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So, I’m at a diner last Sunday and the Oscars are on. But the sound was off. Which I considered Thomas Aquinas’ Sixth Proof of the Existence of God. So, as I glance up at the screen and the first award’s announced, Brad Pitt bounds onstage to grab it and I’m thinking “The man is 56. His hair’s gotta be getting a lifetime achievement award.” Actually, it was for best supporting actor, but either way, my not caring could’ve been measured in mega-tonnage till a waitress gets up and, much to my chagrin and over my internal screams of “C’mon, God, I’ll do anything you want if she just doesn’t–,” but it’s too late. She grabs the remote and doesn’t just flip on the sound, she turns it up to its “This is gonna ruin Richard’s night” level (for “Spinal Tap” fans, yes, that is higher than 11). Now, I’m in show business so I understand all the inner technical workings of how things go, but for the uninitiated, you know what happens when you turn the sound up on an awards show? Actors speak and you’re forced to listen to them!
Now, I’m not saying actors are dumb … just … lacking breadth. And … depth. But, to be fair, if you’re a world-class talent in anything, you’re probably focusing on that from a very early age and aren’t a walking library. My guess is as a teenager Serena Williams probably thought “Anna Karenina” was the Estonian qualifier she bageled the hell out of in Berlin last week.
So, I’m there in the diner and for the next four hours — did I mention it was a diner and bar — I watch all these actor folks “accept” for “whatever” while speechifying endlessly trying to convince everyone (and, no doubt, themselves) how engaged, woke, and socially conscious they were while not realizing that being crazy emotional about everything doesn’t prove you have more than a paper-thin intellect or something actually worth saying.
Which brings us to the Joaquin Phoenix trainwreck section of the evening. He wins best actor and a global platform and all he wants his captive millions to focus on is how immoral “artificial cow insemination” is. Really, Joaquin? That’ll get the audience all anxious for next year’s show while this one isn’t even in the books yet! I’m warning you, buy those ads early, Madison Ave! I’m just glad Joaquin showed a little restraint by not whipping out those supporting cow pics I’ve seen on his website (and that he probably had on him).
You ever look at Phoenix’s eyes, by the way? Bellevue security-cam nutso, emotional crackers stuff. If I were in the audience that night I’d make damn sure the closest door to me was unlocked in case he decided to artificially inseminate us all with lead. And, just to mention it, at the BAFTAs (the Brit version of the Oscars which many American actors wouldn’t attend unless given a first-class plane ride, advance notice of winning, and a night out after the show clubbing with Prince Andrew), how does the guy possibly think telling folks he’s going to save the planet by wearing the same tux for the entire awards season will generate anything but ridicule or pity or both? (Well, on social media, anyway, as odds are other attendees that eve wouldn’t dare throw questionable looks at a BAFTA winner during his moment – well, what was supposed to be a moment but his speech was six minutes long by this point and he hadn’t even gotten to the sobbing part yet.)
So, as Joaquin got nearer the merciful end of what became his I-feel-everyone’s-pain-damnit! soliloquy he thanked God he could be a “voice for the voiceless” not realizing most folks wished he was actually “voiceless” or they were simply “earless” depending on which lifeboat was available. But before he could put the deer on the hood and leave, he made the mistake of yammering on just long enough to actually stumble onto something that might be worth discussing (presuming “discussions” can happen in his world which is populated most likely by hired-hand head-nodders spread in his proximity). Namely the “systemic racism” actors suffer in Hollywood. What? Wait! That one, again? Finally, something that interested me more than my fourth Jack Daniels and, believe me, he was winking at me. More “interesting” because its ridiculousness was so obvious, so ironically, well, award deserving.
Now, I’ve worked in Hollywood for a long time and if one thing’s obvious, the actors and all the “talent” types don’t divvy up evenly by race/gender/sexuality/etc. (It, naturally, varies human to human, year to year.) So the hope of “most movie casts being 30 percent minority to better reflect society” as some have suggested is right up there with the hope of Angela Merkel showing up early to a NATO breakfast meeting and not flicking at the tiny American flag next to Trump’s orange juice when no one’s looking.
Add to that, most but not all actor’s roles (especially leads) demand a certain look, a certain very specific type, and has to be cast accordingly and that eliminates 98% of actors from every role the moment something’s greenlit. (Sure, some unexpected actor can come in and “nail it” occasionally, but very rarely.) Also, the fictional world that a film’s built around can often have characters largely with similar geographies, historical contexts, and looks, so diversity can’t always be woven into stories. Writers write stories that interest them. Directors direct stories they wanna tell. And their individual backgrounds, what their personal world has been in their own lives, often influence what those stories are and what eventually goes in front of the cameras.
The best way to get the desired diversity is by taking more ideas from pitch to production from minority creatives so characters and stories are more race/ethnic/culturally specific from the word go. And movies made this way are much more organic feeling (it’s obvious that Spike Lee and John Singleton, Esai Morales and John Leguizamo, e.g., have very sharp visions from their lives that greatly benefit all of their projects). Believe me, Hollywood is an infinitely random, frustrating, difficult business and anyone who thinks for a moment that actors in movies should meet quotas just doesn’t fully get the creative process. (And, as far as awards go, the idea that diversity should come into play with nominations just seems to lose focus on what is being celebrated, “best achievement(s) in…”)
Truth is, Hollywood is made up of two worlds. The “show” world and the “business” world. One world bounces around town trying to exhibit deeply human characters and their fictional tribulations to casting directors. The other rams creative teams together thinking they’re perfect to make blockbusters. To be vulgar about it—and I’ve been in the business my whole life so I can—there’s an [expletive] of money to be made in Hollywood and whatever combination of things gets you to that gigantic check-cashing Xanadu motivates a lot in this town. Firstly, you have to get the lead right (and all the main roles). Randomly casting them to keep the PC Police in check is reckless, especially if you’re a studio head who wants to gather as many ducats as possible, everything else be damned.
So, Joaquin, thanks for “The Joker,” a uniquely challenging role expertly executed by you. Sincerely. But as far as making movies along a diversity assembly line, your idea is quixotic and might have to just EXIT and FADE OUT.Published in