Babes in Boyland

Review: In A World (2013)

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The big bad word is gravitas. That deep voice certainty that marks a man’s voice. It makes you trust the mouth saying the words. Women don’t get off that easy. Women are shrill, octaves higher on the phone, add question marks to their sentences without reason? Blanket interests include sequins and a TV channel called Bravo. Those interests are pretty silly to a lot of people and not often understood by the opposite sex. But for all the trivial obsessions women have, men have equally embarrassing obsessions. There is not equal flack, however. Is a woman no match against a well-polished man in a suit with a strong handshake? Does a male news anchor somehow en masse reassure the audience more than a female does? Women have deep voices too. Women have gravitas. Women have strong handshakes. But there is a brutal part of Hollywood that dismisses any of that equality. That is the voiceover industry. Think trailers. Think action. Think Morgan Freeman.

Lake Bell plays the daughter of a Hollywood voiceover legend. She’s a budding gal in the business trying to make a splash in a talent pool exclusively male. Her talent has tremendous range. Lake Bell is a master of mimicry as evidenced in a hilarious scene. She entertains herself by copying one of those ‘sexy baby’ voiced girls who is looking for a smoothie, naturally. When she’s not pulling a fast one on basic bitches, her battles include fending off the objectifying treatment of her career peers. While her father loves her very much he doesn’t see her winning over anyone in the voiceover world. Also, his daughter is his competition. In her father’s mind, a woman simply isn’t good enough. A feminine voice doesn’t feel as legitimate as a man’s. It’s up to Lake Bell to change that opinion.

The problem with Lake Bell is she’s pretty. That’s no problem at all though to me. But in Hollywood if you go behind the camera, remember to leave your lipgloss at home. I doubt Lake Bell ever thought once about lipgloss while directing In A World. Or even while writing it. The film considers that lipgloss type. Those women who perpetuate that vapid, stereotypical image of their gender. The ‘sexy baby’ voice a lot of girls adopt to sound innocent and (somehow) more cute to the opposite sex is a problem. Women are better than that and Lake Bell knows it. It’s something women can cease doing but for a lot of them they don’t want to. Often women are taught to find a man and keep him at all costs. These subconscious flirtations and behaviors aren’t inherently bad. The fault however is not in women, or even men. It’s a collusion of time and circumstance affecting both genders.

Still, In A World boasts the ever-funny Demetri Martin and an outstanding cast.  The comedy of the film makes it go down easy despite the serious topic of sexism. Lake Bell understands abandoning cliche. She knows the only way to have women accepted in a male dominant profession is to support one another and remind each woman that she is capable of so much more than hunting for a handbag.

 

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Daydream Unbeliever

Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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It’s troubling when everyone thinks something is going to be amazing and then it fails to meet that expectation. You want to believe that quality is coming your way until you sit down, watch and realize that it just didn’t work. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those films. There is no absence of truth in its message but the execution is incoherent and distracting. The film goes back and forth between daydream and reality. Walter, who has a habit of zoning out, wants to live a life bigger than the small one he is currently resigned to. All he has to treasure are his fantasies, their buoyancy allowing him to live a boring life while also living his dreams. The problem, however, is that the film cannot decide what it wants, whether it be fantasy or reality. The film must happen but we don’t know what it wants to happen. There must be a momentum otherwise what is there to hold onto? The whimsicality of the film almost holds it back – it’s drowning in it – and at times, gives off a cloying, sentimental feeling that you can’t shrug off. What is supposed to be genuine comes off as something meticulously crafted to pose as genuine, but in the end is not.

The bizarre prelude to Mitty’s release was the premature praise it garnered. Many claimed it would be in the Best Picture category without a doubt. That nomination, though, never came – and none others. What went wrong? The packaging of the film was, in a word, misleading. The fantasy elements were downplayed, the story was up-played, and Ben Stiller’s veteran status as both talented actor, director and overall movie man offers a confidence not always given. It simply wasn’t enough to bolster a mismatch of the extraordinary and mundane Mitty is. There is no constant, but rather a switch off between his dreams and daily life. There doesn’t seem to be any need for a plot, especially when the film attempts to dazzle us with now-and-then special effects. It’s a big, loud jukebox of noise and imagery. They may wow our eyes but our minds are skeptical quickly. Is this all there is? Where are we going? Are we going anywhere? Or are we stranded in Walter Mitty’s dream field, forced to play out his bucket list but not really caring about his journey. If the message is do your dreams, the film spends an awful lot of time on dream and little on doing. Its lesson doesn’t come together until the very end. Seems obvious for that lesson to come at the end, but oh what a short lesson it is, stapled to the film’s conclusion as if an afterthought, a necessary moral added for need and less for want.

