[this post has updates]

Hello Cranker Darlings,

Momentum, of any sort, is good.

American culture and attitudes have shifted toward progress in many ways: marriage equality is now the law of the land. Solar power is becoming cheaper than coal to produce. Movements can be easily rallied around a hashtag. Just to name a few.

Even with those signs of progress, we can sometimes slip back two or three steps before we take another giant leap. The 2016 Oscar nominations are an example of an awkward stumble backward.

I remember 2002 like it was yesterday: Halle Berry breaking down over her win for Monsters Ball. Believe it or not, that was only one of two firsts: Denzel Washington won that year, too, marking the first time that African Americans swept the lead-actor categories.

Cut to today, where all major acting noms—and many of the other categories—are not only lacking in diversity, but they fail to recognize achievement where it seems due. Take “Concussion“—the story of forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, starring Will Smith. While I don’t quite buy Smith as a serious leading man yet, the Academy almost *always gives a nod to actors who champion and campaign for bio pics and bring them to life. The topic of head trauma in the NFL and TBI is most certainly up right now, which gave the Academy a chance to make a statement—which they often take. But they gave that performance a pass.

The all-cracker nominations missed other performances, too. So here’s my question: does the Academy have a voting membership not reflective of the greater population? Or, are 2015 films with people of color truly not up to a level to be recognized? Is this an “ebb and flow” type deal where some years films with people of color break through?

The answers are very well documented in a Q&A with New York Times reporters entitled “Oscars So White? Or Oscars So Dumb? Discuss.” The article is a truly remarkable and intelligent discussion of why the industry sees itself in the shitstorm its in. And how it might navigate out. Variety’s Tim Gray has an even better distillation of the lack of opportunity within the industry itself:

Last year, #OscarSoWhite lit up the Twitter-sphere, generally focused on the acting and directing categories, mostly due to omission of actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay from “Selma.” But in fact, the imbalance carries into the majority of categories due to lack of opportunity.

As with all awards shows these days, popularity contests often leave off important works of artistic achievement. The Grammys, for example, have become a tired carnival of “artists” who are nominated to draw ratings for the broadcaster and attention to industry. Oscar is dancing on the edge of the same fate, and could stand a major makeover. This isn’t the attention they wanted.

My money is on Chris Rock to kick the Academy square in the balls—giving us comic relief from recurrent controversy. He called the 2005 ceremony “Def Oscar Jam” because of the multiple nominees for black artists; this year, it’s all-cracker. (see related updates in the next section)



[this section has updates]

The success or failure of an ensemble-driven movie depends on three primary ingredients: acting, chemistry and directing. “Spotlight,” a film based on the Pulitzer-prize winning series from The Boston Globe on the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal, has all those and more.

Tom McCarthy was the perfect person to helm “Spotlight” because of his writing, producing and acting chops beyond what he brought to the table directing-wise. (Oscar often looks kindly upon directors who’ve been in the actor trenches, who show range of artistry and mastery of their craft—think Kevin Costner without the wolves.)

The movie felt clunky at first, with a few moments that could’ve been punched up a bit. “Spotlight” began in earnest when the very first victim—Phil Saviano, played by Neal Huffsat down to speak to Globe reporters. His was the first of many devastating stories. He clutched a box of memorabilia, including a picture of himself at age 11. You could feel the history of horror exude from his body, and that’s a testament to McCarthy, Huff and the rest of the players.

Phil Saviano, played by Neal Huff

The film lifted from there in to incredible territory, making me feel like I was part of the editorial team, looking on, participating. Make sure to watch the real-life Sacha Pfeiffer (played exceptionally by Oscar-nominated Rachel McAdams) talk about what it was like seeing her work on the big screen.

Mark Ruffalo’s performance had many bright spots, but this, by a mile, is his finest moment in the movie, and likely why he was nominated:

Ruffalo told USAToday that he’s considering boycotting the Oscars because of its diversity problem.

If you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy,

what he was saying was the good people who don’t act are much worse than the wrongdoers who are purposefully not acting,

and don’t know the right way.

I haven’t seen all the movies nominated, but I’d still call Spotlight the strongest contender for Best Picture.

UPDATE: Mark Ruffalo has decided to attend the ceremony, in support of abuse victims and journos alike.

Other actors who are not attending:

  • Will Smith & Jada Pinkett Smith
  • Spike Lee
    …I’ll update with any others

Reax to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy:

Charlotte Rampling: “Racist to whites.” | Steve Harvey: “Nobody knows who the Academy is.” | Snoop Dog: “Fuck da Oscars.” | Michael Caine: “You have to give a good performance.” | FoxNews still lets Stacy Dash say things on TV | Danny DeVito: “We’re a bunch of racists.” | Other comments and details (as well as Rampling walking back her comments above) at this Rolling Stone post.

The Academy—along with its African American president, Cheryl Boone—have agreed on sweeping changes. Read about it here.



Fast Company has a great post up by Vivian Giang that advocates using improv within corporations to build skills needed to succeed. From the story:

If you’re going to cultivate exceptional leaders, you’re going to need some innovative training. Enter improv classes, which may not be the first thing that comes to mind when putting together an executive MBA curriculum, but can be effective in helping leaders identify deficiencies. So much so that dozens of mega companies, like Google, Pepsi, and McKinsey have included improv sessions in their own corporate training.

Tina Fey's book on improv is a must.
Tina Fey’s book on improv is a must.

As a graduate of two improv seasons with Automatic Improv—complete with two graduation performances that changed my bravery to a molecular level—I can say confidently that this Fast Company post hits the bullseye. Corporate america is successfully experimenting with Emotional Intelligence as an alternative motivator, and improv training is much of the same.

that’s me in the striped-green shirt with my Automatic Improv troupe back in 2014.

Moral of this story: improv is about laughter and comedy, sure. But beyond that, it’s about confidence, conquering fear, teamwork and performing under pressure. So I can validate that companies are very much onto something by doing this. After all, if you can survive an improv class with a performance, you can also get through anything the business world throws at you.

(Related reading: “Improv as Innovative Corporate Training? Yes, and“) 



Dingus-with-an-updo Sarah Palin blamed President Obama for her son’s domestic-abuse arrest; steps on rake.

Russia doesn’t “probably” do anything, but the Brits stop short of saying Putin is directly responsible for Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination. Everyone else knows the truth. Edward Lucas might want to check his tea from now on:

Watch this quiet BLM protestor make her point:





We should start getting used to headlines like these… at least until we can get our greenhouse-gas emissions under control. There are signs that we’re moving in the right direction—like the COP21 agreement in Paris—but for now, we’re hot and getting hotter.

“Cranky Green” will be a regular section each week because it’s an important topic. Until the dinguses who confuse weather and climate check themselves in to an asylum and get educated, our policymaking will never catch up with what the world needs.




That’s it from me this week, Cranker Darlings. See you right back here next Thursday at 2.



Will Pollock is a crabby New York City escapee living in Atlanta. He’s a freelance multimedia journalist and author of two books (Pizza for Good & Leaving Triscuit), with more on the way. Sign up for the mailing list, follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram—and check out the book links below.

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