Last year the 88th Annual Academy Awards ceremony was overshadowed by controversy, as the nominations blatantly excluded many talented people of color, inspiring the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” and calls for a boycott. Following this week’s announcement of 2017’s Oscar nominees, and after viewing the Twitter reaction to the hashtag “#OscarsSoBlack”, I found myself in a place of indifference.
I like Michelle Williams’ choice of roles. It’s clear to me that she cares more about making films she can be proud of, than making films that earn money. Nevertheless, as much as I’ve enjoyed her performances in films such as Me without You and Blue Valentine, Viola Davis has rightfully earned this year’s Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. If Viola Davis doesn’t win Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Fences, the award should go to Naomie Harris for her role in Moonlight, which was a stellar performance. I can count on one hand the number of films I’ve enjoyed starring Emma Stone, but I strongly feel she deserves this year’s Best Actress Oscar for her performance in La La Land, which is far better than that of Ruth Negga in Loving and Natalie Portman in Jackie. Admittedly, my desire to see Moonlight win for Best Picture is somewhat biased. The Director, Barry Jenkins, was born in Liberty City, Miami, just as I was. I know what living in Liberty City is like, and Jenkins managed to make it out without ending up dead or in prison. I applaud him for that, my family applauds him for that, and we are unapologetically rooting for his continual success.
The Oscars are a popularity contest. If the Academy’s voters and critics like you, chances are you’ll walk away with the gold. Whether or not your movies actually earn money is clearly irrelevant, but being beautiful or “internationally photogenic?” Well, I think that also plays a part in who the Academy’s voters decide will be a winner.
There’s No Forgiveness for Actors of Color Who Make Bad Movies…Unless You’re Halle Berry
There are some actors and actresses whose films make me wonder: “How are they still getting roles? More importantly, why are they still getting roles?” These are people who are consistently cast in bad films (many of them released in theaters), or are just terrible at acting, yet somehow they continue to get roles. It’s something that I can’t comprehend, but when it comes to actors of color…this doesn’t apply to them. Actors of color can’t afford to make films that flop. It’s vital that their films are either critically or financially successful, or else they will fade into obscurity. Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Samuel L. Jackson have all realized this. Sadly, others have not. Halle Berry won an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball, but she hasn’t been in a watchable film since 2006, and that was a film in which she hardly had any dialogue. 11 out of Berry’s 15 films following Monster‘s Ball, including her short-lived TV series, Extant, are unbearable to watch.
Despite how undeniably gorgeous Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o is, with the exception of Queen of Katwe, most of her on-screen roles following 12 Years a Slave have primarily consisted of voicing CGI characters (Star Wars: The Force Awakens; The Jungle Book; Star Wars: The Last Jedi). Although I would love to see Nyong’o on-screen, I understand her desire to be selective when it comes to choosing roles. She knows all it takes is one or two bad roles to never be seen or heard from again. So, new nominees of color beware: Follow the examples of Washington, Davis, Spencer, and Jackson, and choose your roles wisely going forward. If not, you may not have any roles to choose from…at least, none that you’ll be proud of.
So…I Guess Everyone’s Happy Now?
Personally, I don’t care about the Oscars, and not even 50 nominees of color could make me do so. At most I’ve watched the ceremony twice in my life, and have no plans to ever do so again. However, I don’t work in the film industry, so I have no doubt all of the nominees feel the complete opposite of what I feel. But when I say “I don’t care about the Oscars” I’m not just referring to the boring ceremony and corny jokes, but what the Academy Awards has done for the past 87 years. From its inception it wasn’t intended to honor the contributions people of color made to the film industry, so I don’t expect the Academy Awards to start doing so now. Judging by reactions to the announcements of Oscar nominees for the past2-3 years, I was under the impression that a great number of people hated the Oscars. I didn’t just imagine all of those angry tweets, and last year’s calls for a boycott, did I? So now it appears this year’s diverse nominees was enough to quell the complaints of those who were enraged in 2016. I’m certain just last year I heard people, including Hollywood actors and Directors of color, saying actors of color should “stop seeking the validation of the Academy Award voters and audiences”, and “create our own award shows to honor people of color in film.” Well, I guess that movement died quickly.
Will the 89th Academy Awards be a Disappointment…Again?
This year Joi McMillon (pictured above) became the first Black-American to receive an Academy Award nomination for the category of Best Film Editing, and three Black actresses received nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role…but will any of them win? Already there have been accusations that these nominations were merely given in an effort to thwart any accusations of racism. If so, the tactic was a success, as this year’s Oscars are being referred to as having the most diverse selection of nominees thus far, spawning the hashtag “OscarsSoColorful.” There hasn’t even been a peep about a boycott. However, I don’t believe these nominations to be some devious tactic to keep protests and angry tweets at bay, and even the suggestion of such diminishes the hard work and dedication these nominees put forth. Months ago my friend, Tonya, and I saw the trailer for Fences while waiting to see The Birth of a Nation, and it was clear from the trailer alone that Viola Davis and Denzel Washington were giving award-winning performances in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s play. Washington and Davis had previously portrayed their characters (Troy and Rose Maxson) in a 2010 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of the play, so they not only have chemistry, but a true love for their characters and the story.
Though I don’t feel that these nominations of entertainers of color was the Academy’s method of silencing cries for diversity, I’m curious to see how this plays out. How will members of the LGBTQ community feel if Moonlight doesn’t win for Best Picture, and yet another film about gay love and acceptance suffers a loss? What will the Twitter reaction be February 26th-27th if one, two, or none of the nominees of color comes away with a win? Will the new hashtag be #OscarsStillSoRacist? I guess we’ll find out on February 26th.