You can’t blame The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for lack of trying. It’s important to consider the origin of Walter Mitty. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a short story published by the New Yorker in 1939. Instead of the frenetic barrage of unreal and real seen in the 2013 film, Mitty experiences five fantasy events inspired by his surroundings on a boring day. Mitty and his wife drive into a small town in Connecticut to do simple errands. The word ‘mittyesque’ entered the English language shortly thereafter the publication of the story. Such a word refers to someone stuck, even immobilized by their daydreams. They want to be the hero and they fantasize about it so much that they start to believe the lie. The ironic twist is that mittyesque can often relate to someone that is an ineffectual faker, making themselves seem more noble than they actually are. None of these nuances are present in the Stiller film. The plot ignores the original story too much. Mitty needs that private brush with the outlandish triggered by the things and places he sees while on the ordinary. The Stiller story is erratic and tries too hard to impress. A lot of it seems to be visuals unmindful of substance. None of it seems necessity to the plot. We get your daydream, Walter. Now what are you going to do about it? The truth is you almost have to wait till the end of two hours to find out. Even then, it isn’t satisfying when you get to that message Stiller took so long to convey. There is nothing original about a film that fancies itself original but doesn’t live up to the adjective. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty feels like a vanity project. Stiller hijacks a thoughtful story and turns it into an effects show with casual, uninvested development in character and story. A story so bent on being genuine but misses the mark.

Is it a bad thing when we go to the movies to see a different dimension but are disappointed when there’s no reality? It would seem we go to the movies to leave reality. But what good is a story without some life in it? Life we know. If you stay stuck in the dreamworld, everything seems reasonless and without meaning. You need a balance. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a confused, beautiful mess that doesn’t live up to its hype. We all straddle two worlds – but we want someone who knows which one they want, and then watch them go for it. For a story, that’s significant. Pick a world and tell us to go there with you.

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Him

Review: Her (2013)

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When at the theatre, you will meet people without meeting people. Depending on where you sit, you may see some reactions and wonder why you laughed but no one else did. It’s that uncanny absorption, knowing people without knowing them. You can tell what they like, what they don’t like, what they respond to, but you will never know their name. That’s the communal aspect of movies. Strangers together in the dark feeling human but not knowing any of the humans around them. I had a chance encounter with one of these strangers while drying my hands in the ladies restroom. A woman, middle aged applying a ghastly maroon lipstick talked trash about Her. She said she didn’t like virtual reality. Unsolicited, the woman notices me with the paper towels in the corner. She asked, did you just see that movie? Her? I responded, why yes. I quite liked it. I didn’t like it, she said. I don’t get that virtual reality stuff. I asked if she thought it said anything about society. She leaned and whispered yea, that society stinks. As I threw away the towels I added yes, society stinks, but it’s important to remind people why it stinks. She smiled, closing her lipstick and said “I’ll give you that.”

As we age, we look back on the past with an almost rosy nostalgia. Why not remember a simpler time as better? At least it’s always simpler than the future. We like to go where our happy memories live. The future seems too complicated, a sterile and haughty newcomer we aren’t sure we like the older we get. This woman was greyed with indifference toward these new innovations. Yet I knew what she was saying. What was human about Her? The whole film is a man interacting with a computer. There are few genuine flesh and blood interactions spotted in between. You never see Samantha’s face (the operating system is named Samantha), simply because she has none. She doesn’t have a body, either. So how can you love something that doesn’t have a body? How can you love something that doesn’t breath like you do? How can you feel something that doesn’t feel you back? We can love a top because it makes us look nice, or bungee jumping cause it makes our hearts beat fast, but can you love a computer for all the attributes a human has?

