Brendan O’Neill

The Oscars’ woke McCarthyism is a step too far

The Oscars' woke McCarthyism is a step too far
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Normally the best response to political correctness at the Oscars is to laugh at it. Whether it’s Lady Gaga singing a song about campus rape culture or Leonardo DiCaprio taking a break from his lovely, fossil-fuelled, jet-setting life to lecture the billion-strong TV audience about the scourge of climate change, a chuckle is usually enough to puncture the Academy’s woke windbaggery.

But not this time. As of today, PC at the Academy Awards has become a genuine problem and a genuine threat to artistic freedom. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to give it its full name, has announced that movies hoping to compete in the Best Picture category will, from 2024, have to conform to certain ‘criteria’. They will need to be sufficiently ‘diverse’ before the Academy will consider them. This is properly shocking. It smacks of identitarian McCarthyism.

In a bid to boost representation and inclusion at the Oscars — the only two buzzwords that matter in the 21st century — the Academy says that only movies that include a desirable number of people from various ethnic and social groups will be considered for the film of the year award. The ‘diverse’ groups that must be included are women, people of colour, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.

There are four categories that movie-makers will now have to consider if they ever want a chance of getting the Best Pic gong. These are on-screen acting and storylines, creative leadership positions and crew composition, paid apprenticeships and internships, and audience development. In at least two of these categories the movie will have to include an Academy-decreed percentage of people from diverse backgrounds or it can kiss goodbye to Best Picture.

It gets even more complex, as you would expect from what amounts to a borderline Stalinist decree about what movies must represent and how they must be made. To meet the criteria for the ‘on-screen acting and storylines’ category of the Oscars’ identitarian decree, the movie must have at least one lead character or a meaningful supporting character from an underrepresented racial group, or 30 per cent of its secondary roles must be made up of people from two such groups, or the main storyline must be focused on the lives and needs of such groups.

Get your head around that. The Academy is essentially telling film directors who want a shot at winning the most prestigious award in cinema-ville what kind of stories they can tell and what kind of characters they should create. This is a powerful showbusiness body using its mighty clout to pressure artists into depicting the ‘right’ kind of people and telling the ‘right’ kind of story. It’s a kind of woke tyranny.

To subject art to external criteria, to heap pressure on creatives to tell stories that influential people consider to be the correct and necessary ones, is a direct interference in artistic freedom. In dangling the Best Pic award under the noses of filmmakers who conform to identitarian imperatives, the Academy is also implicitly saying that it will punish, through exclusion, those filmmakers who refuse, or simply cannot, conform to these identitarian imperatives.

In the past, being a Commie would get you blacklisted from Hollywood. Now, being insufficiently diverse or woke or PC, as defined in detail by the Oscars machine, could lead to your exclusion from the most important award. Woke Joe McCarthys have taken over the Academy.

Imagine the kind of movies that could end up being shut out from Best Picture consideration. All those wonderful Merchant Ivory films that focused exclusively on the lives of white, posh Brits, with not a person of colour in sight. (Aside from, of course, the genius Ismail Merchant himself.) Or August: Osage County, the brilliant 2013 family drama about a dysfunctional white family, written by a white man (Tracy Letts) and directed by a white man (John Wells). Tut tut.

Badlands, The Exorcist, The Godfathers, Kramer vs Kramer, The Big Lebowski…there are too many movies to mention that tell the stories of characters who happen to be white. The idea that these films are somehow problematic, never mind racist, is ridiculous. Yet this is the implication of the Academy’s new rules: that there is ‘something wrong’ with films that don’t feature under-represented groups, ideally in the storyline itself or at least in the crew. Such movies will be seen as tainted from 2024, as so questionable that they cannot possibly be allowed to win Best Picture.

There’s a danger that tokenism will be an unintended consequence of this heavy-handed interference in the artistic process. There have been some superb films in recent years that have told the stories of non-white people — Selma, Get Out, Abderrahmane Sissako’s sublime Timbuktu — and that’s great. The more, the better. But do we really want a situation where filmmakers magic up a character from an under-represented group in order to have a chance of being considered for the Best Picture? ‘I know, let’s make the lead character’s sibling transgender to keep the Academy happy…’ That would be bizarre and patronising.

Kirstie Alley has been getting some flak today for describing these new criteria as a ‘disgrace to artists everywhere’. ‘Can you imagine telling Picasso what had to be in his f**king paintings’, she tweeted. She’s dead right. Pressuring filmmakers to include Academy-approved percentages from identity groups is no better than pressuring artists to paint certain things or cajoling novelists into telling certain stories. It is an intrusion into the freedom of creative people to tell whatever stories they consider important. The Academy needs to think again and put this woke McCarthyism to bed.

Written byBrendan O’Neill

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked, the online magazine.

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