Monday, January 18, 2016

The Oscars are not racist

I'm a liberal and love film. But I'm not a totally pc person. I am also not white. So, I find it disturbing that some African American film artists are protesting this year's Oscar nominees as being so white. It's as if they're saying there was racism in the nomination process. African American actress Jada Pinkett Smith and directer Spike Lee are going to boycott the Oscar ceremony.

My problem is that some African Americans seem to be mandating a quota. Art should be color blind. That means talent is judged by quality not race. If the Academy members that have viewed the movies nominated those that they felt were best of the year and not on the basis of race then there is no racism. Simply saying there are no black nominations does not mean that decisions were based on race.

The irony of all this is that Hollywood is the last place for racism. In the sixties, Hollywood was in the forefront of pushing African Americans into the mainstream. In the sixties, there were black leads in TV. Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek. Diahann Carroll in Julia. Today, there are TV shows with black leads. And on and on. And it's not as if people of color do not win Oscars. See African American actress Halle Berry. See Director Ang Lee. Update: I forgot one big example. 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and also won Oscars for black actress Lupita Nyong'o and best adapted screenplay for African American John Ridley IV. And that just occurred in 2013.

The best in film should not be effected by how many African Americans are nominated. The Oscars should be awarded to those who excel in film regardless of race.

The Problems with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I'm going to commit pop culture heresy here and say some negative things about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (2015) First, let me say it's a good movie not a great one. It's well made but there are some major problems with it. Warning. There are spoilers ahead.


While I was watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was surprised at how much of the movie is derivative of other films in the Star Wars series. First, let's start with Rey's home planet, Jakku. She's the main protagonist and her planet is dominated by deserts. Look familiar? It's much like Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine which was also a desert planet. And since she's related, ahem... to Luke, you wonder if the writers (Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt) decided to bring all things familiar from Star Wars to this movie. That will become apparent as The Force Awakens goes on.

The cantina on Takodana. This scene was similar to one in Star Wars which featured a cantina with strange aliens and an alien band. Iconic. I don't see why the filmmakers decided to remake another scene in a cantina with strange aliens and alien band playing music. You get this feeling that the writers decided to say "Hey, let's do another cantina scene like they had in Star Wars." It's almost like they were making another Jurassic Park sequel.

The Starkiller. Yes, there is another. And by that I mean there's another Death Star. In The Force Awakens, the Empire aka The First Order, has a planet killer superweapon just like the Death Star from Star Wars, and Return of the Jedi. (1983) It's a planet that destroys star systems but is very reminiscent of the Death Star. And don't ask me how they move the planet. Star Wars is fantasy not science fiction so don't sweat the details. But come on guys. This is the third movie with a Death Star.

Han Solo's death. Solo confronts his son, Kylo Ren aka Ben, on a bridge like structure in the Starkiller. It's reminiscent of Luke learning the truth about Darth Vader being his father in The Empire Strikes Back. Ren kills Han and he falls to his death. Very similar to Luke's fall in Empire and also Darth Maul's fall to his death in The Phantom Menance. (1999) And while I get this may be a homage to those scenes, this and other scenes demonstrates a lack of creativity.

The destruction of the Starkiller. Okay, to destroy the Starkiller, Han must lead a team to bring down the shields so X-Wing fighters can exploit a weakness and destroy it. Sound familiar? In Return of the Jedi, a team had to disable the shields on Endor so fighters could enter the Death Star to destroy that Death Star. And guess who led that team? Han Solo.

The fighter ships. It's about thirty years after the events in Return of the Jedi. The rebels are still using X-Wing fighters and the Empire is still using Tie fighters. Really?


The whole point of the movie is the search for Luke Skywalker. (Mark Hamill) Both the Rebel forces and the Empire aka The First Order are looking for him. The Empire wants to destroy him as he is the last Jedi Knight. And the Rebel forces want his assistance in restoring peace and justice in the galaxy.

It's clear, Skywalker can answer some important questions. One, Skywalker can answer as to what happened to the Jedi Order. Two, he can tell us, the audience, why he went into hiding.

Well, assuming you have seen the movie, you know what happens at the end. Rey finds Luke. She hands him his light saber and that's it. No answers. And before you say it's supposed to be a trilogy, you the audience don't know that. And by the way, even The Phantom Menace had an ending. We knew the prequels were a trilogy. Yet, every film in that particular series had an ending.

But what about The Empire Strikes Back which is considered by some to be best film in the Star Wars series? It ended in a cliff hanger. First, after the success of the first movie, the audience was educated that there was going to be three movies. And this is important. Empire was the second act in a three act play.

The Force Awakens is the first part of a trilogy, assuming that there was going to be three. You would have to be a loyal Star Wars fanboy, to assume that there was going to be a trilogy. I meant if the first movie of this series bombed, it's quite possible that there would be no others in the series. Second, the movie did not have to end this way without answers. Luke could have told Rey what happened to the Jedi Order, and why he was in hiding. Then the film could have left Rey's and the Resistance's future to be determined. Instead, we're left with a wait of maybe two years or longer to see what Luke says to Rey. You going to wait that long for a simple conversation?

This ending leads us to the next flaw in The Force Awakens.


The promise of seeing the original trinity of Luke, Leia and Han was certainly going to be a feeling of nostalgic warmth for Star Wars fans. Seeing the actors, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) is like seeing beloved uncles and aunts. It didn't matter what they looked like now. We know that they're older. We loved them then and love them now. Well, we did see Han and Leia.

But where was Mark Hamill as Luke? He doesn't say a bloody thing. I mean you sit through the whole movie just to see him and all you get is a look. What a gyp. I mean who wrote this thing, the creator of Lost? Um... never mind about that. Regardless, I was very disappointed with the end of this movie.

The question for me is whether I'm going to get excited about about what Luke utters in the next movie. It's going to be a two year or longer wait. The questions of The Force Awakens could have been answered in the movie.