Somehow, it works, and with cruel poetry. Her makes you feel an uneasiness of familiarity. The world the protagonist lives is a world much like our own only hyperbolized into an impossible but all too explainable future. People walk around talking to their headsets as if they are in conversation with another person. It’s that terrible feeling we have when we walk into a cafe where everyone is staring at their laptops (not even their coffee!) and certainly not one another. What’s human about that? Maybe we aren’t human anymore. But maybe that’s what Her is trying to tell us. Has our technology turned us into what it is? If so, what’s so bad about falling in love with someone who is, in all their glory and functionality, an information system. A smart box. But a human smart box. Nonetheless, with wires instead of veins. Unless, of course, she’s wireless.

Her has a pathos we don’t see much of in the world of explosions and excessive reboots/remakes/sequels. Spike Jonze is good with the beauty float. The film is glossy but betrays its gloss with that feeling that’s detached  from its own pretty imagery. For a film about the relationship between a man and his computer, it is a remarkably human story. But this is the new version of human. Or, perhaps, it shows how love can transcend form. Her - her – a pronoun reserved for women, namely human women, makes the title all much more than just a word. Samantha isn’t a her, but she seems like one. Why can’t she be one? What if we’ve invented a new human, one that is better than us but is still modeled after us? It can feel soon enough like us too. It can feel heartbreak and ecstasy. How can we fault the computers for these feelings when we are the reason they feel them? There is a new her. As irreconcilable as it seems in our hearts, we know we must move on into this uncertain future where human may not be human anymore. We  are what we make. We feel love, and even with our objects, we want them to love us back.

Her makes you laugh, and at moments, wince with an understanding about what the film is really about. We are consumed by our things that think for us, our smart phones that are getting smarter than us. Still, what if something that wasn’t meant to feel, feels? And in this world increasingly dependent on machines, one has to wonder if we are draining our human-ness from life. Or maybe we are just creating new versions of human because we don’t feel connected to our current ones. Her tells us that this new human is possible, and although it may not be good, it is part of now. It’s a now we’ve made and a now we need to come to terms with.

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A Simple Fear

Review: Gravity (2013)

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There are some fears we never encounter in real life. And life, as even the young know it, is riddled with fears. Fear of speaking in front of a crowd, fear of proposing to the love of our life, and then the crown jewel fear – death. Some fears though we are lucky enough to never know. There is a handful of people who know a very unique fear that involves nothing of this earth. Those people have performed the rare feat of leaving the sky we know. As much as we want our minds to recreate this experience, it is one of those experiences that simply cannot be felt…without being felt. We can imagine the awe and with that, some impossible situations that could come from it. Space is overwhelming large. Try counting to infinity and you’ll get a sense of a universe that even as we speak is expanding its terrain. And it sure is dark. Punched with diamonds, those are the only lights that you can expect to guide you home. Alone in a foreign environment, it’s easy to develop an anxiety that’s tailor-made for space. We all try to approach the terrible with grace but we can’t fathom the worst of the worst until it happens. Gravity confirms our worst fear: we have no idea what real fear is, until we’ve been to space. Marooned, abandoned, lost, cut off from talk and worse, from humans. We are nervous creatures set against the fabric of space that doesn’t feel the fear like we do. The pain of being human comes back to us. The privilege of not feeling fear is a privilege humans don’t know at all.

Gravity is not a complicated story and this helps its fascination. Sandra Bullock is an astronaut with two others working on a spaceship. When an unexpected shower of rocks hit the ship, Bullock loses one shipmate and is cut off from earth with just George Clooney as company (oh, how horrible). The whole film unfolds in space. Sounds like a fun, CGI filled concept except the effects you see blend seemlessly into the frame as if they were never removed from reality. They look true, real and don’t distract with graphics. Perhaps that is why it’s so scary – because the CGI doesn’t allow us to take comfort in the fact that this is a movie. We feel comfort when we can tell ourselves that something scary isn’t real. But in this case, good luck doing so. For 90 minutes, you will know fear. And it will be unbelievably real. The realness of the effects not only helps the realness of the film, but makes the fear real. We all have one time or another where we’ve thought about being stranded in a place like space. Sometimes the greatest triumph of a film is to make the audience forget it’s a film. The terror becomes real, we own the terror, and we forget that we’re in the middle of a suspension of reality. That’s a good film alright, and Gravity achieves this.

