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The Oscars and Race

I introduced my kids to ice skating when my two oldest daughters were three and four. We would go every Saturday morning down to the Chelsea Piers Skating Rink and get our fill for the day. Eventually, they grew to love the sport and skated competitively for many years

Oscars

In order to get proficient in the sport, and then excel at it, required years and years of continual practice. The commitment was enormous, the training both difficult and time consuming. By the time they were seven years old they were training four times a week between ice skating, choreography and strength coaching just to be able to enter the arena and compete with their peers.

They were both good but my oldest daughter was exceptional. Exceptional in the sense that her talent was apparent to anyone who saw her skate. I was approached many times by coaches asking if they could train her. On one particular occasion, one of the top coaches from Russia was visiting to teach a seminar. He immediately took note of her talent. By the second day, my daughter had become his favorite demonstrator and was being used to show the other skaters the proper way to execute certain moves. Even though many of the skaters in the group were far senior to her in age and experience, she simply had more natural talent.

Given her talent and unquestioned ability, I anticipated that she would win most of her competitions, but this was not the case. Her winning percentage was at 50% even though, to the naked eye, she looked like the best skater on the ice.

The reason for this is that the sport is decided by the judges. There is no absolute objective truth in which to measure the winners versus the losers. An ice skating competition usually lasts only two minutes per competitor in which a skater performs a routine set to music. During that two minutes a skater is evaluated for only a handful of moves…such as how they landed a jump or if the skater used their edges properly on a turn.

Over time, she became so frustrated with her results that she ended up leaving the sport even though she had world class talent. One of her  longtime coaches, Christine, who had competed in two Olympics and placed in the top ten twice, understood her frustration. You see even though Christine was a top skater in the world, she would never be able to place any higher. She skated for a small country that would never achieve scores higher than the skaters from larger countries such as France, U.S., Canada and Russia. It was part of how the game was played. The sport was subjective. Judges preferred skaters from the biggest skating powerhouses which made it virtually impossible for skaters from smaller countries to crack higher than the top 10. When I asked my daughter if she felt slighted in any way, she said no. In the end, people skate because they love to and not for the trophies given.

Sporting events like ice skating are therefore always hard to evaluate with laser-like precision. This is the case with other sporting events as well, such as gymnastics and diving.  But this problem is not limited to the sporting world. The art world is much the same. The art forms of painting, drawing, film and T.V are all judged by a subjective standard.  Art critics can simultaneously love and hate a particular work depending on who the artist is. Nobody complains because we all inherently know that the work of art is being evaluated by a critic with a certain point of view.

In film, especially with the Oscars,  voter bias has always been a known factor. Big action films and comedies always fair poorly at the Oscars. Its a total outlier if either of these genres can even snag a nomination. Nobody seems to complain because filmmakers know the bias exists. The phenomenal comedy “Groundhog Day”, now considered one of the 100 greatest movies of all time, didn’t garner even a single nomination. The lead actor, Bill Murray, and the director, Harold Ramis, are highly regarded for their comedic and storytelling abilities. They, too, did not complain.

The very public groaning over this years Oscar nominations is that two acclaimed films, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Concussion” both star black actors; yet. they received no nominations. Activists and many artists claim that these works, as well as others, prove that the Oscars nominating Committee is racist. But given the Oscars penchant for voting for certain types of movies, it seemed to me par for the course.  As it is every year, there are great works and talents not recognized for their accomplishments regardless of their race.

After the backlash subsidies, I fear the Oscar voters will cave. I  believe going forward, the Academy of Arts and Sciences that oversees the nominations  will now have to look for a Black artist to nominate every year… lest they be called racists. Taking this logic to its zenith,  Latinos, Transgender, Indians, Native Americans, and Catholics, etc.. will protest as well until all the minorities are represented by nominations at the detriment of true artistic ability.

We already have groups and organizations that have artistic awards broken down by race. For example, the B.E.T  has its own channel where they nominate only Blacks. The A.L.M.A, awards only Latinos. We are getting to a point where we will no longer have any inclusive award shows, but rather awards divided by gender, religion, race and culture lest no one be offended.

Which leads me back to “subject evaluations” in art. There are no right answers only points of view in subjective mediums. What seems lost in the discussion is that the true meaning we get from creating anything is gained in the process and the creation.  If we allow ourselves to need validation from something or someone else, we are give our power over to it or them. The Black activists protesting the Oscars are no longer content with the work, the money or the fame.  They want the nomination that Oscar voters can give them and, by so wanting, abdicate their power in the process.

No man can validate or redeem  another. Only we can do that for ourselves. What the Oscar nominating Committee does not realize is that even if every award went to a Black artist it would still not satiate the protesters. What the Black activists are asking for is something the Oscar voters can’t give: validation.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

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