Monthly Archives: March 2015

Documentary Review: Red Army

The most famous winter Olympic legacy of Soviet athletes probably came from its hockey players with Vladislav Tretiak (bottom, third from right) considered the best goalie in history.

Red Army spotlights the Soviet hockey dynasty both on the ice and off the ice and reveals things we never knew.

If you like hockey, you may be interested in watching Red Army. It takes you back to a dynasty in sports history hockey fans will remember well.

The film focuses on the glory days of Soviet hockey. It doesn’t focus so much on its first exposure of Soviet hockey prowess back during its early days starting with the 1956 Winter Olympics and continuing in the 1960’s. Its prime focus however was during the 70’s and 80’s when Soviet hockey was at its best and most dominating. This was the era of Vladislav Tretiak who is widely considered to be the best goalie in the history of ice hockey. This was also the era of Vyacheslav ‘Slava’ Fetisov and the magic five that included him, Igor Larionov, Alex Kazatanov, Sergei Makarov and Vladimir Krutov. As Canadians, we saw them as invincible machines who we all thought we’d lose to big time or have to put in a hell of a fight to win, as we did at the 1972 Summit Series and the 1984 Canada Cup.

The film also focuses on the team being instrumental during the Cold War. As many may remember, there was the ‘free world’ led by the United States and the Communist world led by the U. S. S. R. or Soviet Union as we commonly called it. Both countries were bitter enemies and both sought to defeat the other. The people were left paralyzed with fear feeling a war between the two might strike any day especially as each country increased its nuclear warheads. As far as sport went, it was in that arena where the Cold War was a common scene of rivalry. The Soviet Union as well as the other Soviet-allied nations of the Eastern Bloc wanted to use sport as a showcase of Communism’s superiority. The USA/USSR rivalry was always the biggest rivalry at any Olympics. The US had their winning sprinters, decathletes, boxers, wrestlers, swimmers and figure skaters. The Soviets had their gymnasts, throwers, weightlifters, cross country skiers, pairs figure skaters and especially its hockey team. The USSR saw their athletes as soldiers in the sports arena.

However the film does more than remind us of the times and the USSR’s dominance. It also showed life in the USSR. Life under the rationing system may have been fine before World War II but it was hard after the war especially with the country being devastated at a massive level. It didn’t rebuild well but rationing among its citizen’s still existed. It made for a hard life for most as people lived in crowded houses which might not have included running water. Even Slava Fetisov remembers receiving fish on Thursday. It also showed how the athletes were the privileged ones in the Soviet system while regular citizens had to stand in line-ups for their daily rations. It even showed the weakening of this system to the citizens in the 1980’s which paved the way to the reforms known as Glasnost and Perestroika and the eventual collapse of the USSR in 1991.

Of all the hockey players, the film focuses mostly on Slava Fetisov. Fetisov was discovered by sporting scouts of the government who were hired to search out talent at a young age to train up to Olympic level. That was sport in the Soviet Union: children were scouted out, analyzed physically for future athletic potential, and taken to central training facilities to train eleven months a year up to Olympic level. As cruel and inhumane it was for the USSR to do that, it worked and the USSR often had the biggest Olympic medal haul during that time. However the USSR cherished winning in ice hockey the most. In fact there was one propaganda song sung by boys about hockey where they sang lyrics like: “Real men play hockey. Substandard men don’t play hockey.” It was in the hockey stage where they could best show the world Communism’s prowess. It succeeded with winning a massive number of World Championships and eight Olympic golds out of the team’s ten Olympic appearances.

The documentary shows another side of the Soviet hockey team. We all saw the Soviets to play hockey like machines. What we would learn in that documentary is that the Soviets were not only prepared to have the brawn for the game but they were also prepared to have the smarts for the game as they were taught strategies by chess players. They were even taught ballet by some of the top ballet instructors. It wasn’t just tough training they went through but smart training too. What came of it was a play that was not only powerful and effective for winning but a play of style and finesse. Hard to believe none of us Canadians noticed that. Maybe if we weren’t so charmed by all this hockey fighting in the NHL, we would’ve noticed.