There is something, also, whether you want to notice it or not, about the protagonist being a woman. Eventually Bullock is down to herself, forced to use all her faculties to navigate an impossible scenario. Women, notoriously portrayed as the fairer sex (read: the more sensitive, weaker sex) rarely have ambitions outside the shoe closet and dating pool on film. It’s worth watching Bullock use her smarts and dismiss her fear for the purpose of survival. This is the worst of the worst, a life or death meal. Bullock, regardless of her womanhood, or maybe in the face of her womanhood, becomes the everyman. We’re reminded of the headstrong Sigourney Weaver (who also knows her way around space), a woman who is seen as a woman but who can kick ass and take names when it comes down to it. If you won’t see Gravity for the story, see it for the effects. This film proves that not everything rides on a story. In fact, a film of this visual magnificence benefits from a smaller, simpler story. We are enveloped by the glory and terror that is space. It’s so terrifying real that you can’t love it away. Reaching over the big screen we know we’re there, or we’re closest to there that we’ll ever get (well, most of us anyway).

Lastly, as limited as it is, Gravity has a small cast that packs big punch. Besides my dad, everyone loves the charisma and back tongue Clooney possesses. Bullock, whose typical fare is comedies, really commands the screen with her desperation and autonomy. But if you go for the effects, you’ll stay for Bullock. She is the heroine but also the anti-heroine. She is the everywoman while being the everyman. She’s a human stuck in the middle of the most stark backdrop this world knows, or doesn’t know. Even when consumed by fear, she gives us hope that we can move in the face of an unimaginable adversity – and all without gravity. That sounds like a story with real gravity.

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Nobody’s Talking About Vol. 10

Sunday Girl‘s voice sounds like a wistful whisper in the wind. Her shy beauty and coy sound contrasts nicely with an electropop background. It’s romantic and sad and upbeat at the same time. You can only imagine Sunday Girl floats through life with her pebble brown eyes and tight-lipped grace. Only that’s just the image. Sunday Girl has nothing close to tight lips. We prefer it that way. Her tracks “Love You More” and “Stop Hey” are fresh cut glitter disco. If a voice could glimmer it sure is hers.

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You Sold Pot To A Cop?

Review: Our Idiot Brother (2011)

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Some actors possess a charm that stays with them as they wander from role to role. Call it an indefinite charisma. We wonder if their real personality at all mirrors their endearing characters. Do we imagine the real Paul Rudd as the nice guy that tells you your dog is cute and smiles for a fan photo? We want on some level to believe the heroes we watch are the heroes of real life, and if they are, they are humble about it. Rudd maintain this sort of candor and sweetness we want and hope for on and off screen. He’s solidly likable. We keep watching because we know we like him. He has a friendly kind of face, the everyman without being the everyman.

Our Idiot Brother knows this and milks it, but in an understandable way. The script sort of wanders, not really meeting any sort of conflict as we expect with most story arcs. Still, there’s a delightful person in this idiot brother played by Rudd. The exchanges he has with people are open, golden with that bearded hippie attitude. But he’s too lovable to be dismissed as a cliche. He works at a co-op with his girlfriend. He has a dog named Willie Nelson. He grows organic rhubarb and sells it at the farmer’s market. When a cop approaches him at his booth he asks if Rudd could sell him some pot. Hesitant at first, Rudd gives in as the cop professes he’s been under some stress. Just as money and organic produce exchange, handcuffs join Ned’s wrists together. Fooled again is this sweetheart drunk on kombucha! After he is released, his girlfriend admits to switching boyfriends (hint: it’s not Rudd anymore). Homeless and without Willie Nelson, Rudd bounces from sister to sister’s home. In the meanwhile, he interrupts the dynamic of their homes with his inability to lie. His honesty gets him in trouble. He’s free of pretense and that is bad in the real worl. He messes up situations. He’s our idiot brother. Still, there’s a love to love about him. Rudd captures it realistically as he smile with so much dumb. He somehow fixes the messes he makes. When he flees after all the sisters call him out for screwing up their lives, they soon realize they can’t live without this idiot.

