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Giving Racist Anonymous Oscar Voters a Platform Doesn’t Expose Misogynoir—It Profits From It

Viola Davis during a Q&A for 'The Woman King' at the Toronto International Film Festival

Entertainment publications have long sought out Academy voters (in all disciplines) willing to share their voting process anonymously. Supposedly, this is to “see how the sausage is made” and reveal how much of a meritocracy Hollywood isn’t. Back in February, Variety published the musings of five Grammy voters ahead of music’s biggest awards show.

Earlier this month, ahead of the Oscars, Entertainment Weekly did the same thing for the Academy Awards, and … I just …

I know these voters are protecting their identities, but it’s astounding what people are willing to say in print. Like, regardless of whether anyone knows it’s you … you still want to put those words in print? Forever? Like, you’re good with that?

Black women don’t get to be good at stuff without being punished

Danielle Deadwyler in a scene from 'Till.' She is indoors, standing in front of an open wooden bedroom door. We see her from the shoulders up. She's wearing a black dress and wears red lipstick. She has a soft smile on her face, and her eyes look teary.
(Orion Pictures)

As The Nation pointed out regarding the Grammys and the anonymous voters’ response to Beyoncé:

“[I]t seems more useful to look at the counterintuitive idea on repeat here, which seems to be that Beyoncé is in danger of becoming too decorated. That she is too meticulously intentional and inventive with every album rollout; too perfectionistic in ensuring that every release feels pull-out-the-stops unprecedented. That her cultural impact has been too outsize, too disruptive. In short, that she should be penalized for taking up too much rarefied space. Once again, it’s misogynoir—the intertwined anti-Blackness and misogyny that pathologizes and stigmatizes Black women. Same refrain, different song.”

The piece goes on to mention instances outside of entertainment where Black women are penalized for … being too good at their jobs. Punished for their excellence. If not punished, then the criteria for judging changes to “level the playing field” for less-talented people who aren’t Black.

Simone Biles, a.k.a. the GOAT in gymnastics, being scored differently during competition, because she’s capable of feats of gymnastics that few (if any) gymnasts can do, and the International Gymnastics Federation wants to “ensure the safety of” other gymnasts who’d fail if they attempted the same moves.

Serena Williams being masculinized in the media while opponents who can’t beat her even when taking performance-enhancing drugs trash-talk her in their memoirs, as detailed in this New York Times piece about Maria Sharapova.

And Shonda Rhimes, one of the most successful TV showrunners ever, being denied one extra free ticket to Disneyland for her family from ABC. According to The Hollywood Reporter, an ABC executive responded, “Don’t you have enough?”

Me as Rhimes: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the TRUCKLOADS OF MONEY I MAKE YOU EVERY YEAR. Would you mind repeating that?

This jerk didn’t even see The Woman King!

Viola Davis in a scene from 'The Woman King.' We see her from the shoulders up. She's standing outdoors and looking into the distance. Her hair is shorter on the sides and puffed high down the middle of her head like a mohawk. She has a scar over her eyebrow, and is wearing a sleeveless, brown, leather military uniform and a bone necklace.
(Sony Pictures)

The Oscars are certainly not immune to this level of misogynoir. It’s almost as if racism is a systemic problem that permeates every part of society!

In EW’s breakdown of anonymous Oscar ballots, one quote in particular stands out regarding the Best Actress nominations. It’s from an unnamed actor, whose “performances in critically heralded prestige dramas, biting mainstream thrillers, and on Emmy-winning TV shows have earned [him] consistent acclaim throughout his career“:

“When [the Academy gets] in trouble for not giving Viola Davis an award, it’s like, no, sweetheart, you didn’t deserve it. We voted, and we voted for the five we thought were best. It’s not fair for you to start suddenly beating a frying pan and say [they’re] ignoring Black people. They’re really not, they’re making an effort. Maybe there was a time 10 years ago when they were, but they have, of all the high-profile things, been in the forefront of wanting to be inclusive. Viola Davis and the lady director need to sit down, shut up, and relax. You didn’t get a nomination — a lot of movies don’t get nominations. Viola, you have one or two Oscars, you’re doing fine.

(bolded emphasis mine)

  • OK, if by “trouble” you mean fans and critics expressing displeasure in the Academy, sure. But “trouble” implies consequences. If you’re any indication, Actor With Consistent Acclaim, there have been exactly zero consequences for any of the Academy’s voting.
  • How very f###ing dare you refer to consummate talent and industry veteran, Viola Davis, as “sweetheart.” I don’t know who you are, or how old you are, but it doesn’t matter. You would never refer to a white, male colleague so dismissively.
  • Beating a frying pan?That quality example of racism and sexism was your go-to metaphor?
  • “The lady director” of The Woman King has a name, and you’d better put some respect on it. Her name is Gina Prince-Bythewood, and she’s been working in the industry for over 20 years, writing on hit shows like A Different World before directing such films as Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees before directing The Woman King. Your ignorance and dismissiveness aren’t cute or charming.
  • They need to “sit down, shut up, and relax?” First, they are not the only source of complaints. It’s the rest of us! The ones who pay the money to see films so that bags of douche like Actor With Consistent Acclaim can keep having jobs! The filmgoing audience and journalists who analyze media are trying to encourage the Academy to do things differently so that massive talents aren’t sidelined because they happen to be Black women. Second, the misogynoir-steeped nature of your comment to two long-time industry professionals is so gross. No one is snidely telling Meryl Streep “Meryl, you have three Oscars and 21 total nominations, you’re doing fine.”