The documentary showed another aspect of the Soviet players that we missed all along. Sure, we saw the team as machines but the team was like a family. Slava Fetisov, Tretiak, Larionov, Makarov, Krutov, Kazatonov, they all saw each other as brothers. Of course when your taken from your own home and trained at a location thousands of miles away eleven months of the year, it should be natural to do so. It not only helped in making them better players but it helped with the players knowing their playing style inside out and make them a winning combination on the ice. A reminder that team chemistry was as essential to the success to the Soviet team as it is in practically any team sport. That was one of the qualities coach Anatoliy Tarasov— USSR hockey coach from the 1964 to 1972 Olympics– invested into the Soviet hockey team.

However the film also shows some darker sides of the Soviet team. It begins however on a positive note with Fetisov’s first experiences being coached by Tarasov in the 70’s. Tarasov wasn’t just simply a strict coach but he also played the role as a father figure to the team. Tarasov also helped develop key qualities in the team–speed, grace, teamwork, and patriotism– that became the blueprint of Soviet hockey and helped create their dynasty. However after Tarasov was fired, Viktor Tikhonov was brought in as coach. The Miracle On Ice game of 1980 really hit the Soviets hard not only as a loss of a gold medal but also what appears to be a turning point for Tikhonov. Tikhonov became a lot more ruthless to the players and trained them harder. You can understand why the Soviet players have a disgusted look on their face whenever you mention the Miracle On Ice game and don’t want to talk about it. It was not only a defeat for them but that also marked the time when Tikhonov became more ruthless. He dominated control over the players’ lives. He even cut players from the Soviet team if he sensed they might defect. One example of Tikhonov’s control was when one player’s father was dying. Tikhonov wouldn’t allow him to see his dying father. Things even got so frustrating for Slava at one point, he ran away from the national team to spend time with Tarasov. Here in the documentary none of the players have a positive thing to say about Tikhonov.

The documentary showed that even though the Soviet team was highly acclaimed by the government for their prowess, they were also under heavy scrutiny by the government. Tikhonov wasn’t the only one nervous about possible defections because of the temptation of the NHL. We should remember it was commonly expected that athletes from communist countries were expected to be proud to compete for national glory and reject temptations of money. The team as well as other elite Soviet athletes were allowed to hold Soviet passports: something most Soviet citizens were denied. They were however only allowed to hold them for when they were to attend a competition. Once they arrived back in the USSR, they had to hand them back. Members of the KGB traveled with them in case one member planned to defect. There was a fear that one defection could set off a wave.  It reminds us for all their glory and special treatment from the government, they were puppets under a system with a huge eagle eye over them. In fact Tretiak may have been the greatest goalie ever but he was never once allowed to play for the NHL in his whole career.

The sudden arrival of Soviet players into the NHL was greeted with excitement but adjusting to NHL play didn't come without difficulties.

The sudden arrival of Soviet players into the NHL was greeted with excitement but players like Fetisov (right) found adjusting to NHL play came with difficulties.

The documentary also shows when the bubble eventually did burst and Soviets eventually did find their way into the NHL. It all started when a junior player by the name of Alexander Mogilny decided to defect in May of 1989. Eight players including Fetisov soon followed. The arrival of such players was met with excitement for some NHL fans while others were more forbidding like Don Cherry who didn’t want any at all. However things weren’t easy. Even though Glasnost and Perestroika were starting to happen, Soviet athletes were still under scrutiny. Fetisov’s professional career in the NHL was monitored. As for play, Fetisov did not adjust too well to new life in the NHL. He learned right in his first game how the NHL was a different kind of play, especially when it came to fighting. His wife Ladlena had some challenges fitting in with the other wives of her husband’s NHL teammates. The struggle was common for a lot of Soviet players trying to adjust to NHL play. Nevertheless things eventually did pay off for Fetisov as he was with the Red Wings in 1997 the same time as Larionov and three other younger Russians. The team was able to get a chemistry of their own and they won the Stanley Cup. The team was able to bring the Stanley Cup to Moscow’s Red Square that year but not without challenges such as clearing things up after a post-victory limousine incident and negotiating with the Russian government.

The documentary ends with what has happened since. Fetisov has become a member of the Russian political party, a Minister of Sport in Russia and even part of Russia’s bidding team in 2007 for the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Tretiak is simultaneously the current President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and runs his own goalie school in Toronto which is considered physically punishing by most and very restrictive to whom is admitted. Tikhonov was given countless honors like the Orders of Honor and Merit in Russia and was even a nominee for the Olympic Order. The lives of all the hockey players living and deceased are also focused on at the end.

