5. White Americans are yesterday’s news.
You don’t need to see a young black family in the White House to understand that American demographics are changing. In the 2010 census, non-Latino whites made up 64 percent of the population, down from 69 percent in 2000, 76 percent in 1990 and 80 percent in 1980. In 2011, non-Latino whites for the first time constituted a minority of children under age 2 — the harbinger of a nation in which whites will be a minority. That’s no myth.
Yet, 45 of 50 governors and 96 of 100 U.S. senators were still non-Latino whites in 2010. Whites also were 92 percent of the directors nominated for Academy Awards between 2000 and 2011. They were 96 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives in 2011. The numbers are similar for other influential positions in U.S. society. At least for now, the rhetoric about the fading role of whites in American life outruns reality.
The Best Director Oscar nominees make up one of those lists that are good for counting. Everybody would agree: that's a pretty good job. So, Best Director nominees comprise one list of 21st century Alpha Dogs. And, Hollywood's not some redoubt of right-wing racists, right? As Murray writes in his new book: "The liberalism of the film industry is openly proclaimed by its top stars, producers, and directors," which he documents with the following inarguable footnote: "Source: almost any Academy Awards show."
Plus, Best Director nominations are open to people from all over the world. The first nonwhite Best Director nominee was Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes in 1965. Obviously, the Academy is biased toward people working in America or Britain, and/or working in English, but not always.
On the other hand, directing movies is one of those really good jobs where the affirmative action runs out. It's like CEO: it's hard to file a disparate impact discrimination lawsuit against a business enterprise over a position where the sample size is one. Not surprisingly, therefore, CEOs and movie directors aren't that sympathetic to lesser whites' complaints about quotas.
In general, there isn't much affirmative action in Hollywood. Screenwriting is about as equally white as directing. Even film crews around L.A., for example, are islands of white unionized blue collar workers (with jobs fairly hereditary) in a Latino sea. It would be amusing to see a Democratic Administration sue Hollywood for disparate impact discrimination, but, for some reason, that almost never happens.
Murray's 92 percent white among Best Director nominees is kind of lowballing the white percentage for the last 60 Best Director nominees (assuming the Coen Brothers count singly). We're talking about a single American-born NAM, Lee Daniels for Precious. Then we've got Taiwan-born Ang Lee with two nominations. So, that's 3 out of 60 or five percent non-white.
After that, it's the usual niggling over who isn't quite white. Everybody else looks pretty white to me: Fernando Meirelles of Brazil (City of God) looks like Ken Burns. Terrence Malick (Tree of Life), who is half-Assyrian Christian, cast Brad Pitt to play his dad. Pedro Almodovar is a Spaniard from La Mancha. I'd say the man from La Mancha is pretty Euro. My favorite moment in Michel Hazanavicius's cute The Artist is when his 1927 hero escapes Bolshevik secret policemen and flies off from the Soviet Union, triumphantly shouting (on a title card) "Long Live Free Georgia!" So, I'd say he's pretty Caucasian. (No, my guess was wrong, he's not Georgian, he's Jewish from Lithuania.) Alejandro González Iñárritu of Mexico City (Babel) looks like a Hungarian friend of mine.
I would guess Murray is counting González Iñárritu as a Latino, but he's different from, say, Robert Rodriguez, who is tall and white-looking, too, but at least comes from a big family in San Antonio where the NAM concept makes sense. Picking some banker's son from Mexico City like González Iñárritu and declaring him to be non-white is kind of applying contemporary American ideas to a different culture. I mean, was Jorge Luis Borges nonwhite? I'm a Big Tenter when it comes to how many people I want in the tent with me not getting racial/ethnic preferences from the government and how few are outside getting them or thinking that they ought to get them.
So, I come up with 95% white (and 97% male - one female nominee is the daughter of an earlier Best Director Oscar winner and the other was married to a Best Director winner). Whatever the precise percentage is, it's really high. You can argue over individual cases (where's Wong Kar-Wai or Guillermo del Toro?), but it's not like Spike Lee got ripped off by not being nominated for She Hate Me or Rodriguez for Machete.
P.S. I suspect that Murray's 92% comes from using the 2000-2011 Academy Awards show years rather than the 2000-2011 release years, which would then include M. Night Shyamalan for his 1999 movie The Sixth Sense. As a Big Tenter, I would like Shyamalan in the Unpreferred Caucasian tent with me, but the Reagan Administration saw it differently in 1982 when they took South Asians out of the Caucasian category and put them in with Orientals (now renamed Asians) so they could get minority business development low-interest loans and preferences on government contracting.