Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, better known as “The Oscar people”, has made it her mission to diversify the Academy so that it reflects the real world as it is today. And she is certainly making good on her word, by, among other moves, inviting an unprecedented number of new members to join the Academy this year, with a composition that’s about 46% female and 41% people of color.
So far, it appears all who were invited have accepted. Although there is apparently 1 exception. According to a The Hollywood Reporter piece published last week, directer Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”, “Creed”) has turned down the offer to join the Academy.
Why? Per the THR report: “… [Coogler’s] refusal to join may not be related to any protest or stance on diversity in the industry, as some sources hint that, like Woody Allen and Sean Penn, Coogler is an artist uninterested in judging other people’s art.”
Or, in other words, he’s a filmmaker, and he just wants to make movies.
Needless to say, this could be something of an embarrassment for Isaacs, especially considering the possibility that other high profile new members could follow Coogler’s lead, and refuse to join as well, whether this year, or those who will be invited in the future.
And while not exactly a comparable scenario, this reminds me somewhat of the Mo’Nique Oscar situation, when, in 2010, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Precious,” and made it very clear that she was not interested in campaigning to essentially let Oscar voters know that she wanted to award; arguing that it should be about her work in the film, and not her campaign to woo voters.
Her stand angered and confused a lot of people, including the media and director of the film, Lee Daniels; but she wound up winning the award anyway. Although one could argue that she paid for it when she seemed to disappear, seemingly blacklisted, until recently. She claimed it was because she didn’t receive any film offers that were of interest to her, and also that she wasn’t offered the kind of salary she felt she deserved.
Or was it a case of retaliation by the industry, who targeted her for being a black woman who refused to play their game, and for speaking her mind?
More famous was actor George C. Scott, who was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar back in 1971 for his lead role in the film “Patton” about the controversial WWII general. He publicly criticized the awards, saying that actors should not compete with each other; and he called the whole game a “meat market,” and even refused to attend the Oscar ceremony that year. Naturally, he did eventually win the Oscar for Best Actor.
However, this did not affect his career at all, and made him even more popular; though Scott, many years later, said that it was perhaps a mistake to so openly attack the Oscars, and that maybe he should have at least attended the ceremony to accept the award.
So will Coogler’s stance hurt him? It’s very doubtful that he has anything to worry about, especially given his talent, and how seemingly fast his star has risen, and how well-loved he his. Also, attitudes have changed, and the Academy, as well as its voters, don’t have that sort of cachet anymore. Besides, more and more industry folks have been public about their lack of interest in the entire Oscar process (in addition to Woody Allen and Sean Penn as mentioned by THR above), insisting that their work is all they are interested in, and it’s work that should speak for itself.
And when you come right down to it, it’s always about the work; that’s the most important thing; not the awards.
It should be noted that neither Coogler nor his reps have addressed this publicly.