However the most notable end is the focus on the end of Soviet hockey. As you know the USSR collapsed in 1991. Surprisingly Tikhonov mellowed down in his coaching style afterward but it was still successful enough to bring the team of former Soviets under the name The Unified Team their last gold medal in 1992. The Soviet dynasty ended with as much of a bangs as it began with at the 1956 Olympics. Team Russia has been a different story. Russia continues to churn out top talents and top players. However Russia has never won Olympic gold. Silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002 but that’s it. They didn’t even have it together during Sochi when they lost their quarterfinal to Finland. Leaves you wondering when you remember that talk of the Soviet’s team chemistry if that’s what’s missing with the Russian team. The film ends showing Alexander Ovechkin, the current Russian phenomenon, playing a shootout game for a Washington TV station. A bit of trivia: Ovie was just two weeks short of his sixth birthday when the USSR collapsed. As he plays his game for the TV crew, we hear Slava saying something’s missing in Russian hockey. You’re left feeling that same way too.

One of the funny things of the documentary is that it will remind a lot of Canadians of the inferiority complex Canadians had to endure with in the 1980’s and maybe even the late 1970’s. Already Canadians were going through an inferiority complex of being made to feel second-fiddle to the Americans ever since the inclusion of cable TV bringing American entertainment into our living rooms. Adding to the feelings of inferiority to Canadians was seeing the Soviets excel in hockey. It was often a case of Olympic rules as the best Canadian players were professionals who were ineligible to compete in the Olympics. The best Soviet players however fit within the Olympic rules and were thus eligible to compete at the Olympics Games while the Canadian team at every Olympics during that era always fielded a diluted version of our very best. The Soviets almost always came on top while the Canadian team always fell short. Even when Canada got out its best pros for the Canada Cup, Canada would still face tough challenges from the Soviets as they were total machines and would almost always dominate over the Canadians. You can understand why Canadians cherish the memory of the victory at the 1972 Summit. You can also understand why the Americans hold the 1980 Miracle On Ice close to their hearts. Being second to the Soviets in what is ‘our game’ bit hard and left us down for a long time.

The film also brought back a lot of memories not just of the Soviet team but also how many of us remember the changes of Glasnost and Perestroika that were happening of the late-80’s and early 90’s. It even reminded us of the sports personalities at the time such as Brian Williams, Ron MacLean, Don Cherry, Don Wittman and Al Michaels. It also reminds us of many memorable moments in hockey. In fact it brought back the memories when I remember first hearing of Mogilny’s defection. Who would have thought that would be the beginning of the end?

Another unique thing is that it does something that was never done with the North American television stations before. It humanized the Soviet team. It reminded us behind the strong stoic Soviet team, they were human beings that went through a lot of difficulties. They had human heartbreak of their own. One example when Slava was in a car crash in 1985 that killed his 18 year-old brother. He went through a period of his live when e just didn’t want to live. Even Slava’s talk about his frustration with Tikhonov to the point he runs away to Tarasov showed that even these tough, stoic players had a breaking point of their own. To think all us North Americans saw in the Soviets were machines.

If there was one glitch in this documentary, it’s that Gabe Polsky sometimes does a bit of playing around with the interviews. In fact I remember seeing at the beginning him trying to ask Slava some questions while he’s on a phone call. It’s no wonder Slava flipped him the tweeter after the second question. We see Polsky do a few other stunts too. It’s a question if it was really worth it.

Another glitch is that the film was first released in the middle of 2014 and there was some information either missing or failed to update since. One missing piece of information is Tikhonov’s death in November of 2014. Another piece is of the Sochi Olympics where Fetisov was one of the Olympic flagbearers during the opening ceremony and Tretiak was the final torchbearer along with pairs figure skater Irina Rodnina whom herself is also a three-time Olympic champion and considered the best ever in an event known for Soviet dominance.

Red Army is an intriguing documentary that hockey fans will find worth watching. It takes you back to a stellar dynasty and a unique time. It will also show you a side of them you may have missed during their heyday.

