White Oscar Nominees, Please Use Your Words For Good Or Not At All

Out of the wry mouth of The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Galloway — the same man who brought us the limp apologia, “Why Every Actress on The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable Cover Is White” —  takes on what is surely the most pressing question of this year’s awards season: how should white Oscar nominees promote themselves amidst a swirling shitstorm of diversity complaints and #OscarsSoWhite controversy? This is a question that, frankly, didn’t need to be asked, but here we are, in 2016, so we might as well face this head on.

“Pity the plight of Oscar’s all-white acting nominees,” Galloway writes. “Instead of celebrating they’re entering a minefield where any comment can explode in their faces.” What follows is a strange bit of what I’m hoping is poorly-written satire, advising the all-white nominees to use their words carefully and avoid saying anything incendiary, like Charlotte Rampling famously did. There are even helpful tips on how to campaign appropriately in the lead up to the Academy Awards, just in case the nominees don’t know how to be a famous person in Hollywood.

Apparently, campaigning while white is a slippery slope. Naturally, you want to appease the old, white, grumpy members of the Academy who are terribly racist and won’t vote for you if you speak out. Remember how an entire cadre of old white men got in their feelings about Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ moves to make the Academy more diverse? But, to not acknowledge the recent exposure of systemic and institutional racism and representation in the industry that you benefit from is possible career suicide. How, precisely, to resolve this issue?!

If you want to take home that little gold statue and you’re white, best to follow Galloway’s handy tips. Go to awards dinners! Head to Sundance. Announce that you’re retiring(Charlotte, girl, you listening, boo?) Do something crazy that makes news. Or, if your publicist immediately recognized the fact that you might speak out of pocket and clipped your ass to a short leash, say no words. Nothing. Silence. Be. Quiet.

If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all — until you get to the winner’s podium. Then thank your mother, thank your agent, and thank God you’re Caucasian, because otherwise you might never have gotten to be here.

If any of the Oscar nominees actually thank God for being white this year, I don’t think anyone is ready for the ire that will follow. Clearly(???), this was a joke, but it’s the kind of “joke” best said behind closed doors, amongst other white people, not in a public forum. Salt of this nature, poured into a gaping wound, doesn’t do anyone any good.

Silence, as Galloway advocates, is enough if the person in question can’t trust themselves to speak like they’ve had any sort of training, media, home or otherwise. Silence, while irritating, is your best option. Silence will make it so that you skate through this tricky awards season, full of clamor about representation and diversity, with your hands clean.  If you’re a famous person with a platform and influence, silence is just as bad, if not worse. Silence isn’t the answer. Speaking up and saying something is.

Normally, the quiet and respectful silence of allies — a word I am loathe to use — is a hill that I will die on with pleasure. If Matt McGorry, the patron saint of Woke Baes everywhere, were to stop speaking tomorrow, I would die happy.  The performative “me! me! me!” of so many people experiencing their Wokening™ is exhausting and mentally taxing in real time. Fight the good fight against whatever injustice you’ve recently understood to be a problem, but please know that the very cause you’re joining is a crowded field, full of people who have probably spent time living it. But, in this case, when so much attention has been brought to a very real issue that is merely a facet of the glittering diamond that is institutional and systemic racism, you’d be a fool to keep your mouth shut.

Speaking up and saying something is a simple act of recognizing your own privilege. Celebrities don’t have a responsibility to be everything for everyone, but they do have a responsibility to understand their place in the world, just like the rest of us. Diversity and the great need for representation is an issue that’s only now bubbling up in a way that is recognizable to the larger public, and entertainment reporters, posted up on red carpets this awards season will certainly shove a microphone into the bearded face of a star and ask for his take on #OscarsSoWhite. Even if that star doesn’t have a take and has never had a take in his entire life, it’d be prudent of him to be ready to handle himself wisely.

Fans and consumers of the culture created by Hollywood just want to be acknowledged. They just want their voices heard. The mantle of fame lies heavy to be sure, but it’s not too much to ask for a famous person nominated for an Academy Award in the year 2016 to say something when asked about diversity. Silence feels like a snub. It’s sweeping something under the rug because you have the privilege to do so. People don’t need much from their idols, but they do need to know that they’re paying attention.