Looking At Oscar Nominee List As A Symptom Of Hollywood's Racial Bias
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Hollywood prides itself on being progressive. At almost any award show you can see the beautiful people festooned with red ribbons, green ribbons, je suis Charlie buttons as they arrive in their hybrid automobiles. The Oscar nominations were announced this past Thursday. Something you will not see in the acting categories is a nominee of color. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has selected an all-white group of acting nominees. Bobby Rivers, the longtime film critic and interviewer, joins us now from our studios in New York. Bobby, thanks so much for being with us.
BOBBY RIVERS: Scott, so glad to be here.
SIMON: You've called this, what, "Just Another Hollywood Sequel"?
RIVERS: "Oscars So White, Part Two."
SIMON: And - now, I just made a short list. Actually, it's not a short list at all - Idris Elba; Michael B. Jordan; Samuel L. Jackson; Will Smith; Benicio Del Torro; Angela Bassett in "Chi-Raq," the best part of...
SIMON: ..."Chi-Raq," I thought; Audra McDonald in "Ricky And The Flash."
Any of their names would have been very credible on this list. What happens?
RIVERS: I don't know. Well, the academy - the voting body is predominantly Caucasian and predominantly Caucasian male. So I think it's, like, 2 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic or Latino and less than that is Asian. And it's trying to get more diversity into the voting body. I think that the situation of black and Latina actresses kind of capsulizes the gender-race bias, if you will.
Now if you think of actresses such as Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Diahann Carroll - good, solid actresses - they got one Oscar nomination and then had to go to TV...
RIVERS: ...Because Hollywood offered no more substantial scripts.
You look at Jennifer Lawrence. She now has her fourth Oscar nomination. She's still in her 20s. And look at the TV show "Empire." You have Taraji P. Henson, Gabby Sidibe, Jennifer Hudson - three black woman who got Oscar nominations, had to go to TV. And Jennifer Hudson, just like Rita Moreno, won an Oscar for a musical drama and had to go to TV also.
SIMON: But Hollywood people are progressive. I mean, when they get awards, they stand up and say we shall overcome and...
RIVERS: Yes, they are. But you know what, I think it's not just the Hollywood people that we see on camera. I feel that, as somebody who has reviewed movies on TV and been an entertainment reporter and been a talk show host back in the '80s on VH1, there needs to be diversity in other areas of the industry.
The first time that I had a meeting with an agent was in 1990 at William Morris. And this came about because The New York Times liked my talk show on VH1. And all that time, I have only seen one black person as an agent in a top agency in New York or Los Angeles.
SIMON: Yeah. Should the top, most glamorous - and I think, in this case, that word fits - names in the industry - should Brad Pitt, should George Clooney, should Matt Damon be more outspoken about this?
RIVERS: I believe they could help. Usually, it's casting directors who've - I've personally have felt - had been a big help in this. There need to be people in the business who are more like the late Marion Dougherty. You probably know the story about "Lethal Weapon" - don't you? Do you?
SIMON: No, but tell, please.
RIVERS: Ok. Marion Dougherty - wonderful casting director.
Richard Donner got the script to "Lethal Weapon" and he saw OK, Mel Gibson. And I'm going to cast Brian Dennehy.
Marion Dougherty said I want you to see Danny Glover because there is nothing in the script that says the part cannot be played by a black actor. And Donner said he could have kicked himself because she was absolutely right. And that casting opened the door for other interracial in cop buddy movies.
So we need people like that who will think outside the box and say - you know what? A person of color can play this part. Or an actor who is gay could play this part. So we really need people to take the chains off their brains in the - several areas of the industry.
SIMON: Bobby Rivers - longtime film critic, interviewer, bon vivant.
SIMON: Thanks so much for being with us.
RIVERS: Pleasure to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.