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Academy members defend Oscar votes and lament implied racism


Story by Jack Foley

MEMBERS of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have defended themselves against perceptions of being racist as the war of words over this year’s Oscar nominations intensifies.

Speaking to trade publication The Hollywood Reporter, several members came out to defend the way they voted for this year’s nominees, while also expressing their anger and hurt at potentially being labelled racist because of the lack of any actors of colour among this year’s 20 nominees.

Primary among them was Penelope Ann Miller, an actress best known for Carlito’s Way, Kindergarten Cop and The Artist, who insisted that she was every bit as disappointed not to see a black nominee on the shortlists, especially as she voted for them herself.

She told The Hollywood Reporter: “I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year.”

Ironically, Miller will soon head to this year’s Sundance Film Festival to promote Nate Parker’s slave drama The Birth of a Nation.

But she continued: “I loved Beasts of No Nation, and I loved Idris Elba in it — I just think not enough people saw it, and that’s sometimes what happens. Straight Outta Compton was a great film; I think it just lost some Academy members who are older.

“There were a lot of omissions of white people that I think were just as disappointing — I’m sure [Spotlight‘s] Michael Keaton is bummed, you know?”

The Hollywood Reporter goes on to quote another member, who wished to remain anonymous, as saying: “I’m very offended by the idea that some people are calling us racists – race was the furthest thing from my mind when I cast my ballot, and in fact I nominated one person of colour for an award. Such a sweeping declaration is extremely irresponsible.”

But returning to Miller, the article goes on to quote her as suggesting that the problem lies further afield than the Academy, with Hollywood itself – a point made by actor and filmmaker George Clooney, who also insisted that a lack of opportunity was the bigger issue.

Said Miller: “There were an incredible number of films in 2015 that were primarily about white people. Talk to the studios about changing that, not the Academy. There’s only so much we can do.

“I think when you make race the issue, it can divide people even further, and that’s what I worry about.”