Written by Andrew White
My anticipation for the Academy Award show was high because of the controversy, the boycotting, and the inquiries I held about the validity of the Academy’s push for change. What would transpire during the intro was a comfort-besetting monologue delivered contentiously by Chris Rock pertaining to the level of racism Hollywood tightly clings to. Ultimately, I would switch back and forth between channels, with a blasé brashness.
I already felt like the Academy didn't understand me and people who look like me and was unsure I wanted to be preached at for three plus hours. What entertained me the most was the skits Chris Rock, Whoopie Goldberg and Tracy Morgan put together encompassing humor into their message. Stacy Dash who came out sans applause, delivered an uncomfortable Uncle Tom-esque attempt at humor which easily became awkward moment of the night.
#Oscarssowhite has been a recurring hashtag appearing across social media platforms for the past few years representing a hindrance more longstanding than the Internet itself. One can assume a few palpable answers and solutions to the matter at hand, but it appears to be a bit more nuanced than we might believe.
This year’s Academy Awards nominations unambiguously showcased what has been a recurring tradition throughout America‘s past. A lack of diversity in the entertainment industry; the nominees, were entirely white. The issue of diversity is becoming more and more clear and the Academy Awards served as a barometer for the underrepresentation of all Americans.
The Oscars are the symptom, not the origin of the problem --- it is essential to generate more diverse content by opening up opportunity for writers, producers, casting directors to women and people of color.
"Early depictions of African Americans in film were limited to undignified clichéd images of people of color. During the early decades of the 20th century, many films paraded a brooding and romanticized idea of life in the colonial South." - Andrew White
Early depictions of African Americans in film were limited to undignified clichéd images of people of color. During the early decades of the 20th century, many films paraded a brooding and romanticized idea of life in the colonial South. Recollections of the civil war were still crisp and these films served as a means for creating some degree of compromise between the North and South by praising the image of the Old South.
In 1939, the Lowes Grand Theater in Atlanta, Georgia was selected by the studio as the site for the opening of Gone With The Wind. As the opening day festivity approached, all of the black actors who participated in the movie were barred from attending the event, as well as the souvenir program. This prompted the head of the studio David Selznick to request that the film’s star, Haddie McDaniel at least be permitted to attend. The MGM advised him not to because of Georgia’s segregation laws during that period.
Fast-forward to contemporary America, production companies similar to Screen Gems and Fox Searchlight, responsible for Brown Sugar and Antwone Fisher, have audaciously directed their effort to aiding in the production of minority included films. They are amongst a few to do so. Even though black actors have this option, they still have been losing ground.
People of color have realized their power for change and voiced their opinion with disdain for the lack of diversity through tactics such as social media outlets and crafting their own publications. Just days before The Oscars, Russell Simmons created All Def Movie Awards which took the same time slot as the Academy Awards. Simmons used his power and gave minority movie stars an outlet to be seen and praised for their works on screen. Some thespians even opted to physically boycott (Spike Lee attended a Knicks basketball game, wearing Oscar worthy attire instead) the event all together. Stars like Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith would probably disagree with Kerry Washington who played a role in the award show. Washington, a new member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences believes that her influence is best utilized in the discussion
"As a new member of the Academy, I want to be a part of the conversation so there is institutional change, so we never have a year like this again," she added. "You need all those voices at the table. It’s about women, about people of color, it's about age,” Washington said.
The most important achievement is opportunity. What Chris Rock alluded to is a “sorority” racism in Hollywood where the majority just won’t include minorities into the club.
"In 1992, while Spike Lee wanted money to expedite the production of Malcolm X, big names such as Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, and others, communally came up with about $11 million to guarantee the completion of the film, since the early financial plan approved by Warner Bros. wasn't enough."
We've ascended to the challenge before. In 1973, a film titled The Spook Who Sat By the Door was funded through cash generated by black investors. In 1992, while Spike Lee wanted money to expedite the production of Malcolm X, big names such as Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, and others, communally came up with about $11 million to guarantee the completion of the film, since the early financial plan approved by Warner Bros. wasn't enough. In 1996, the $2.4 million budget for Get on the Bus was supported solely by offerings from African-American men, comprising of Will Smith, Danny Glover, and Wesley Snipes.
We’ve obviously shown the ability to organize ourselves for diversity in the past, and have done so triumphantly. It’s disconcerting to see that the paces of our strides have seemingly decelerated and we are still very much the underdog throughout the most powerful mediums.
“If I now have some autonomy here, I want to create a world that is just like the world that I felt uncomfortable in and hopefully I can make something that other people feel more comfortable in and feel that this is a safe space,” - Wyatt Cenac ( The Daily Show)
About 79 years ago, Hattie McDaniel said that, "I'd rather play a maid and make $700 a week than be one for $7," suggesting that she was perhaps without choice. If minority writers, directors, performers are currently making similar assertions — post Civil Rights Movement, in an era in which we have unparalleled access to the production resources needed, the necessary conduits, and funds; 70 years after "Mammy" in Gone With the Wind — then we’ve most likely backslid instead of advanced.
Juxtaposed to the issue at hand, Kendrick Lamar was given the opportunity to perform at the Grammy’s this year and eliminated any doubt of universal ethos. The performance began with a shackled Lamar, fleeing into virtuous celebration, and then resuming to the chaotic truth that worries his consciousness. He’s screaming for a national dialogue, excited by an ember that has been booming since Americans birth. He was able to shine light on an internal struggle caused by generations of external societal intransigence, ultimately demanding recognition and representation.
Comedian and former Daily Show writer Wyatt Cenac noted his trials with diversity on podcast show Another Round with Tracy & Heban that can be looked at as a means to moving forward, forging a path for a more diverse tomorrow. “If I now have some autonomy here, I want to create a world that is just like the world that I felt uncomfortable in and hopefully I can make something that other people feel more comfortable in and feel that this is a safe space,” said Cenac.