After scoring precursor nominations from the Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and Writers Guild — plus a best-of-the-year citation from the American Film Institute — Straight Outta Compton felt destined to become one of this year’s best picture nominees. Until it didn’t: The blockbuster, which earned $160 million in the U.S. and scored mightily with critics around the country, was omitted from Thursday’s Oscar nominations list to widespread dismay.
Compton wasn’t alone in its snub. For the second straight year, every acting nominee at the Academy Awards is white, a fact that caused the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to trend after the nominations last week. In the days since, Spike Lee — a recent recipient of an honorary Oscar — and actress-producer Jada Pinkett Smith have joined the chorus of voices asking for a boycott of the Oscar telecast due the lack of minority representation among nominees.
In his open letter to Hollywood, Lee called out the media in hopes someone would ask the Oscar nominees to relay their thoughts on the Academy’s “all-white ballot”; as part of an ongoing look into the Oscars, EW asked six Academy members — all white, all male — to weigh in with their thoughts on the Straight Outta Compton snub.
The members stem from various branches, from writer to director to editor to publicist to two producers, their work runs the gamut from laugh-out-loud comedies to heavy political thrillers, and their ages vary from early 40s to late 60s. Here they weigh in with their thoughts as to why the biopic about the rise and fall of rap group N.W.A. didn’t land that coveted best picture nomination. (The film did receive an original screenplay nod.)
“Nobody can accuse the Academy of being racist — but they can be accused of being out of touch with the younger generation,” says the director. “Straight Outta Compton is a masterpiece, probably the best biopic since Amadeus — but many if not most of the Academy can’t fathom songs like “F— the Police.’ I know many members who wouldn’t even see the film because it represented a culture that they detest or, more accurately, they assume they detest. Younger people, even those under 50, are not only fans of the music, but much more willing to try to empathize with the world depicted in the movie. When the Academy expands to an even younger demo, movies like Straight Outta Compton will stand a chance.”
“If we’re being honest, my bet is most Academy members didn’t see it,” says the producer. “I think the older members, those in their 60s and 70s, didn’t think it was a movie for them, and they didn’t watch it. It was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. It was surprising how good it was, and I felt it should have been rewarded. I made sure it was on my list. But maybe it wasn’t high enough.”
“We have no way of knowing why anything with a lot of support doesn’t get in. Compton could have received 2,500 votes in the fourth or fifth slot, but if it doesn’t have at least 350 first-place votes, it gets ignored,” says the publicist, citing the Academy’s preferential ballot system, which puts greater emphasis on first-place votes. “I don’t think the Academy needs to have its motives addressed, but the weighted balloting system may need to be reconsidered. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Compton got a lot of votes. The very fact that all the guilds voted for the film proves that. There just weren’t enough first- or second-place votes to get it over the hump.”
“I’m sure it’s a demographic question,” says the writer. “I remember how I used to say about the Emmys that you really felt like most of the voters were people who rooted for the Munsters in the ’60s. I don’t know what the turnover has been at the Oscars to recognize that kind of work. I loved that movie. I think it was startlingly well done. You watch it and go, ‘Oh my God, they completely nailed it.’ It’s so hard to do. It’s very difficult to do music biopics. I’m fascinated by that. They found a way to talk about the music, talk about the culture, the politics, and the emotional conflicts to the band, the business. It’s a much more difficult movie than people understand. I am never surprised about the nominations being ridiculous, because it’s always silly. I don’t look at it as a fair judgment on anybody’s work, so I don’t actually care. I know most of those people don’t see half of the movies. I haven’t seen every single movie being discussed. Who has that kind of time? Especially when you gotta watch Making a Murderer.”
“The screening where I saw it, it was very well-received. I can only surmise that it didn’t have real broad support from the below-the-line groups but everyone really liked it,” says the editor, referring to the fact that it wasn’t nominated by the editors guild, cinematographers guild, or the art director guilds in their best-of-the-year contests. “The cast was terrific. The editing was great. It was shot really well. I was really disappointed it didn’t get in, but I think it’s the system that’s flawed. The Academy has increased its members by 20 percent in the last three years, but it’s going to take a while to pay off.”
“I loved Straight Outta Compton. I took my teenage son, he loved it too,” says the writer-producer-director. “But I’m embarrassed to say, I kind of forgot about it when it came time to vote. We saw it when it was first released theatrically, last August. Love & Mercy, which was also released last summer, is another terrific film that slipped through the cracks. They’re both deserving, but neither was a part of the pre-nom drumbeat that tends to narrow the voters’ focus.
“For the record, my son and I loved Creed too, and I did vote for it for a best picture nom. I also thought Idris Elba should have been nominated for Best Actor this year. And the amazing young actor Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation might also have deserved a nod. I’m sorry they were excluded. But I don’t think they were excluded because they were black, but more likely because they were in a movie that got very limited theatrical release and was very tough to watch.
“I’m acutely aware of the diversity concerns within the Academy, and I wish I had a genius idea to help solve it. But I don’t. Any more than I have a notion on how to increase the ranks of black directors, writers, and stars in top-quality feature films. And any more than I can figure out why on a low-budget feature film set I recently visited, there was only one black crew member.
“I think employment is a bigger problem than awards, actually. An all-white ballot is the symptom; low minority hiring is the disease. Those of us in the industry, voters or not, need to do better!”
Additional reporting by Lynette Rice