2014 Oscars And Diversity

DISCLAIMER: Some of you may wonder about the lateness of this blog. True, I could have posted this around the time of the nominations or around the time the winners were announced. However I was busy enough with watching and reviewing films around Oscar time. Also I was tired of blogging for a long time after the Oscars were awarded. This is something long-time subscribers of mine are familiar with where I take time out from blogging after the Awards. Nevertheless this is a subject that is relevant any time and is worth posting even now.

The Academy's lack of diversity was exposed this year with the subbing of David Oyelowo's performance in Selma from a Best Actor nomination and director Ava DuVernay's snub of a Best Director nomination.

The Academy’s lack of diversity was exposed this year with the subbing of David Oyelowo’s performance of Martin Luther King in Selma from a Best Actor nomination and director Ava DuVernay’s snub of a Best Director nomination.

When the Oscar nominations came out Thursday January 15th, with it came the ranting and complaining from people. The Hollywood Reporter is right that if there’s one thing we love more than watching the Oscars, it’s complaining about them. Every year, there are complaints from people about nominations that deserved to happen but didn’t. The biggest example for this year would be The LEGO Movie snubbed in the Best Animated Feature category. There’s also the possible complaint from people, especially Republicans, that none of the eight Best Picture nominees had grossed even $60 million at that time. One such to raise eyebrows, especially at Box Office Mojo. However the biggest noise came over the lack of racial diversity among the nominees, especially the acting nominees. It was all over social media. It even appeared in a speech by Jessica Chastain at this year’s Critics Choice awards. The question being how legitimate is this claim? And what does this say of the film industry.

How The Oscar Race Works

One thing I’ve been doing in my fifteen years of paying close attention to the Oscar race is learning how nominations are won. One thing I already know that having a phenomenal performance or effort in a critically-renowned film is good to get the buzz started. Then it involves having it taken to all those Critics Circle awards, film body awards, Top 10 films of the year charts from critics, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the respective various guilds and members of the Academy through various DVDs with ‘for your consideration’ stamped all over it and even ‘for your consideration’ posters. Even things of merit like Oscar nominations require marketing to success in this lovely industry called showbiz.

Then it’s up for the Academy members to vote. How does one become a member? The easiest way– or should I say the most guaranteed way as nothing’s easy in showbiz– is be nominated for an Oscar. That’s the sure-fire method. The harder method is to earn consistent acclaim over the years with your efforts and performances. There are a lot of members that were never nominated for an Oscar so there must be some merit system towards achieving Academy membership. Performances and efforts get a lot of Oscar buzz and a load of acclaim from critics, critics’ boards and awards juries. It’s now up for the members of the Academy to vote for the nominees. One thing we need to remember is that nominating operates branch-by-branch. Actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, scriptwriters nominate scripts, documentarians nominate documentaries, and so forth. One thing’s that’s certain is all members vote for Best Picture.

The funny thing is how many performances and efforts each year that are labeled Oscar-worthy. It’s like I always describe the nominations race: “Lots of performances deserving of the win. Only room for five nominees.” You can tell how hard it is to be among what should be called the ‘elite of the year.’ I even describe that by saying “Sometimes even excellent isn’t good enough.” It’s obvious why a lot of actors and other people in film rely on such buzz and advertising to get a nomination because they can’t rely on just their performance as-is. This is showbiz and it’s about that push and about politicking and advertising and cash pumping that lead to all these nominations and nothing is completely guaranteed. Even The LEGO Movie looked like a sure bet for the Best Animated Feature nomination but it didn’t get it. That to me was the biggest snub this year.

Then the nominations came. Selma was among the eight films to earn nominations for Best Picture. However the big shock came in the latter categories. Selma also had its best hopes in earning nominations in the Best Actor category for David Oyelowo and the Best Director category for Ava DuVernay. Both were already Golden Globe nominees and Critics Choice award nominees. However neither of the nominations happened. The only other nomination that Selma received was in the Best Original Song category for ‘Glory’ which had already won the Golden Globe.

The snubs bit. Ava’s bit especially since this would have made her the fourth black director and the fifth female director to clinch a Best Director nomination. Just as irritating is who was nominated in their place. For Best Actor, Redmayne, Keaton, Cumberbatch and Carell had enough buzz to sit pretty. David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhall of Nightcrawler looked like to be the tightest race for the fifth spot. For Best Director, Inarritu, Tyldum, Linklater and Anderson had the biggest buzz while DuVernay appeared to have her biggest competition for the fifth sport from Clint Eastwood for American Sniper. As what should have been expected for Best Actor, it went to a peer: Bradley Cooper for American Sniper. This was the third year in a row he was nominated for an Oscar. Unexpectedly in Best Director, the directors went for a lesser-celebrated peer: Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This is his second nomination, first being for Capote in 2005.

