Coen Bros. on Diversity Quotas: ‘Idiotic’ to Demand Stories Have ‘Four Black People, Three Jews and a Dog’

Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

Four-time Oscar-winners Joel and Ethan Coen have weighed in on the renewed #OscarsSoWhite controversy, saying that while the issue of diversity in Hollywood is important, the Academy Awards itself are not.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, the filmmaking duo behind such classic films as The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, and this month’s Hail, Caesar! said that the backlash against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over the lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees, along with boycott pledges from stars such as Will Smith and Spike Lee, ascribes more importance to the awards show than it actually deserves.

“By making such a big deal, you’re assuming that these things really matter,” Joel Coen told the outlet, referring to the Oscars. “I don’t think they even matter much from an economic point of view. So yes, it’s true — and it’s also true that it’s escalating the whole subject to a level it doesn’t actually deserve.”

Diversity‘s important,” he added. “The Oscars are not that important.”

According to the Beast, the Coen brothers face scrutiny of their own over their forthcoming film Hail, Caesar!, a comedic crime caper set in the Golden Age of Hollywood starring George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Josh Brolin.

After viewing the film, Washington Post reporter Ann Hornaday wrote that its “pervasive whiteness is of a piece with the filmmakers’ well-established house style,” but that with all the talk over the issue of diversity in Hollywood, the film is “now beginning to look creakily anarchic.”

When asked by the Daily Beast why there aren’t more minority characters in the film, Joel Coen shot back: “Why would there be?”

“I don’t understand the question,” Coen said. “No — I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from.”

“Not why people want more diversity — why they would single out a particular movie and say, ‘Why aren’t there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What’s going on?’ That’s the question I don’t understand,” he continued. “The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me.”

Coen added that people who single out specific movies and ask why there aren’t more minorities in them have a “fundamental misunderstanding of how stories are written.”

“You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews and a dog,’ — right? That’s not how stories get written,” Coen said. “If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything about how stories get written and you don’t realize that the question you’re asking is idiotic.”

The Coen Brothers are not the only Oscar-winning filmmakers who have said that the Academy Awards don’t matter much — last month, Boyz ‘N The Hood director John Singleton said that it is often the films that don’t win awards that become culturally significant and stand the test of time.

Do the Right Thing never got nominated for best picture, but that year, nobody’s talking about Driving Miss Daisy any more,” Singleton said. “Everybody’s still talking about Do the Right Thing. It happens every year.”

Check out the Coen Brothers’ interview with the Daily Beast here, and the trailer for their new film Hail, Caesar! above.


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