Saturday, 23 January 2016

Wait 'til you see the whites of their eyes ... assuming you see them at all

It's not often that I comment on the world of show business but this Oscars issue has interested me. I still don't understand the point of black artists boycotting this year's event because there's no point boycotting something where you have no presence in the first place. As we saw with last's years events in Missouri, it's only when a college football team refuses to play that we start to see a positive response to real problems.

Charlotte Rampling's comments about 'racism to whites', Julie Delphy's remarks about a woman's problems trumping those of African Americans, and Michael Caine's nonsense about how long he had to wait for his Oscar all summarise, in the most grotesque form, the extent of the problem of the white Hollywood establishment consistently refusing to recognise black talent. The disgruntled black artists in question do not want to win Oscars for 'being black'. In fact, their dissatisfaction has nothing to do with winning, or not winning, awards. They are simply acknowledging the fact that the Hollywood establishment does not welcome their contributions; does not recognise work that exists outside of the Hollywood mainstream, and cannot or will not tolerate individuals who cannot or will not conform to white showbusiness expectations of 'acceptable' black faces and personalities.

Caine's remarks in particular are worth exploring. His comment that he had to wait a long time to win an Oscar is an utterly worthless remark which proves nothing. Black actors are not complaining because they're not winning enough Oscars, or because they're waiting too long. The problem is deeper and more systemic. Prior to winning his Oscar for 'Hannah and Her Sisters' (1986), Caine was already enjoying a spectacularly successful career that guaranteed international recognition, and consequently, a voice that would be heard. He became a massive star way back in 1964 thanks to his performance as Major Gonville Bromhead in 'Zulu', for which hundreds of black extras were paid roughly nine shillings a day to be gunned down spectacularly by Caine and other white actors. Some of those extras might still be 'waiting' for recognition and acknowledgement, but, as Caine has patiently explained, 'it takes years'.

I do believe - and I say this as a fan of Michael Caine, believe it or not - that there are good reasons for why it took so long for Caine to win an Oscar. One reason is the fact that he has made so many terrible films. Caine acknowledges this himself: I recall an interview where he made comments such as 'Oh yeah, I made that one so I could buy my mother a new house', which is all fair enough but even the large number of dire films he has made did not deprive him of a voice or recognition. Another reason may be that the vast majority of Caine's best films are not the kind of films that usually storm the Oscars in any case: it seems inconceivable that the Academy would have rewarded him for his performances in films like 'Alfie', 'The Ipcress File', 'The Italian Job', 'Get Carter', 'Escape to Victory' and 'Educating Rita'.

Whatever the reason, Caine did not have to wait a long time to win an Oscar because he is black. And being patient because you're black is simply not the same as being patient because your filmography is a mixed bag.

Happy New Year
Dr. James O.

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