TIFF artistic director hopeful about 'OscarsSoWhite' debate

TORONTO -- The artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival says he's frustrated by the lack of diversity amongst this year's Oscar nominees but ultimately hopeful.

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"I think the debate that's been started by the second year of 20 all-white nominees is actually a really good debate to have," Cameron Bailey tells The Canadian Press.

"A lot of opinions that just didn't get to be expressed are being expressed, for better or worse, and I think that's a good thing. Because I think there is a structural problem, a fundamental problem in the film industry in particular, and at least people are talking."

Two straight years of all-white acting nominees ignited the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign and has some big industry names publicly expressing their outrage. Some, including director Spike Lee and actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, also say they're not attending the awards show on Feb. 28.

Bailey doesn't have a position on the so-called Oscars boycott, noting "it's really down to each person."

"If you're lucky enough to get an invitation to the Academy Awards and to have the choice to go, you're already in an elite position, let's remember that," he says.

"But if people choose to boycott to make a statement, then that's fine, that's totally OK. I don't think that there's going to be any kind of mass boycott and I don't know that that is useful in the long run.

"But I think calling awareness to a problem is useful, and you can do that by attending and just talking about it, or you can do it by very vocally staying away."

Bailey applauds recent moves by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make its membership, governing bodies and voting members more diverse.

"I think they're doing what they can, and they're also -- this is maybe even as important -- they're fessing up, they're saying 'There's a problem and we're not happy about it,"' he says.

"I think for the leaders of that organization to say that is kind of a big deal."

But, as Bailey wrote on Twitter: "Studios, you're next."

"I think a bigger question has to do with the development and financing and production and distribution of the movies that actually will go up for awards, drastically increasing the diversity there," says Bailey.

He feels audiences need to have more awareness when it comes to having empathy and connecting with what they see -- and view as important -- onscreen.

"I think all of us get used to identifying and projecting ourselves into the lives of these kind of white, male heroes who save the day in most cases in most movies," he says.

"Their mid-life crises are seen as what's most interesting. Other experiences are often sidelined, and shifting that I think is the biggest challenge. It's hard to do, it's complicated, it'll be hard and it'll make a lot of people angry just even to talk about it, but I think that's the root of this."

In 1995, Bailey started the Planet Africa program at TIFF, which ran for 10 years. He says TIFF programmers also take steps to ensure there's gender diversity at the fest.

Looking ahead to TIFF 2016, Bailey says the "more important challenge is to try to fully integrate a diverse range of voices into everything."

"So for me it's now more about making sure that our gala lineup and our special presentations, our big red-carpet films, reflect that diversity rather than doing something as a kind of sidebar."


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