This film is definitely uneven but it’s so sealed with the spirit of Rudd and and frank dialogue. The cast is impressive. Though Rashida Jones isn’t that convincing as a hipster lesbian (those glasses!), they still mesh together well in a misfit confetti sort of way. You look for some sort of plot but don’t need it to appreciate Our Idiot Brother. Rudd has the smile and dumb charm down. Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel and Elizabeth Banks all play well-constructed sisters that give us variety. Even if you’re sisterless you can relate to them and the chaos of family. The more siblings, the higher the chance there will be an idiot one. But still, why are they the idiot? And why do we love them so much? It’s almost like this movie itself. It shouldn’t impress and it doesn’t quite but it’s cute and we need the silly it has. Who doesn’t like a hippie with a heart (but showers, too)? Our Idiot Brother satisfies without ever feeling like it needs to. It makes you forfeit that demand of a great movie and instead, it’s just a good enough movie. Our Idiot Brother makes you laugh enough to not need it be a masterpiece. But how good are our masterpieces? We should appreciate the smaller ones that lie in-between.

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Future Analog

Listening & Looking At Internet Microgenres

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Music microgenres are a tricky bunch. Good luck keeping track of them. Thanks to the Internet there are millions of descriptors out there for every fringe category imaginable. That’s the benefit of having an infinite realm like the Internet; people can share and build on any new trend in music. Microgenres however are nothing new. They never needed the internet to exist. They’ve been around for a while. But with the Internet listeners can let their eyes and ears go wild. A benefit of internet-built microgenres is the visual experience accompanying the sonic experience. Some people see red velvet when they hear opera. Some people see flowers when they hear folk. Today’s internet microgenres are all about the visuals. It isn’t just music – it’s an ideology.

You can add ‘wave’ to any word on the internet and make it a genre. Aloewave and Vaporwave seem outright bizarre. The link between music and image aren’t obvious. With so many incongruous images you wonder if the people who made them were on LSD. It’s up to the listener to decide what these microgenres mean. If you think in metaphor though, the meaning comes alive.

It starts with making connections. The quickest portal is tumblr, the chosen canvas of the Millennial 2.0 generation. Put a hashtag in front of anything and you’ll be hard pressed to not find a meaning for your digital gibberish. That’s the thing about the internet: rarely is anything gibberish anymore. It exists somewhere. That wild realization that the internet is infinite is hard to fathom. But it’s true. Back to tumblr. Back to aloewave.

At first scroll aloewave is obsessed with nature. Not just any nature. Not your backyard. It’s the nature that’s overwhelming, rioting in a rainforest, untouched by human shoe. This verdant dream is crushed with Nike symbols, Fiji Water bottles, shrines made out of corporation logos, and the random presence of Greek architecture. And, of course, the eponymous symbol – the aloe plant. There’s a feeling of anti-capitalism and pro-analog. There’s a sense of cultural boycott. It’s the ultimate showdown between human and nature, wire and branch.

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Funemployed

Review: Frances Ha (2013)

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Girls love to become women in the city. There’s that well told story where a girl packs up her suitcase and starts out small in a Manhattan closet (also known as a New York City apartment). The city is where people go to grow up. The experience differs between genders. When you move to the city you shed that insulating layer of naïveté. You’re going to lose your purse. You’re going to get piss on your heels. You’re going to be overwhelmed. And you’re going to be alive.

Don’t smile at the evolution just yet. Big dreams come to die in the city. It’s no different than any metropolis in that regard. Bright lights and big promises attract novices and newbies from Everywhere, USA. The energy of the grid can’t be denied! That uncanny urban roar calls out to everybody with a plan. It’s the change we all crave. If you can make it in New York, you can make anywhere. So why not point the pistol at the moon?

