The accolade-singularities Joel and Ethan Coen are playing it cool in the face of a recent PR mine. The trending #OscarsSoWhite is taking off in the eyes of a public. But they perceive the Coen Brothers’ new movie, Hail, Caesar! in a negative light. It seems a growing population is put off by the movie’s lack of diversity casting.
In present day Hollywood, directors, writers, and actors know the importance of diverse representation in movies. Films about black lives like Straight Outta Compton and Creed received widespread recognition. Yet, all recognition went to only white writers of the former and a white actor in the latter.
Coen Brothers Disagree
But, the Coen Brothers argue to the contrary. The cultural significance of show business shouldn’t have to carry social responsibility. Everyone knows award shows like the Oscars are more about glossy PR festivals than actual achievements accomplished in films. But, they do create an image of the social and cultural state of our society’s reality. If writers and directors are incapable of recognizing the diverse world we as a society worked to achieve, they may be seen as verifying old racial stereotypes.
At least, this is how a growing number of people on social media feel. Once the public learned this year’s Oscar nominations, it became clear this would be the second year featuring mostly white contenders for recognition. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag gained popularity without a hint of slowing. The trend became a national conversation. This worried the Academy enough for them to push for quick reforms to increase the number of colored actors in its membership.
How Oscars So White Started
When the Hail, Caesar! trailer hit the internet, its stars included George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and the new-to-the-screen Alden Ehrenreich. Almost immediately, a slew of #OscarsSoWhite reactions exploded onto the feeds of various social media platforms.
Even Clooney took a piece of the backlashing action, criticizing Hollywood’s lack of “[available] options to minorities in film.” The Washington Post voiced the same opinion, citing the movie’s “pervasive whiteness,” and asking “[i]n Hollywood, must ‘white’ always equal ‘universal?’”
Coen Brothers Respond to PR Controversy
There are two responses the Coen Brothers are taking. Hail, Caesar! is a comedy about the movie industry in the 1930’s. So it makes sense that those acting the part of major Hollywood Golden Age players would be more white than not. Second and more controversial is the Coen Bros’ argument that diversity is not an important factor in creating films.
Coen Brothers Hollywood PR: ‘Keep Calm, Carry On’
For the Coens, there is nothing to worry about. In near-dismissal of the PR implications, Joel quipped “What’s the point of concern? There’s something written on Man Ray’s tombstone. I think it’s ‘Unconcerned, but not indifferent.’ I think it’s a good way to be. We’re not concerned–but we’re not indifferent.”
The Irony: Hollywood’s Origins Are All About PR
It’s ironic that the film’s protagonist – Eddie Mannix – was infamous for getting his clients out of PR nightmares. This included issues like Whitlock’s kidnapping, DeeAnna Moran’s unmarried pregnancy, and miscasting controversial actors into heavy cultural roles. But Hollywood PR was very different in the 1930s. Even in the 1950s, big names like Dalton Trumbo could be cut down just for his political beliefs.