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Academy Awards out of touch with American Values

Lack of Diversity and Gift Bags Demonstrate Poor Judgment

When I think of ethics I immediately look at the way in which an individual or group of people have been treated and the message it sends to others who may not “qualify” for such treatment. The Academy Award nominations miss the mark of fairness in leaving out all African-American movie stars and directors from the nominations for the second consecutive year.

To say the Academy is out of touch is an understatement. Consider its decision to give out $200,000 in goodie bags to acting and directing nominees put together by L.A. PR firm Distinctive Assets that includes beauty goods and luxury experiences from brands hoping to capitalize on the stars' names. This act reflects an ethical blindness to the legitimate needs of so many in the country who are still struggling to make ends meet. Can anyone explain why Hollywood’s rich and powerful need $200,000 worth of extravagant goodies? It would seem to be a good “talking point” for Bernie Sanders supporters.

On February 28 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will have their annual Oscar awards amidst almost universal condemnation for a lack of diversity in the nominees. Stand-out films with African-American casts or directors such as “Concussion”, "Creed", and “Straight Outta Compton” were largely ignored. Not to mention Beasts of No Nation that received no Oscar nods even though African-American actor Idris Elba won the Screen Actors Guild Award as the Best Supporting Actor. I wonder whether the latter can be attributed to the fact that the movie was made by Netflix and not a major studio.

Following criticisms two years in a row about the lack of diversity in Oscar nominees, the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, issued a statement saying that she was "both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it's time for big changes".

Those changes, according to Isaacs, includes altering the makeup of the membership of those who vote on the awards. "In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond," Isaacs said. "We have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly."

This is a cop out in my opinion. The key is that the studios are not proactively seeking out qualified minorities to direct major films; neither are they looking for outstanding African-American actors to play important roles. Can it be attributed to an old-boy network? Perhaps to some extent. However, there is a racial bias in my opinion, and it’s not just in the Academy. Just consider some of the public criticism of the Star Wars movie which prominently features Nigerian-British actor John Boyega in a role some deemed for ‘whites’ only. What difference does color make? If we truly are in post-racial America, these choices should not even be debated as “right” or “wrong”; good or bad.

It gets worse for the Academy. I’m sure it didn’t think about the message it sends when acting and directing nominees receive $200,000 worth of stuff in their goodie bags, even those who aren’t selected for an award. We’re talking about millions of dollars in party favors for a group of Hollywood stars, most of whom are millionaires many times over. The list of gifts will turn your head.

  • A 10-day, first-class trip to Israel ($55,000)
    • A year’s worth of unlimited Audi car rentals from Silvercar ($45,000)
    • A 15-day walking tour of Japan ($45,000)
    • 3 private training sessions with “celebrity wellness expert” and star of ABC’s My Diet Is Better Than Yours, Jay Cardiello ($1,400)
    • Ultherapy—a laser skin-tightening procedure courtesy of 740 Park MD ($5,530)
    • A Lifetime supply of skin creams from Lizora ($31,200)
    • A Fit Club TV “Ultimate Fitness Package” in a private villa ($6,250)

We’ve heard a lot this election cycle about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer while the middle class gets squeezed. I’m all for capitalism but as an economic and wealth creation system we have lost our way. From realty TV shows that depict conspicuous consumption to those in financial services industry that made decisions based on greed, and which ushered in the financial recession. My concern is that our economic system has broadened the gap between the haves and have-nots. My fear is that societies which are highly unequal create resentment and social division. We need to reverse course now and not kick the can down the road for another 8 years.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 23, 2016. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: