Barry Saunders

Saunders: Sitting out the current kerfuffle over Oscar

Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith have said they will not attend this year’s Oscar ceremony to protest the lack of diversity among the nominees.
Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith have said they will not attend this year’s Oscar ceremony to protest the lack of diversity among the nominees. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Next to my autographed Z.Z. Hill’s Greatest Hits album, my most treasured possession is a 1998 letter from UNC basketball coach Dean Smith. It’s on my desk.

Days before receiving it, I’d written a column talking about how, as a kid, it’d take me a week to get over a Tar Heels basketball loss in the NCAA tournament. As an adult, it only takes a couple of days.

That, Coach Smith wrote to assure me jocularly, “is a sign of maturity.”

Another sign of maturity is that I don’t give a rat’s toenail about the current kerfuffle involving the Oscars.

Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith and other members of the glitterati are urging a boycott of the Oscars because, for the second year in a row, brothers and sisters got no love for their thespianing: not one was nominated for an Oscar.

Being recognized among one’s peers by the most prestigious institution in your industry is important, and it’s understandable that having their work go unrecognized is insulting and infuriating for blacks in Hollywood. The black actresses, actors and directors have every reason to be ticked off, but in the words of the late movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, “include me out” when it comes to the current protest and boycott.

People opposed to the boycott are taking the issue way too seriously, as evidenced by the scores of forwarded emails I’ve received from people unsolicitedly offering Spike Lee – “a nobody,” they bafflingly allege – directions: “Go to HELL Spike” is the subject line. I never read beyond that, but one can guess what it says.

Even had my invitation not gotten lost in the mail – yeah, that must be it – I wouldn’t be going to the Oscars, and not just because the righteous outrage expressed by Pinkett Smith would be even more righteous had she protested in a year in which, Mark Anthony Neal noted, her husband Will Smith hadn’t been snubbed.

It’s legitimate to ask, ‘Where was this outrage last year when there was also a blackout?’ It seems borne out of self-interest.

Mark Anthony Neal, professor of black popular culture at Duke University, on Jada Pinkett Smith

“I think it’s easy to dismiss her critique for that reason,” Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, said. “I might not go as hardcore as Janet Huber (the original Aunt Viv from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’).” Huber skewered Pinkett Smith for appearing to call for a boycott simply because Will was snubbed.

Still, Neal said, “It’s legitimate to ask, ‘Where was this outrage last year when there was also a blackout?’ It seems borne out of self-interest.”

Right on. You know who I really feel sorry for?

You know who I really feel sorry for? The next actor or actress of color who receives a nomination or – Egads! – wins a statuette, that’s who.

The next actor or actress of color who receives a nomination or – Egads! – wins a statuette, that’s who.

His or her performance could be so sublime as to have Sir Laurence Olivier, Ira Aldridge and Richard Burton applauding from the grave, but because of the controversy, Neal said, people will wonder “are they simply getting recognized to placate concerns about diversity?”

A few years ago, when I saw that neither Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Stylistics nor the Delfonics was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceased, in my mind, to exist.

That’s what those rebuffed and repulsed by the Oscars should do. After Isaac Hayes was snubbed for “Truck Turner” and Rudy Ray Moore was overlooked for “Disco Godfather,” the Oscars ceased to exist in my mind.

When acclaimed thespian Moore, aka Dolemite, asks in the latter movie, “Where is Bucky and what has he HAD?”, his dramatic interpretation is, quite simply, one for the ages. It may be the greatest movie utterance since “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Speaking of not giving a damn, several years ago, a men’s magazine told men it was time to “check your priorities” when you no longer give one over who wins the Oscars.

Au contraire. It’s time to check your priorities when you give too much of one over who wins the Oscars – unless, of course, your hubby was snubbed.

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