Jim Denison on Movies, Culture, and the Wisdom of Frederick Douglass

Jim Denison is the founder and CEO of the Denison Forum, a nonprofit Christian media organization that comments on current issues through a biblical lens. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

Brad Pitt won an Academy Award last night for Best Supporting Actor. (He won an Oscar in 2014 as a producer.) In his acceptance speech, he said, “They told me I only had forty-five seconds up here, which is forty-five seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week.” Thus began a night of awards juxtaposed with politics and surprises.

Joaquin Phoenix won the Best Lead Actor award for Joker and spoke out against artificially inseminating cows. Parasite became the first non-English-language film to win the Best Picture award. Presenter Natalie Portman wore a cape on which were written the names of women who weren’t nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director.

The Oscars felt to me like an evening of cultural commentary interspersed with occasional awards. The popularity of many of the actors and presenters can delude us into thinking Hollywood speaks for us.

The opposite is actually more the case.


Of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, Joker made the most money, ranking ninth in box office sales for 2019Avengers: Endgame grossed more than twice that much.

Women make up 50.8 percent of the American population, but they have received .01 percent of Best Director nominations in Oscars history (five out of 447 official nominations in ninety-two years). People of color comprised nearly 37 percent of the American population in the 2010 census, but only one person of color was nominated in the four major acting categories (actress Cynthia Erivo for her lead performance in Harriet).

Of the nine movies nominated for best picture, seven are set in the past. Eight are about white people; six of the eight are about white men.

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to win an Academy Award. That year, the Oscars were held in a “no blacks” hotel. After accepting her award, she was made to sit at a segregated table away from the rest of the Gone With the Wind cast.

We would like to think that the Academy Awards have become more representative of our society since then, but of the 276 acting Oscars given since 1940, only sixteen went to black actors (5.8 percent). Seven went to Latin American and Asian American actors (2.54 percent).


Some demographics are woefully underrepresented by Hollywood, while others are hugely overrepresented.

The LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD noted that in 2018, 18.2 percent of films from the major movie studios contained LGBTQ characters. 20th Century Fox led the way at 40 percent, followed by Universal Pictures with 30 percent. GLAAD also reported that 10.2 percent of regular characters appearing on broadcast scripted primetime television programming in 2019 were LGBTQ; they want that number to grow to 20 percent by 2025.

These efforts to ensure that movies and television overrepresent the number of LGBTQ Americans are effective. According to Gallup, US adults estimate that 23.6 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian, when the number is actually 4.5 percent.

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Source: Christian Headlines

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