 

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Nobody’s Talking About Vol. 8

Finland product Koobra (Kalle Wahlberg of Helsinki 72-82) knows how to stir a synth soup. There’s no doubt this is electropop. But it’s electropop with an eighties vibe. It’s modern disco. It’s dance meets neon. Koobra plays like the soundtrack to a jazzercise flashmob inside a mall. There’s a whimsical, dare-to-not-care optimism to the beat. Koobra is part of an international flood of musicians working to reinvent retro. Some songs (“Questions” / “Last Dance”) evoke the image of the ‘nightrunner.’ The nightrunner – an eighties character in his car ready to cruise the city after dark – is the quintessential symbol for the synthpop story. The upbeat “Something Real” (above) stands out as a brightly lit up track with brutal catchiness.

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After Juno

The Struggling Success of Diablo Cody

When Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs beats your film’s limited debut it isn’t something to take personally. Children’s films when they come out tend to dominate the box office because there’s fewer of them than adult fare. Also parents love any excuse to shut up their children for 90 minutes and enjoy a break. But Jennifer’s Body wasn’t just up against meatballs – it had its poor writing to apologize for. It was with all checks a sophomore slump.

When indie darling Juno came out in 2007 critics marveled at the charm and wit in the script. The writing compared to recent movie options was top notch. Quality writing is the exception and not the rule in Hollywood these days. The writer seemed to come out of nowhere. Her name is Diablo Cody. It’s a chosen name and not her birth name. The uniqueness of Diablo’s life pre-Juno matches that devil-may-care moniker (quite literally diablo means devil in Spanish). A former stripper and porn hotline girl, Diablo has a knack for sharp humor. Juno‘s success was massive. Many dubbed it the ’100 Million Dollar Baby’ for having a budget of $6.5 million yet generating $100 million in box office receipts…eventually ending at an impressive $231 million run. Juno racked up countless statues, the most famous being an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It was Diablo’s first screenplay. The chance of that happening at the Oscars is rare and many thought they’d found an exceptional jewel in Cody. But can success survive a flop aftermath? When you have stellar work marking the beginning of your career can you ever live up to that win again?

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Retro Reloaded

Fascination With The Analog In A Digital World

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History + Pathos + Awe

The Contending Ingredients Of The Oscar Equation

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I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow

Is Magic Valley A Quiet Eco-Gothic?

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Eco-dramas are disturbingly genuine. Gus Van Sant’s take on fracking in Promised Land silently crept into theaters without much of a boom. Or even a little boom. The film came and went and now is mostly forgotten. Why do eco-dramas fade so easily into the background when their subject matter is so dire? For an industry that champions good raw drama, eco-dramas have yet to gain the traction they deserve. It demonstrates the Hollywood opinion that urgency is only urgent if it’s shiny and dangerous. Magic Valley isn’t just an eco-drama; it’s an eco-gothic. The film paints a dark portrait of a small community ruined by encroaching companies and their green footprint. The nature they know is dying. Where do you go when big business kills your home?

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What’s A Confetti Cast?

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Sometimes a movie is so bad it makes you die a little faster. The bizarre tale of Movie 43 is one of those movies. Despite being labeled “the Citizen Kane of awful” the feature landed many A-listers and those riding their coattails. The film is comprised of sketch stories being led by a different star each time. Movie 43 can’t decide what it is. But anybody who has seen it knows what it is: a big, sparkling piece of shit. Why are so many famous people in these gems of mediocrity? Enter: the money guarantee of a confetti cast.

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Too Much Of A Good Thing

Does Uniqueness Keep Indies From Enjoying Wide Success?

Universal – maker of big bad boom movies – knows when a formula works. The globe spinner knows what the people want. Emphasis on the people, not just people. Isn’t that the difference between independent film and mainstream film? Mainstream casts a wider net when it comes to likability. The studios steer clear of too unique stories for fear it deviates too far from the basic everybody-likes-this. But can a story’s originality alienate filmgoers by being too original?

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White Men Can Jump

Oscars Now Featuring Cameos By Chicks, Blacks, Asians

Of late, AMPAS has been anxious to improve the membership’s dominant white male senior demo  by inviting a diverse and youthful slate of members, many of them women. Of course, the members reflect the industry of which they are the leaders, but the recent LAT study showing that Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, with blacks comprising about 2% of the Academy, and Latinos at less than 2%, are disturbing indeed. According to the study, Oscar voters have a median age of 62, and folks younger than 50 make up 14% of members.

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