The Times committed a serious breach of some long-established ground rules when one of its editorial writers strayed from affairs in Baku and City Hall and fired off a couple of hip shots at the Academy Award nominations ("Did They Do the Right Thing?" Feb. 16).
Disagreeing with some aspect or other of the academy's list is a venerable sport, and we publish the nominations each year with the full understanding that everyone--including each individual member of the academy--will find a number of inclusions or omissions to quarrel with. That's exactly as it should be.
But what The Times' writer is saying, when we chase him out from behind the skirts of Cardinal Newman, is that the academy made a racist decision. The people who write for the Calendar section, though they share your editorialist's inclination to look for sociological rather than aesthetic reasons for our omissions, would never make such a preposterous charge. At that point any writer who knows the turf pulls back and says "whoa." Accusing the academy of Philistinism is one thing; accusing these particular individuals of racism is quite another.
Because as useful as it is to pretend otherwise at times, the truth is that the academy isn't some organization of anonymous strangers, it's a group made up of household names, the most distinguished names who work in this art form. Is The Times honestly suggesting that Stanley Kramer is a racist? Barbra Streisand? Richard Attenborough? John Sayles, Lily Tomlin, Dennis Potter, Dede Allen, Haskel Wexler, Steven Spielberg, Edward James Olmos, Robert De Niro, Alfre Woodard, Chevy Chase, Billy Wilder, Katharine Hepburn, Yaphet Kotto, Elaine May, Harry Dean Stanton? Stop me when I get to the people you had in mind. Sven Nykvist? Danny Elfman? Steve Martin? Shelton J. (Spike) Lee, maybe?--another member in good standing.