The ongoing controversy over the Academy Awards' lack of diversity was realized in a street art installation piece left on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood by Plastic Jesus, known for past attention-getting art critical of the Oscars. The artwork is a powerful re-imagining of Elliott Erwitt's famous photo of segregated drinking fountains, but with a movie set makeup table next to a water basin, under signs reading "WHITE" and "COLORED."
The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag began as an observation by April Reign, and has become the name of this era of disenfranchisement. Bridge of Spies was intriguing, but Straight Out of Compton was thrilling. Sylvester Stallone is outstanding in Creed, but he's not the only part of what makes it a great movie; he's just the white guy in the great movie.
This could be a consistent unconscious tendency to only recognize the people you relate to most, and since the Academy is comprised of white seniors, they can't help but relate to the white performers and creators. Or, there could be conscious discrimination at play, or a combination of both. Either way, the appearance that the Academy doesn't work fairly is something the Academy should work hard to avoid. While these aren't elected offices being given away with tangible impact, these moments they present at the award shows, these are the dreams that boys and girls grow up holding onto, and they are just as entitled to dream no matter what their parents look like.
White Hollywood continues to display a tone-deaf attitude toward its diversity problem. The Coen Brothers recently weighed in on the issue of their typically all-white casts with some comparisons they probably wish they did not make:
"Why would there be?" countered Joel Coen. "I don't understand the question. No--I understand that you're asking the question, I don't understand where the question comes from.
"Not why people want more diversity--why they would single out a particular movie and say, 'Why aren't there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What's going on?' That's the question I don't understand. The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me."
As filmmakers, is it important or not important to consciously factor in concerns like diversity, I asked.
"Not in the least!" Ethan answered. "It's important to tell the story you're telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity--or it might not."
"It's an absolute, absurd misunderstanding of how things get made to single out any particular story and say, 'Why aren't there this, that, or the other thing?'" added Joel. "It's a fundamental misunderstanding of how stories are written. So you have to start there and say, 'You don't know what you're talking about.'"
He continued: "You don't sit down and write a story and say, 'I'm going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,'--right? That's not how stories get written. If you don't understand that, you don't understand anything about how stories get written and you don't realize that the question you're asking is idiotic.
Plastic Jesus said this in a statement about his work:
America prides itself on its diverse population. But sadly much of the US is still very racist.
Color still seems to be an issue in so many areas in the U.S. Law and order, employment, education, poverty, politics and movies. The visibility of Hollywood and the celebration of the oscars should show how the USA has embraced diversity. Clearly it hasn't. I think the lack of non-white nominations has really just echoed something that we can see throughout American society.
Whether it's directors, producers, writers or financiers we need to see more non-white people at every level in the industry. And I don't mean making fringe movies to appeal to non-white audiences. I mean making movies for the mainstream.
A few months ago, I was driving with my 8-year-old, and we passed a group of African-American men standing on the corner. He said, "Wow, those guys look scary." I was shocked and asked him what he meant. He replied "They look like bad guys in a movie."
I recently watched The Cobbler staring Adam Sandler - where he disguises himself as an African American in order to rob a man of his shoes. In the kids movie Earth to Echo Out of a bunch of kids it's the Black child who steals a car. Sadly this is still the stereotyping that goes on in Hollywood.
Last year Plastic Jesus placed a full-sized cocaine snorting Oscar statue on Hollywood Blvd. days before the glitzy awards ceremony. In February 2014, he created a full-sized Oscars statue shooting up heroin, shortly after the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. These pieces and others can be seen in the new book Where Else But The Streets.