How #OscarsSoBlack Came At Too High a Price
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 4 years since the viral hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite was launched by April Reign because most of us can distinctively remember when it took flight, and proved durable enough to warrant the complete attention of the Academy.
It was the 2016 award season, and the Oscar nominations were unapologetically White, and this not only drew the ire of Black Twitter, but it also necessitated the disapproving input of Black A-listers like Jada Pinkett Smith, who posted a video explaining the travesty of Will Smith’s best actor snub.
In all honesty, Will Smith didn’t demonstrate his worthiness of an Oscar nomination for his role in Concussion for many reasons, but mainly because of the terrifically bad accent that he assigned to his character, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is an Igbo man, and definitely deserved the appropriate representation.
But in the midst of the anger and frustration was the underground movement that made its way above ground, and into the outdated statutes of a traditionally biased institution, that desperately needed an overhaul.
And the revisions were made almost immediately under the tutelage of then AMPAS President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who promptly established the Academy initiative A2020, aimed at:
“improving representation of diversity — age, gender, race, national origin, point-of-view — and will include a five-year plan to focus on industry practices and hiring.”
While the swift and notable strides being made to revamp the inflexibility and formidable exclusion policies of Hollywood’s “all-White” aesthetic was impressive and encouraging enough to temporarily assuage the irritation of skeptics, there was also the outrageousness of the facts, that proved how the system had been set up for decades to primarily foster the global viability of White creatives at the expense of non-White talents.
Four years later, and there is no doubt that the hashtag that famously shamed White Hollywood into submission, by also forcing the population of new Academy members with darker skin and non-Christian names, has somewhat lived up to the expectations of its founder, and the non-White community of creatives, who were languishing from gross neglect, prior to the mandated uproar for justice.
All the stuff that was meant to organically transpire in the form of TV shows on prominent cable networks or streaming giants, being led by Black women both in front and behind the camera became a refreshing reality. And the film world also slightly beckoned to enhancing the visibility of products that used to be deemed undesirable for the palette of White viewers.
The progress being made is a gradual pull in the right direction, and so it only seemed fair that the Academy finally extend an invite to the celebrated activist, who conceived the inconceivable with the aid of magic words being released to the ravenous climate of Twitterverse.
Reign looked marvelously glamorous on the red carpet, where she rightfully belonged, and of course she was asked to reflect on the journey thus far, and the high hopes for the years ahead.
It’s quite clear that the activator of #OscarsSoWhite was graciously asked to join the biggest party of the year, in order to revel in the victory of #OscarsSoBlack — the 2019 edition.
The laborious task of bribing and begging old White males to get over themselves long enough to “do the right thing” seemingly paid off, as the nominations this time around were remarkably different from the “all-White-all-stars” of 2016.
But of course there has to be a catch, or else it wouldn’t be La La Land.
Black Panther had the loudest and most phenomenal reception of all the chosen films added to the illustrious list of best picture nominees. Its epic arrival about a year ago was akin to a global festival that united Black folks from all corners of the earth.
It was the Black superhero movie that we dreamed of, and luckily were gifted with stunning regalia that captured the hearts and imagination of young minds, while arresting the fantastical elements of grown ups with kid-like reflexes, who appreciated the spiritedness of mental transportation to a galaxy that thankfully was within reach.
The cultural revolution that unfolded from the infusion of Black Panther hasn’t lost its luxurious luster, and it never will.
However, the now-concluded award season revealed the deep-seated resentment that White Academy voters harbor for offerings that deviate from the standard default of permissible versions of Black films.
There was a stench in the air that attempted to overwhelm the mightiness of an unapologetically Black project, that featured the dream cast of Black warriors, impeccably clothed with furnishings of royal splendor against the majestic backdrop of authenticity that dared to scrub away the historically vile interference of White supremacy.
Black Panther wasn’t the quality contender that White people could relate to or even applaud with reverence for what it represented for a vast population of revelers, who are woefully misplaced for reasons that make the Black movie of our lifetime reassuringly futuristic.
