Black actors, led by Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, along with her husband Will Smith, said on Monday they will boycott next month’s Academy Awards ceremony because black actors were shut out of nominations, and the Academy acknowledged it needed to do more to promote diversity.
The Oscar acting nominees announced on Thursday lacked black performers for a second straight year, leading to the revival of the Twitter feed #OscarsSoWhite that emerged in 2015.
The first black to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress, 1939, for her role in “Gone With the Wind.” Although she was an Academy Award Winner, she still had to use the “black” entrance to get into the theater to accept her award.
The movies had to catch up with reality – a changing one – before black performers would receive their due in roles that didn’t portray them as slaves or servants. Not until 1963 would another black actor win an award – Sidney Poitier won the 1963 Best Actor Oscar for his role as a traveling handyman who helps nuns build a chapel in the desert in “Lilies of the Field.” Twenty-four years had passed between “Gone with the Wind” and “Lilies of the Field.”
Nineteen years later, Louis Gossett, Jr. would win the 1982 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in “An Officer and a Gentleman.” The next Oscars wouldn’t be so long in coming. In 1989, Denzel Washington won the Best Supporting actor for his amazing performance in the movie, Glory. Granted, it was another Civil War movie. But Washington wasn’t playing the house boy.
The next year, Whoopi Goldberg won a Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Ghost.” Cuba Gooding, Jr. won the Academy Award in 1996 for Best Supporting Actor in “Jerry Maguire” (“Show me the money!”). Five years later, Denzel Washington would win another Oscar, this time for Best Actor in “Training Day” and Halle Berry would win Best Actress in “Monster’s Ball.” It was the first time a black actor and actress would take home the Best Actor and Actress Oscars in the same year.
In 2004, Jamie Foxx would win the Best Actor award for his lead in “Ray,” a bio-pic about the life of singer Ray Charles, while Morgan Freeman would take home the Best Supporting Actor for “Million Dollar Baby.” The Oscars were coming more frequently for black actors and actresses.
Two years later, in 2006, Forest Whitaker would take home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film, “The Last King of Scotland” and Jennifer Hudson would win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Dream Girls.” Mo’Nique won the Best Supporting Actress award in 2009 for her role in the film, “Precious.”
The next year, another black actress, Octavia Spencer, took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in “The Help” and in 2013, Lupita Nyong’o won the BSA for “12 Years a Slave.”
Fifteen Academy Awards. Anyone working in Hollywood – in the entertainment business in general – has to know that the competition is fierce just to land a role, much less win an award for it.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps its own counsel about to whom it will award Oscars. Their process is very secretive and mysterious. The actors and actresses, directors, producers and other members usually view the films privately, with no input from audiences about which films, actors, actresses, and directors to select. Perhaps they use a divining rod. Or maybe they consult an oracle who throws shreds of celluloid into a little camp fire, examining the charred pieces.
How else to explain why they chose to give the Best Actor Award to Sean Penn, close friend of El Chapo Guzman, twice, while ignoring Tom Cruise in “Valkyrie” or Daniel Craig in “Defiance?” Granted 2008 was hardly a landmark year for films (i.e., “Speed Racer,” “Get Smart,” “Disaster Movie”).
In recent times, Hollywood has done its due diligence to Blacks in its selection of films, “In the Heat of the Night,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” and “12 Years a Slave.” The Academy has been hit-or-miss in selecting winning films in general. It’s chosen some pretty amazing movies over the years: “Casablanca,” “From Here to Eternity,” “The Sound of Music,” “Amadeus,” “Schindler’s List,” “Forrest Gump,” “Titanic,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Lord of the Rings” (a personal favorite).
And it’s chosen some duds that you can only find in the five-dollar bin at Wal-Mart: “American Beauty,” “The Artist,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Ordinary People,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Terms of Endearment “(the top of my Worst Best Picture Ever), “The Apartment,” “Chicago,” “Annie Hall.”
Of all the movies made in 1977, why “Annie Hall”? We’re not even talking “Star Wars” here (too many mistakes: George Lucas wasn’t worried about winning awards; he was worried about breaking even on what people told him was a sleeper, at best). Still, who really remembers “Annie Hall” today? “Star Wars” was the movie that changed Hollywood, parsecs and all.
There was “Saturday Night Fever.” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (another sci-fi). “A Bridge Too Far.” “ Heroes.” “MacArthur”. Clearly, voting for “Annie Hall” as Best Picture was a homage to neurotic Woody Allen. We know how that turned out. Uggh.
