Capital Gains

The diversity issue within the context of the Oscars nominations is a hot button topic that has caught the country's imagination over the past week. The passionate discussion has made some impact with the Academy recently announcing a new diversity initiative to help address this glaring issue. The focus of the conversation has extended from the habits and demographics of the  voting members of the Academy to the sharp insight from Wesley Morris who astutely points out the institutional racism found in studio campaigns for their Oscars contenders. I agree with and support these assessments, but there is a far more fundamental issue that both exists as a cause for these Oscars missteps and greatly reflects the prevailing attitude towards Black film in America. That issue is lack of access to capital. I immediately acknowledge that securing funding for a film for many filmmakers across the board is an incredibly tough task. This process is even more difficult for filmmakers who reside outside of the mainstream, which for the purpose of this post is defined as white, heterosexual males. And to be clear, this is not meant to bash or pile on mainstream filmmakers. The intent is to discuss why there isn't more of a representative balance of stories that are being made, supported and marketed to the American public. 

If you look at the the roster of Black films that have been at Sundance over the last few years you will notice a theme. None of these films have significant budgets. In fact, the majority, if not all, are made for under a million dollars. Some of these films are graduate school thesis films. If you look at the web series world, successful projects like Money and Violence are made on the cheap, but boast huge loyal audiences. The inane idea that there isn't enough talent that can create strong films and engage audiences is simply not true. These projects are maximizing their potential with limited resources. So why don't these filmmakers and others have the opportunity to secure larger budgets?

A lot of it comes down to the idea of the niche film. Many Black films aren't viewed as a part of the everyday American experience. They aren't viewed by some investors and studios as a common human experience. They're viewed as the "other." And when you are viewed as the "other" your marketing strategy is narrow, sales projections (domestic and especially international) are depressed and your perceived ability to make profit is limited. And if this is the prevailing perception of your film's potential the chances of getting investments are slim. This is where the social and ethnic prejudice truly comes in. Instead of being treated as an expansion of the American storytelling canon, these films are placed in a box where an investor can say nobody wants to see them. As a result, many films don't get the funding to be made and lose a chance to make an impact. The opportunity to go on a successful festival run, box office run or even an Oscars run is eliminated. 

If the filmmaking community at large is truly interested in diversifying then we need to focus on ways to increase financial investments in diverse stories. This demands a fundamental shift in perception of non mainstream narratives. The talent is certainly there. When will the money be there?

P.S. Feel free to replace Black film with Latino film, Asian film, LGBT film, etc.

The Oscars: A Night of Bollywood and Political Mayhem

I know that I am a couple weeks late with this particular topic, but since I started this blog literally last night I felt like that would give me a little leeway on discussing a subject that may be out of some people's minds at this point. To be honest, I didn't watch the entire event. I had grown weary of the Oscars over the last couple years because it appears to be more of a celebration of box office numbers and popularity contests than of artistic excellence. Unfortunately, I went against my instinct and tuned in for the last 45 minutes and decided that I won't watch the bullshit anymore (unless I'm invited and they recognize me for my own artistic excellence, which in that case I will feel compelled to play the role of hypocrite, grab my statue and bring it home to the Bronx.) I arrived at this decision after being a non-willing voyeur to the orgy of bullshit that was thrown in the direction of Slumdog Millionaire. Before someone yells at me and says, "but that movie is so good. Why don't you like it?" I would just like to say that I love the movie and found it very entertaining. Do I think it deserved best movie, best director, best sound and an onslaught of American- based Bollywood remixes all night? Absolutely not. I felt that the entire night was one big marketing campaign that was practically begging Bollywood to do business with a Hollywood establishment that doesn't know its head from its ass right now. This is even more apparent after I found out that Reliance, an Indian entertainment powerhouse, funded Dreamworks to the tune of $500 million. Slumdog lacks a dramatic depth that in my mind denies it from being considered a best movie candidate. If the award was most entertaining then it wins hands down. But best film? I'll pass on that. By the way, The Wrestler was the best movie of the year in my opinion and the Most Disappointing Randy Award goes to "Doubt." Its a whole bunch of yapping about nothing.

My other issue with the Oscars was the veiled political statement that the academy made in their decision to pick Sean Penn as best actor for his wonderful portrayal of Harvey Milk. Sean Penn was fantastic as was Josh Brolin, Emil Hirsch and James Franco. In fact, the whole cast was strong and the movie was great. I'm a huge Sean Penn fan and it bothers me that I have to disagree with the choice. I don't find it coincidental that in a state that is fighting over Prop 8 that the award was given to a performance that has gay rights issues at the forefront of the story. I don't want anyone to misconstrue this as an attack against gay rights. That is anything but the truth. I am sticking to performances alone. You can't tell me that Mickey Rourke wasn't the best actor of the year. His portrayal of Randy "The Ram" Robinson was honest, vulnerable, charming, engaging, physical and tragic. Penn's portrayal of Milk, while fantastic, did not offer the variety or complexity that Rourke's did of The Ram. Part of the allure of Milk is the battle that he fought and not necessarily the person that he is (according to the film. Its obvious he was a great man by real life standards). I just found the decision a clear attempt by the academy to voice their political opinion behind their own award. I think that is distasteful and does a disservice to fans of cinema. Just pick the best performance.

What do you guys think? Am I a disgruntled film student or do i make an ok case? I would love to know how you feel  because clearly I feel pretty passionate about it. Thanks for reading.

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