Breckenridge Film Festival: We believe in diversity in film (column)
January 27, 2016
#OscarsSoWhite. It is a regretful thing that in today's age, inequality lingers. On Jan. 14, the 2016 Oscars nominations were announced, and, for the second year in a row, the slots open to the highest prestige and recognition of excellence in the industry were completely "whitewashed."
The overwhelmingly white nominations announcements garnered attention that same day, when Oscars host Chris Rock tweeted, "The #Oscars. The white BET awards." The topic — and hashtag — quickly became a flurry of excitement and criticism when, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, renowned and respected members of the film community spoke out in judgement of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, the Oscars nominating body.
Jada Pinkett Smith — Will Smith's wife — posted a video on Facebook condemning the Academy and declaring her boycott of the event. Spike Lee appeared on television taking it one step farther, calling the Academy Awards nominations a "misdirected play." The real problems, he claims, lay with the "gatekeepers": the studio and network executives — those who green-light productions — and the underlying social and economic prejudices of those who run the industry and those of us who consume the products. Spike plans to attend the Knicks game on Feb. 28 across the country from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.
We at the Breckenridge Film Festival acknowledge the issue brought to light by the nominations made by an Academy that is 94 percent white, 76 percent male and an average age of 63 years old, according to reports in the likes of The Atlantic. And there we have it: a 6,028-member Good Ol' Boys Club.
Now, some shifts have been made already. At Sundance, it's been a bidding war for studios to pick up "Birth of a Nation," featuring the story of Nat Turner; and, on Jan. 22, the Academy issued another rare statement announcing historic and sweeping — albeit controversial — membership and voting diversity initiatives.
We are confident there will be others. And we hope that it's not a fad, that the attention lasts and that effective and genuine — not artificial or shoehorned — changes are made.
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How ironic that a festival high in the whitewashed mountains should be making a statement on the race issue. After all, as Reverend Al Sharpton said, "Hollywood is like the Rocky Mountains: the higher up you get, the whiter it gets. And this year's Academy Awards will be yet another 'Rocky Mountain Oscars'." How true, in so many ways.
But the Breckenridge Film Festival believes in diversity and supports filmmakers across the globe exploring issues that are often difficult and challenging — whatever the race, gender, creed or issue. The Breckenridge Film Festival works hard to "provide diverse film experiences" during our festival and in year-round conversations.
And why does it matter? Because film is art, and art matters. Art — and film — breaks the rules and does so with groundbreaking success. We believe that inside and outside of Hollywood, the motion picture can provide windows into so many worlds, shedding light on our human values, our fears, our strengths, our weaknesses and our empathies in an overwhelmingly accessible way. It's everyone's duty in the industry to open these windows to the experiences and perspectives of all of humanity, taking risks that are said not to work … until they do.
#OscarsSoWhite has been painted largely a black-and-white issue, but, as is so common, there are so many more shades and hues to consider. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, herself a black woman, expanded the issue for us when she issued her statement that read in part, "In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation."
Actor Idris Elba said it best when commenting on the #OscarsSoWhite issue before Parliament. "Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin color … most important of all, as far as I'm concerned – (it's) diversity of thought. Because if you have genuine diversity of thought … you won't accidentally shut out any of the groups I just mentioned."
And so, when we host our Oscars fundraising event on Feb. 28, which helps to fund much of what we are able to do in this community, we will celebrate filmmaking of all kinds, from all places and from all perspectives. Thanks to technology, video and film has become a democratized medium, and we intend to do our part in further democratizing this important storytelling mechanism. We believe it's important to join the discussion. Won't you join us in support on Feb. 28?
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