So, black actors, actresses, directors and producers, no blacks were nominated this year. What’s on the slate for 2016? “Bridge of Spies” (a thriller with Tom Hanks), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (a sci-fi re-boot, woman revolts against tyrant), “The Revenant” (man-meets-bear, bear-molests-man with Leo DiCaprio), Spotlight (priest-molests-boys), “The Martian” (a sci-fi comedy?), and “The Big Short” (a Wall Street-basher).
“The Revenant” and “Spotlight” won’t even make it to the Wal-Mart bin because of their subject matter. But “Mad Max” will make the bin and so will “The Big Short.” Taking into account the buzz on movies, the likely winner is The Martian, with a probable Best Actor for Matt Damon. Tom Hanks already has two Oscars and Hollywood will want to pin the Red Star on its newest Communist actor, whom they probably consider overdue for the award.
With a woman running for president (if she doesn’t wind up prison), this is the year to watch the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories:
- Brie Larson (“Room”)
- Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”)
- Cate Blanchet (“Carol”)
- Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”)
- Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”)
Variety is betting on Brie Larson, for “Room.” The actor and actress awards are almost never about the performance in the movie cited, but in the performances the Academy missed. In the case of Morgan Freeman, he had four films in the same year, 1989, with three of the four performances “Lean on Me,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” and “Glory” absolute perfection (didn’t see “Johnny Handsome”). It took the Academy another 15 years to figure out that Freeman was a great actor (2004 – Best Supporting Actor, “Million Dollar Baby”).
Did I mention he’s black? Well, you already knew that.
Many, many actors, such as Ian McKellan (didn’t they see him in “Angels and Demons”?) and Harrison Ford (one nod for “Witness”, otherwise, take your pick of films, like “The Fugitive”) have given great performances who will never have that statue on their mantelpiece. But such actors (and actresses) have the consolation of at least having been nominated.
Some awards are totally mysterious and mystifying. Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.” If audiences would even go to see such a dark film in the first place, is that what the Academy is rewarding women for – the films in which they appear rather than their performances? Distaff roles (Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love”)? Aggressive, liberal attorneys (Susan Saradon, “Dead Men Walking”)? Women boxers (Hilary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby?”), and union activists (Sally Field, “Norma Rae”)?
Where are the truly great actresses? The Katherine Hepburns? The Greer Garsons (check her out in the 1942 “Mrs. Miniver”)? Even great actresses took on horrible roles in horrible movies (Olivia DeHaviland, “The Heiress,” 1949) back in the old days. Actors fared better.
But today it seems to be more about the role the actor is playing than how they’re playing it. Great movies should be about great stories and great characters, not (usually) Leftist politics. Of course, in 2013, we had Matthew McConaughey in “The Dallas Buyers Club,” which was about a guy who contracted AIDS in 1985 who went around getting drugs for other AIDS patients.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the improvements in the treatment of AIDS. Thanks to advancements in medicine and technology, patients no longer suffer with and die from this agonizing disease. But the Left wanted the taxpayers to pay for the treatments just the way they want the taxpayers to subsidize abortions and contraception today. Back in the Eighties, the Reagan Administration said, “No,” and so of course that meant our Conservative president wanted people to die of AIDS.
Thanks to the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press, movie producers can make whatever movies they like. Anti-war films go all the way back to the 1920s, with “All Quiet on the Western Front” (an incredibly sad film, quite potent for what we thought were simpler times). “All Quiet” won the 1929-1930 Academy Award for Best Picture. “Pro-war” movies followed during World War II. “The Longest Day” was nominated for Best Picture, but lost out to a World War I flick, “Lawrence of Arabia” (“Longest Day” did pick up two technical Oscars, however). “M*A*S*H*,” which led a generation of soldiers to think that war was a Boy Scout camp-out (it may have gotten some of them killed in Vietnam later in the war), was nominated for best picture in 1970, but lost out to World War II and “Patton.”
So, you see, like everything in life, the Academy Awards are like a lottery, black people – sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Unlike the Miss America Pageant, the Academy Awards have been integrated since their first ceremony in 1927 (even if blacks did have to enter through the service entrance).
Black Miss America contestants must take their chances just like the other beauties. What do black performers want? A separate category for black performers, directors, producers, and films? Because if the Academy Awards must submit to a quota system, that puts blacks back into a segregated corner.
Choosing the Best Picture, Actor, Actress and so forth should be pretty much black and white: each should be “judged” on their merits, not on their melanin.