As much as the snubs bit, it’s not that unusual for more celebrated performances to be snubbed out in favor of lesser-hailed performances and efforts by Academy ‘peers.’ I first learned that in 2000, the very first year I paid serious attention to the Oscar race, when after I saw Billy Elliot, I was rooting for young Jamie Bell to get a Best Actor nomination. I even said: “If Billy Elliot gets a Best Picture nomination, then Jamie better get a Best Actor nomination.” The Academy granted my wish by making neither nomination happen. Favored over Jamie in the Best Actor category was the performance of Ed Harris, who had two previous Oscar nominations, in his self-directed Pollock: a movie and performance whose buzz either slipped under the radar or was kept low key because it wasn’t as heralded by previous awards. I saw it repeated in 2004 in the Best Actor category when Clint Eastwood was nominated for Million Dollar Baby. Sure his directing work was hugely heralded and his Best Director nomination was expected but his Best Actor nomination was completely out of the blue as it neither won nor was nominated for any other awards, major or minor. I continue to see it on a yearly basis in the Best Original Score category. It’s a given that whenever John Williams composes a score for a film, he’s guaranteed to get nominated. Even if it’s mostly unnoticed, it will find itself on the nominees lists even over more lauded scores by lesser known composers. Surprise nominees have happened in other categories over the years too. Rarely but often enough to take notice.

You can bet the outrage would start after the snubbing of Selma. All the acting and directing nominees were white. All the directing and writing nominees were white males. Additional irritation came when the script of Gone Girl was not nominated. This would have made Gillian Flynn the lone female writer among screenplay nominees. The anger came fast. Sasha Stone at the Awards Daily website was fuming. Bill Maher lampooned it. Jessica Chastain talked about the importance of diversity among Oscar nominees in her Critics Choice award acceptance speech. There was even the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The craziest news came from the Rev. Al Sharpton and his plan to start up a diversity task force on the Academy. Actually Al’s remarks were the least of my concern. Al Sharpton is less of a civil rights leader than he is a drama queen.

However it was later exposed in an Entertainment Weekly article where DuVernay herself was personally interviewed by the magazine the real facts. It wasn’t racism as so many want to believe. It wasn’t even the controversy of her portrayal of LBJ. Nor was it even her involvement in raising activism over the not-guilty verdict over the shooting of Michael Brown or her promotion of the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ campaign. It was however marketing. Even though she had a Golden Globe nomination as did Oyelowo, the film was shunned out of the Screen Actors Guild awards, Directors Guild awards and the Producers Guild’s Golden Laurel awards, weakening Selma‘s chances for Oscar nominations. Even her own late distribution of the promotional DVD to Academy members, meaning members wouldn’t get it until later-December with little time to spare for nomination voting, decreased Selma‘s chances even further. Who you know doesn’t just involve getting acting jobs. It can even involve awards nominations too. In the end, Selma was nominated for Best Picture but its only other nomination was for Best Original Song for ‘Glory,’ which would go on to win the Oscar. However Selma became the first Best Picture nominee since 2002’s Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers without additional nominations in acting, directing or scriptwriting.

Whatever happened, it did expose a lot of holes in the Academy. Having a group of peers declaring nominees does leave for a lot of subjectivity in its choices. You can describe a lot of performances as ‘deserving’ of an Oscar win or even a nomination but the reality is this is showbiz. As much as there are a lot of performances and efforts deserving of nominations, I’m also well aware that showbiz is one domain where you won’t get what you deserve no matter how hard you work. Being able to command at least $1,000,000 per film, getting the big break of a lifetime and even getting an Oscar nomination are all as much about luck as even making it as an actor, especially in Hollywood. And it’s not uncommon to see peer favoritism in terms of Oscar nominations and seeing a deserving performance from an up-and-comer snubbed out.

Such snubs especially bite when it happens to a minority. People magazine even did a 1996 cover article entitled ‘Hollywood Black-Out’ about how black actors and other blacks in the film industry are shunned out. It’s not just blacks. Seeing the rare times when an actor/actress of a different race is nominated brings up reminders how their race is also given too little acclaim from the Academy. Having black celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock host the Oscars has done little to quell this controversy. The fact that the AMPAS Academy is headed by a black woman, Cheryl Boone-Isaacs,  still did little to ease whatever tensions over diversity pop up. Even the awarding of Best Picture to Twelve Years A Slave last year was instantly forgotten. Even though I’ve faced the fact that this is showbiz and there’s really no such thing as unfair, I too would like to see more diversity happen.

Diversity Not Just Black And White

It’s not just a case of black actors or directors or other African-American filmworkers of various trades. We should also remember about Latin Americans. The last fifteen years has seen a good number of nominations going to actors from the Latin American countries or Americans of Latin American ancestry but even those are very rare as are the wins. I think Benicio del Toro is the only winner for this century. Just as excluded are Asian actors. I remember there wasn’t a single acting nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon despite its many nominations. There have only been two winners in the history of the Oscars: Miyoshi Umeki and Haing Ngor. Even actors of other races have been shunned aside or given limited acclaim.

Even gender is a diversity issue. Four women have been nominated for Best Director. The first being Lina Wertmuller in 1975. The fourth and most recent being Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 who became the first woman to win the Oscar in that category for The Hurt Locker. Scriptwriting has been more friendly with more female nominees but still predominantly male. Nevertheless this year bit when the script from the hugely successful Gone Girl which was adapted to film by the novel’s own author Gillian Flynn was shunned out of the nominations. Gender diversity is more active in the technical nominations like Best Costume Design or Best Film Editing and even in the short film categories. Nevertheless seeing missing nominations in the higher categories does cause one to notice the exclusivity.

New Century, Bigger Diversity

The biggest surprise of it all is that the 21st century has either equaled, or has come close to equaling, the diversity numbers of the 20th century. On the subject of black actors and actresses, they have achieved five wins and thirty-one total nominations in the whole 20th century and amassed a total of nine wins and twenty-nine nominations in the 21st century. The 21st century has also included breakthroughs like Halle Berry being the first to win Best Actress and Denzel Washington becoming the first ever to win two Oscars. Even in the Best Director category there was only one black director ever nominated in the 20th century: John Singleton for Boyz ‘N Tha Hood. This century there were two: Lee Daniels for Precious and Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave. It’s not just African-Americans getting nominations and wins but black actors from many countries being nominated in this century like Djimon Hounsou from Benin, Sophie Okonedo and Chitewel Ejiofor from the UK and Mexican-born Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.

On the subject of other races, one bright light was that 2003 had the most racially diverse set of acting nominees with nine non-white actors nominated including New Zealand Maori Keshia Castle-Hughes, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, half-Indian British actor Ben Kingsley and Japanese actor Ken Watanabe among the many.

Some of you may be shocked to know that 2014 is only the second year in the 21st century that the acting nominations went all to white actors. Makes you wonder what’s more shocking? The fact that all were white or the fact that this is only the second year in the 21st century to do such? The only other year that this has been the case was 2010. Only back then there were no performances by racial minorities that garnered significant buzz to stimulate Oscar buzz. Not like this year where efforts from Selma achieved noticeable buzz.

Diversity is slowly but surely opening up in the directing categories. The last three Best Director wins have been won by racial minorities: Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The 21st century may have had only two female Best Director nominees including one winner but there were only two in the whole 20th century. The 21st century has also opened up to female writers more. I even noticed in 2007 that three of the five scripts nominated for Best Original Screenplay were written by women including the winning script from Juno by Diablo Cody.

The Future Of Diversity In Hollywood

Despite the improvement in diversity over the last few decades, we have to look at the big picture of diversity not just in the Academy but Hollywood as a whole. I will admit that minorities are underserved in terms of box office fare. It’s not like the 90’s or the noughts where there were bigger box office stars of different races. Actually this last century has been an enigma in terms of defining a movie star’s success altogether. However I will say there was noticeably more movies back during those decades where a minority was the main star. We all remember a lot of those hip hop movies from long ago? Or even rappers taking on acting roles? Sometimes you wonder if we should blame Hollywood or the movie-going public? Like why does it seem the most racial diversity we see in terms of blockbuster fare nowadays are Tyler Perry movies?

