Last night we of Negronia rejoiced when Christian Bale announced Octavia Spencer’s name as Best Supporting Actress. I even promised to declare today a holiday if Viola Davis won as well for her role in The Help. (For those of you who didn’t watch the 84th Academy Awards… Viola did not win… although I am also just as happy for Meryl Streep’s Best Actress win.) But I was reminded by my twitter timeline… for what roles are Black actors being honored? Also, why aren’t more blacks aware of other accomplishments from black actors, film producers, directors, and creators that have not earned the gold man.
But first rejoice with me!
I thought back to all the times a black actor has won one of the coveted Best Supporting Actor or Actress nomination. Growing up those would always be exciting nights in my house. Then I realized, for as young as most people think I am (even though I do in fact feel quite old), most of these wins have occurred in my lifetime. When I was forced to realize this fact, I was shocked.
This prompted my internet research, so for you I will give you a little history lesson. The first Black actor to win the prestigious and most coveted award in American Film was Hattie McDaniel for her Supporting role in Gone With the Wind. For those allergic to all films old, she played a maid in the antebellum South. I have seen the film, and of course, Mrs. McDaniel’s performance does steal the show (this is saying a lot considering the leading stars of the film). This joyous moment occurred in 1940.
The next win was for Best Actor by the ever respected and beloved Sidney Poitier in 1963 for his role in Lillies of the Field. This made him the first black person to receive at least two nominations for best actor ever. In 1982, Louis Gossett Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his part in An Officer and a Gentleman. For all the times I have watched that movie, I discovered this fact on Wikipedia this week in my pre- Oscar’s historical research. Next came Denzel Washington in 1989 for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory. In 1991, Whoopie Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress for her character in Ghost. Cuba Gooding Jr. followed in 1996 for his supporting role in Jerry Maguire.
In 2001 we all rejoiced and sang that it really was a new millennium when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington took home Best Actor and Actress. The controversy that was stirred around their roles that year surprised me, because why wouldn’t we have questioned what images of us Hollywood had awarded us for before? This moment also made Denzel the ONLY black actor to win an award more than once. Jamie Foxx won Best Actor in 2004 for his starring role in Ray while Morgan Freeman took home Best Supporting Actor for his part in Million Dollar Baby. We came in twos again in 2006 with Forest Whittaker winning Best Actor and Jennifer Hudson in her breakout role won Best Supporting Actress. In 2009, Monique won Best Supporting Actress for her terrifying portrayal of the mother in Lee Daniel’s film Precious. Bringing us to last night when Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress.
That’s It. Surely, you thought this is just a para-graphical break? Where on earth are the others?
Now think of all the other wonderful black actors and actresses you have ever seen on screen and ponder… where is their golden statue? I think of this and I am mad for people like Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Ruby Dee. The old guard of black cinema. Who are praised by critics and always on the list of great performances one must see. I think of the often overlooked Don Cheadle, who has played some of the most memorable characters I have seen on screen (and this is coming from a person who owns 300 dvds and has seen all the movies that were ever in the Netflix Top 100 in the past three years). I think of Viola Davis, who I still believe deserved the win for her part in Doubt.
Additionally, only three movies produced or director by blacks have ever been nominated for Best Picture. They are… wait for it… The Color Purple, Precious, and The Blind Side. For Best Director, only John Singleton for Boys in the Hood and Lee Daniels for Precious have even been considered. [ Spike Lee's tirade at Sundance is starting to make a little more sense now isn't it?] This is when I realized that as much as a I rejoiced at our small victories, there is clearly a bigger issue at hand here.
One of my twitter followers said it well last night when she said although she was ecstatic for Spencer and crossing her fingers for Davis, she could not wait for the day where a black person won for being a “normal person”. Hell, I would take a consistent recognition for positive reflections or images of our culture. I will stop forcing myself to be excited to see yet another talented black actress regulated to the part of the maid, no matter how touching or endearing the story. While I understand that it is a historically accurate representation of what many black women did and still do professionally, I refuse to support Hollywood for consistently choosing these stories to tell.
There are so many talented blacks in the film business, both ON and OFF The camera that it is time that we make a stronger effort to demand that there be a more diverse depiction of our culture and ethnicity on the big (and little… don’t think I forgot about tv just because this is about movies) screen. If we do not make a stronger effort to support independent black films and protest when the typical types of black movies are released, we are simply aiding and embedding the issues at hand. I urge all of you to do your part and make a point to get out there and support the lesser known or celebrated roles and movies, because you may be pleasantly surprised by what is not being talked about in Hollywood.
Disclaimer: Because I know some person is going to bring up Mr. Madea himself, I would like to say that yes I acknowledge he is a producer of both television and film. But seeing as he has yet to earn the golden man