Out” declared that the 2011 Academy Awards were so white, they were “blinding” (a similar article in the UK.’s The Independent “The Oscars Are All White” appeared one week before, and cleverly played off of the movie title “The Kids are Alright.”)
¡Se me subió la bilirrubina! My eyes were fixated on my MacBook Pro Screen. My fingers clumsily caressed the key pad as my cursor moved downward and my reading advanced. My heart tightened with excitement as I read each line. My Saturday morning rapture would come when the article included and commented on the dearth of Latinos–U.S. born, Latin American, or Spaniards–in this year’s nominations.
That discussion never came. In fact, the so-called Browns (and “Yellows” and derivatives thereof) were erased in what turned out to be a binary discussion of race. In plain English: in a discussion about diversity, the Black/White paradigm erased all the other shades. Invisible. Non-existent. Nada.
If this were 1980, the social and demographic dynamic would be totalmente diferente: some buds were sprouting in the form of social gains and opportunities benefiting all Americans that were planted by the courageous battles waged by African Americans in the historic struggle for civil rights.
But THIRTY years later, any discussion of diversity that is reduced solely to race seems, well, as stuck in the 80’s as Bananarama or the Human League. The results of the 2010 Census, that ironically were released the year of the nominated films, state in black and white that Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States–and growing.
Unfortunately, the only place I may see a Latino or two is presenting awards at the Kodak Theatre and working the red carpet. Perhaps an A-list actress will be draped in Oscar de la Renta’s opulence, as seen in his Mercedes-Benz Fashion week extravaganza.
This is far from a call for affirmative action in Hollywood. Historically, excellence has defined Spanish and Latin American (particularly Mexican) cinema. It is as stylistically avant-garde as it is iconic for generations of artists and movie goers; as socially relevant as its political commentary is cutting. Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz’s success is framed by that of María Felix and Rita Hayworth who infused silver screens with a slow-burn sensuality decades before. Javier Bardem and Benicio del Toro’s economy of emotion and technique can be traced back to Ramón Novarro, Anthony Quinn, and Ricardo Montalbán. Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñarritú’s draw the contours of their political and social commentary against Luis Buñuel and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, who questioned authority by experimenting with form, time, and space.
Studio bottom lines, a popular culture that at once demands uniqueness while hedging bets, language differences that squeeze the cinema of the whole world into one category, partly explain 2011’s Oscar great “white out.” But audiences, like a country, culture, and language, are in a perpetual state of change, and have been, arguably since medieval times. Unlike troubadours, studio executives and professional cliques can cull reams–virtual and real–of raw data and balance this against plain ol’ good stories defined by fierce characters. But first, they’ll need to abrir los ojos to see the talented, bold, and contagious visions waiting for a break, and the perspectives new audiences are demanding.
I always expected more from the Academy and the critics tasked with holding the gate keepers accountable, especially in 2011. Next year, I want to applaud, not just the fashion on the red carpet, but the actores y actrices when they walk up the stairs, straight to the podium to accept the gold statues they’ve earned.