Back on the topic of the Oscars, I wanted to delay my blog about this because I wanted the firestorm after the nominations to die down. Yes, there were a lot of people angry about the lack of diversity this year. There even some angry enough to dismiss past diversity of Oscar nominees, including AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone dismissing it as an “Illusion of inclusion,” which is typical of Sasha’s ranting. There were some critics however who pointed out there were a lot of other snubs from deserving efforts from non-minorities reminding us how chancy it is to get nominated. Even one anonymous blogger said “You can’t simply give a nomination to them because they’re a minority. You should nominate them because you feel their performance deserves it.” It is true. Even though I would love to see diversity happen amongst Oscar nominees, I am aware of the harsh realities of showbiz including that of the Academy. In actual fact, the Academy actually does not owe anyone diversity. Same as Hollywood doesn’t really owe anybody anything. The only thing the Academy really owes on ‘Nomination Day’ are nominations to the five best performances and efforts of the year.

One thing I do feel the Academy should do is reorganize itself. It should especially reorganize its ability in selecting members of the Academy. It’s not clear how members of the Academy outside of past Oscar nominees are selected. One thing it should do is allow for more fair rules for allowing for diversity. Whatever panel that selects Academy members should go to more film events like the various film festivals for selecting new members including those with focus on minorities. It should go to more media events as well. I’m even tempted to suggest the Academy should expand its nominees per category from five to seven but that’s up for the Academy to decide.

Since I mentioned film festivals, this is my next focus on how to increase opportunities for minorities, and this isn’t simply for Oscar nominations. Film festivals have to be the most minority-friendly of opportunities. I know because I’ve attended the Vancouver Film festival for many years. I’ve seen films from various countries directed by a diverse variety of people including many films directed by women. Minorities of both race and gender should seize every channel they can to get their works out into the public eye and film festivals are their best bet. There are even ‘specific’ film festivals dedicated to race and ethnicity and even women’s film festivals including one festival that advertises ‘by women for everyone.’ That’s why I said after the Oscar nominations: “You want diversity? Go to a film festival. There you’ll get diversity in film making.”

Since I’m on the topic, that’s another thing I feel minorities should overcome: beating out false stigmas associated with their works. I know I’ve talked a lot about changes and improvements certain professionals should make. I can’t really say the same about minority actors and directors because they’re not really doing anything wrong. They should all keep doing what they’re doing and follow their dreams. Even David and Ava did nothing wrong really and they should keep on chasing their dreams. However they are sometimes given a stigma with their works and efforts that’s not entirely true in which they should fight off. I often feel that most of the film world thinks of black directors to be like Spike Lee who always has an angry view of white people. It’s not 100% true as Selma showed the white supporters of the Selma marches in a positive light. As for female directors, I feel there’s a bit of a myth that sometimes female directors can either direct ‘chick movies’ or be the type that mocks men just like Roseanne Barr used to. It’s not true as I’ve seen films directed by women at the VIFF that depicted men in a fair light. Plus I never saw Ava try to give a negative impression of men in Selma. Yes, these stigmas are an undeserved burden for them but they should fight it by letting their works speak for themselves.

In conclusion, the lack of diversity among the 2014 Oscar nominees not only exposed a big hole in the Academy but also in Hollywood. As if showbiz isn’t unfair enough. 2015 is only three months old. The 2014 Oscars were decided a month ago and the nominations for 2015 are 9 1/2 months away. There have already been film festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Berlin showcasing films for this year. There will be more film festivals this year like Cannes, Venice and Toronto and even smaller film festivals showcasing a multitude of films locally and around the world. Time will tell which will receive Oscar buzz. Time will also pay close attention to potential nominees. However tracing improvements or declines in diversity can’t be traced in a single year. This is something that will have to take at least a decade or two to see if progress in terms of diversity has been achieved. Even though Hollywood and the Academy is as much of a clique as any other channel of showbiz and even smaller film communities, barriers still should be broken and diversity of newcomers should still be welcomed.

2014 was definitely a year when minorities of both race and gender were overlooked in terms of Oscar acclaim. Despite the Academy being more open in the last two decades, most people were left with the common impression: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Only time will tell if improvements in diversity within the Academy and film making as a whole have been made.