Man, this has got to be the worst Black History Month ever!
Beyonce performed her latest song “Formation” during the Super Bowl halftime show, with a cabal of dancers looking like sexy Black Panthers, and white America lost its collective mind. People were declaring she was inciting violent action against the police or whatever they were upset about. (The accompanying video, which premiered the day before and featured such shots as Beyonce sinking in water while on a top of a cop car, cops raising their hands up after a black kid dances and the words “Stop shooting us” spray painted on a wall, certainly made more people see anti-police rhetoric that wasn’t there.) If that wasn’t enough, at the Grammy awards two weeks ago, Kendrick Lamar’s universally acclaimed, black-and-proud “To Pimp a Butterfly” lost out to Taylor Swift’s “1989” for Album of the Year. Seriously, how did that happen?
But let’s not forget about the major racial issue that’s been tearing the country apart this month: the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees. For the second year in a row, none of the 20 nominees up for acting awards are people of color. The same goes for people nominated in the directing, writing or Best Picture categories. This is upsetting considering that several successful, critically acclaimed movies which came out last year were directed by and starred black people.
The “Rocky” sequel “Creed” was co-written and directed by a black guy, Ryan Coogler, and stars a black actor, Michael B. Jordan, in the title role. The only nomination that movie got was Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky Balboa himself, for Best Supporting Actor. The N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” was a monster hit when it was in theaters. However, for a movie that mostly had black people behind and in front of the camera, its only nomination was given to white folks: screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman for Best Original Screenplay.
Needless to say, this caused social media to flip out. #OscarsSoWhite immediately became a hashtag on Twitter. Celebs like Spike Lee, who received an Honorary Oscar a few months back, and Jada Pinkett Smith said they wouldn’t attend the ceremony. (Smith’s viral-video declaration, which many saw as her going off on the Academy for not nominating her husband, Will Smith, for his performance in “Concussion,” prompted Smith himself to do damage control, going on “Good Morning America” and saying his wife was speaking for herself. He also mentioned that he wasn’t going, too.)
Eventually, pale-faced celebrities were asked about their thoughts on racial diversity in Hollywood, which we soon learned might not be a good idea. Oscar nominee Charlotte Rampling got some backlash when she said in a radio interview that the boycotts were “racist against whites” and “sometimes maybe black actors didn’t deserve to make the [Oscar] shortlist.” Two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine also got raked over the coals for a BBC interview where he stated, “You can’t vote for an actor because he’s black. … You have to give a good performance.” He also suggested that black people should be patient and wait for their moment. (“It took me years to get an Oscar,” he noted.)
There were white folks who seemed more aware of black Hollywood’s plight. Superstar George Clooney remembers a time – 2005, to be exact – when Jamie Foxx won Best Actor for “Ray,” Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor for “Million Dollar Baby” and a bunch of other minority faces were Oscar nominees (including his pal Don Cheadle, who got a Best Actor nomination for “Hotel Rwanda.”) “If you think back 10 years ago,” Clooney told Variety, “the Academy was doing a better job.”
If you go back even further, exactly 20 years ago, the Academy Awards was under fire for its lack of minority nominees. (Remember, that was the year several Oscars went to “Braveheart,” directed by and starring Mel Gibson, that provider of many a racist, anti-Semitic tirade.) So, it looks like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organization notoriously made up of old white men, are forgetting about the mistakes they made in the past in favor of keeping the Oscars what it always is – a stodgy, self-congratulatory event where they salute the usual slate of prestige flicks and award-bait performances.
After the nominations were announced last month, AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (a black lady, by the way) said in a statement that she is looking for fresh, young and, most importantly, diverse Oscar voters. “The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.” Until that day comes, the best we can hope for is that, at tonight’s festivities, host Chris Rock will tear the Hollywood community a new one – mostly for not recognizing minority talent when they see it.
Nevertheless, even with all the controversy, I still have made some predictions on who will win (as well as who should win and who could’ve/would’ve/should’ve been nominated).