Jessica Chastain speaks on diversity in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite

01.16.15 3 years ago 65 Comments

Lots was made yesterday of “Selma” missing out on key Oscar nominations across the board, save for Best Picture and Best Original Song. A hashtag – #OscarsSoWhite – even ended up trending in the US. on Twitter. The question I was left with was whether the outrage was being properly placed.

There is nuance to the “Selma” situation. I hate to dig down into the screener issue again, but with many of them arriving to the agencies of actors and directors on Dec. 19, with much of the industry beginning to shut down and tons of re-routing happening, I remain convinced that a great many still had not seen the film when they voted. I also maintain, resolutely, that “Selma” can still win Best Picture (and over on Melrose, the people at Paramount feel the same way). Phase two is a different ballgame.

But nuance aside, the issue of diversity in filmmaking is absolutely worth tackling. And even with missed opportunities with the likes of Gillian Flynn (obviously they didn't care for “Gone Girl” across the board) or Angelina Jolie (ditto), I find that the Academy is less representative than reflective. First and foremost, it's not a monolithic being making singular choices, as I've pointed out. But to take umbrage with the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations is, to me, to take umbrage with the lack of diversity in the industry. That's where the problem lies, not with the 7,000 people who annually speak up on the best of it.

The Best Actress category, for instance, was considered “weak” all season. And it was. My favorite lead actress performance of the year was Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Beyond the Lights,” but that was certainly a film that could have done with more campaigning. The way the category was shaking down, it was a thin group of plausible contenders; it's a wonder Marion Cotillard was able to push in, though, because unlike Jennifer Aniston's cause, hers was mostly muted outside of critical adoration.

The issue is systemic. Not to be reductive, but as an illustration: Stories with strong female characters aren't typically pushed through the system, due in part to the overall lack of female artistic voices given a chance to produce them. So actresses aren't given the opportunities to put out these performances and, ergo, the performances don't exist for the Academy to choose from. The end result isn't a choice, it's a reflection.

Anyway, I'm sure whatever point I'm getting at is muddled in all of that, but in the simplest of terms, I think #HollywoodSoWhite is more in keeping. And so I was delighted with Jessica Chastain's acceptance speech at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards last night as “MVP” of the year for coming at it from that angle.

“Today is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday,” she said. “So it got me thinking about the need to build the strength of diversity in our industry and to stand together against homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and racist agendas.”

She went on to state that she's optimistic for the future, before wrapping up with a quote from King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And in closing she said, “I would like to encourage everyone in this room to please speak up.”

Check out the full speech below.

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