All this from an actor who admits in the EW piece that HE DIDN’T EVEN SEE THE WOMAN KING. But it’s just that he’s “a little tired of Viola Davis and her snotty crying. I’m over all of that.” You know what I’m over? Mediocre men wearing their ignorance like a badge of honor.

Did you know that anyone can play a wronged mom?

Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till Bradley in a scene from 'TILL.' They are standing on a train platform next to a train that's pulled into the station. Emmett is in a dark blue suit and hat looking down at a watch in his hands as he walks. Mamie is in a bright yellow and white floral print dress and a yellow hat. She has short hair that's set in waves. She's looking at what her son is doing with the watch. She's wearing white gloves and has a small purse hanging from one arm. There are train employees in the background.
(Orion Pictures)

And all that was just him showing his racist ass about The Woman King. Get a load of what he said about Danielle Deadwyler’s snub for her performance in the film, Till:

“[Danielle Deadwyler] was so pandering [in Till] for an Academy Award nomination. She was good. I mean, who wouldn’t be good in a part like that? The strong, wronged mother. But you look at the real Mamie Till, she’s not wearing all of these incredible gowns and beautifully made-up. I thought it was a confusing message. If they’d really [made a movie about] that woman, who was not used to being in the public eye and wore house dresses, she [wouldn’t have] had one incredible outfit after another. The ego behind this pushing her to be a movie star was too blatant for me.”

(bolded emphasis mine)

  • “Who wouldn’t be good in a part like that?” You’re right, Actor With Consistent Acclaim. Anyone can play a strong, wronged mother. You could literally get a stand-in to play the role, and they’d deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, right? Now, let me guess, a truly meaty female role that requires actual skill would be one that’s more, I dunno, not so domestic and “typical?”
  • So … Deadwyler didn’t deserve a nomination for Best Actress, because of her … costumes? You know her performance is independent of the clothing chosen for the character, right? You voted for Michelle Yeoh, who I agree gave the best performance among the nominees, but her character was also a mother whom we got to see in amazing outfits. I guess you liked her more because her role involved martial arts and she was appropriately “dowdy” most of the time? Or is it that she has lighter skin than Deadwyler and therefore, more palatable to you?
  • Also, how the hell do you know what Emmett Till’s mother wore most of the time? The assumption that a Black mother in the 1950s would only wear “housedresses?” I mean, tell me you’re ignorant without telling me you’re ignorant. The dresses in Till were period accurate. And yes, this was a Hollywood version of a true and tragic story, so the look of the entire cast and production design is a bit more polished than real life. That’s every Hollywood movie. That you’re singling out Till for something every biopic does is ridiculous.
  • “The ego behind this …?” And the misogynoir train has come back around. Immediately before this comment about Deadwyler, Actor With Consistent Acclaim is very forgiving of Andrea Riseborough’s “pandering” performance and subsequent campaign for an Oscar nomination, saying that “all’s fair in love and war.” Then, after admitting he never even saw The Woman King, he said that “I’m willing to believe that Andrea Riseborough gave a better performance.” I’m willing to believe. That’s the kind of grace white women get. This actor doesn’t feel the need to watch a Black woman’s performance, because he’s tired of her “snotty crying,” but he’s willing to believe that the white woman’s performance he did see was better.

    He then chalks Deadwyler’s very performance (not her campaigning for an Oscar, but her actual performance) up to “ego.” She was just too good. But, like, anyone could’ve played that part, and it was clear she was aiming for an Oscar. How dare she deliver excellent work and want a top prize that literally every other film actor also wants.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood at the 14th annual AAFCA awards
(Jemal Countess, Getty Images)

Companies profit because of, and at the expense of, Black women

A big part of the problem is the sensationalist slant of entertainment outlets in general. They’re likely not choosing anonymous ballots from folks who are the most nuanced in their analysis. They’re choosing people who will be as catty and snarky as possible in their quotes to get more clicks. I get it. It does get clicks. But it also encourages people to be their most hateful selves for the sake of entertainment.

There’s a reason these ballots need to be done anonymously. On some level, everyone who thinks and says these things knows that these are unacceptable things to say publicly. Most of the time, then, they do everyone the courtesy of keeping their most vitriolic racism and sexism to themselves. But giving people like this the free reign of anonymity doesn’t perform any kind of service. It certainly isn’t exposing misogynoir in the industry. We already know it exists. What it does is make racists and sexists feel safe about having a highly trafficked, public platform on which to spew their ignorance, knowing they’ll never be challenged about it.

Obviously, these outlets aren’t creating the racism and sexism amongst Academy voters. But when the anonymous quotes go completely unchallenged—with outlets like Variety or EW suddenly deciding that now is the time to be worried about “just reporting facts” without providing any editorial context—it heavily contributes to a climate of racism and sexism in Hollywood. It gives industry pros permission to be as hateful as they want to be, consequence-free.

And no, me writing an opinion piece at another outlet isn’t a consequence, nor does it constitute anyone “getting in trouble.”

A part of me feels not-great about writing this piece. There will be more clicks that garner more profits for these industry outlets. But I guess I still hold onto the hope that, regardless of Variety‘s or EW’s genuine intentions, that seeing the racism and sexism laid out in black and white like this will encourage Academy members to do what they need to do to improve their voting process and make it more inclusive.

And it isn’t that talented, Black women in film need Oscars for validation. It’s that the Oscars needs them.

(featured image: Emma McIntyre, Getty Images)

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