OPINION: Green Book vs. BlacKkKlansman— The Issue with the Oscars

This year at the Oscars, many films competed for Best Picture. However, Green Book directed by Peter Farrelly and BlacKkKlansman directed by Spike Lee, seemed to be the two major contenders. Both movies deal heavily with issues of race in American culture, specifically the American culture of the 1960s and 1970s respectively. Green Book took the Oscar this year, and for some, this didn't pose an issue. However, in a grand scheme, this poses a very important issue with the Oscars and an even greater issue with racial narratives and representation of the plights of the African American community.

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The Oscars are set up much differently from most award shows. It is not the audience that decides who takes home the Oscars, but a select group of members who must be invited to join and must be either retired or current industry professionals. That means that only people who make movies decide which movies take home the Oscars, but it goes beyond that too. Only industry professionals in a certain category decide who wins in that category. So, actors decide who takes home the best acting awards, producers decide who takes home the best production awards, etc.

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What this has proven to mean in the past is that there exists a bias in the decision-making. A lot of the deciders in each category know each other. So, it does not become a game of which movie performed the best, but who knows who and which contributors are friends. This has gotten the Oscars in trouble before, mostly represented by dwindling views in the last few decades as the moves the public were watching and the movies being nominated were not one and the same. In recent years, the Oscars has made an effort to nominate more circulated titles. Examples from this year would be Bohemian Rhapsody and Black Panther.

So where does the issue with this year's Best Picture winner come in? To understand, we have to understand the movies in question.

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BlacKkKlansman is a film about Ron Stallworth, an African American detective in the 70’s who served in Colorado. The man is an American hero, most notably for his infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. The detective still carries his KKK membership card to this day. Working with a Caucasian colleague.  Stallworth kept up communications with the KKK in an attempt to learn and take down the hate-filled organization. The movie about his triumphs was a story told by African Americans, about their history, struggles, and triumphs and was well-received.

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Green Book takes a different approach to representing the political climate at the time. The movie follows an African American pianist on a concert tour in the Deep South. For protection, he hires a buff white man to be his driver. The long road-trip style movie tries to find the middle ground between the two strikingly different men as they build a relationship despite the issues of racism and segregation that surround them.

While there may seem to be little wrong with the movie from the outside, there is still a drastic difference between the two films in question. Green Book addressed the plights of racism from the eyes and minds of a mixed category (both African Americans and Caucasians), in a feel-good, not everyone was racist way. This undermines the struggle fought by African Americans in this time period. Some argue that Green Book is an African American story told by white people for white people. While it has been well received by most, many, especially in the African American community, are angered by its poor representation and ignorance of a critical burn on the history of our country.

So why did it win? And why is that an issue? I think it won because of the set up of the Oscars. Until recently, the vast majority of members were affluent, old, white men. This has posed such a growing issue that a movement for more inclusion has been started within the membership committee. However, it is not there yet. The existence of a specific clientele is not unknown. In fact, the “Oscar Formula” that dominated movie releases in the months leading up to the event proves this. There is a known formula for winning an Oscar, one that appeals to the specific genre of human that is responsible for deciding most of the votes on each category, usually containing a feel good, we’re all human take with tear-jerking scenes and a message against an easily disagreeable subject, most popularly in recent years: racism.

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BlacKkKlansman apparently was not an Oscar formulated movie. Green Book evidently was. While I was not shocked by this win, I was still disappointed in it. BlacKkKlansman stood as a telling of a historical occurrence by the very people who should have told it. Green Book was the opposite. This win, while not surprising, does stand to highlight an issue with both the Oscars and storytelling of this genre and manner. Spike Lee, director of BlacKkKlansman turned his back on the stage as the winner gave their speech. This is an act of protest I stand behind.