Enter the White movie that subbed as the critically-acclaimed beauty because of its traitorous beginnings, and how the “symphony of lies” that were compiled to torment the Black family at the center of the ugly controversy, perfectly delivered the renderings that give Whiteness the saintly halo, that is supposed to finesse the unforgivable crimes of slavery and colonialism.
If you haven’t heard the backstory of Green Book, with all the seediness you can expect from pompous White males who are hungry for greatness at all costs — even when it means slaughtering the truth and overriding the noted requests of the exploited subject before he passed, then you must start the process of discovery.
When you consider how “White savior” themed movies like Dangerous Minds, Half Nelson The Blindside, The Help, etc have traditionally been readily embraced by the cowardice of White Hollywood, it’s no wonder that the nefariousness of Green Book ended up wooing the desires of an industry that is still fumbling in its bid to recognize and rectify the scale of racial infamy.
While the missing Black host that was hired and unceremoniously fired for good reason would have added even more Blackness to #OscarsSoBlack, the hours-long telecast was initially shaping up to be the rewarding experience that rarely ever happens
It was the “night of firsts” as Black women were lifted to heights of long-awaited exposure, thanks to Ryan Coogler’s insistence on hiring esteemed film costume designer Ruth E. Carter, and production designer extraordinaire, Hannah Bleacher to bless the overall excellence of the movie of his career.
Both Carter and Bleacher won in their categories, which destroys the weak argument by bitter White naysayers about the lackluster quality of Black Panther.
It was lovely to see Black women being elevated for flawless trajectories that span decades, and yet, they were victimized by the disease of White Hollywood, and the hijacking of a system that flat out refused to consider anything or anyone outside the safety net of Whiteness.
That explains why it took so long for the incomparable Regina King to have that golden moment that should’ve been granted back when she stole the spotlight from fellow Oscar-winner Jaime Fox in the 2004 biopic — Ray.
Kings’ stunning performance went unnoticed, but the actress and director still persevered like a champ, with the confidence of her invaluable contributions to an industry that was hellbent on devaluing her worth.
Her victorious strut up the stage to receive her long-overdue Oscar, followed by the emotionally-charged speech, inspired tears of joy, and eventually fits of rage, as we registered the systemic trauma that Black creatives have been forced to endure — their entire careers — because of musty old White voters, who have succeeded in shutting out Black women from the “best actress” category — ever since Halle Berry made history back in 2002.
Another “first” was achieved by legendary auteur, Spike Lee, who managed to snag a win for best adapted screenplay for best picture nominee — BlacKkKlansman. His joy boosted him out of his seat, and right into the arms of actor and frequent collaborator, Samuel L. Jackson.
And while it was exceptionally gratifying to watch Lee hold that Oscar, and give that heartfelt speech, again, the pangs of intense anger resurfaced, as we imagined the unnecessary years of systemic abuse that caused one of the most prolific filmmakers of our time, to miss out on the notable episodes of his vibrant career when the Academy callously shut him out.
It was no surprise that the best director win eluded him, yet again. But the unbearable shocker came at the very end, when actress Julia Roberts opened the envelope and declared Green Book, as best picture.
The almighty kick to the gut was saved for last, and it swiftly erased all the memorable moments of a night that was meant to appropriately celebrate Blackness with the icing on the cake that should’ve been divided amongst the cast of Black Panther.
Spike Lee has never been one to hide his contempt, and he didn’t disappoint in the press room when he was queried about the deplorable decision to award a the shittiest film of the bunch, the biggest prize of the night.
Moments later, the White men behind the Whitest Black movie that ever was, also gathered in the press room to answer questions, and their answers proved beyond a doubt that the mechanisms behind the making of Green Book, were implemented with the foulness of how White people use their station to weaponize Blackness for the sake of retaining the falsehood of their supposed selfless pursuits.
Spike Lee specifically asked the people in the bedazzled space to “Do the Right Thing,” and instead, the Academy did the very opposite by reaffirming the allegiance to Black films that don’t possess the strength of Black narratives that make If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther, and BlackKkKlansman uniquely viable for Black people.
Green Book’s red carpet swooning during award season was hard to digest, but the brutal betrayal of a best picture Oscar basically illustrates how #OscarsSoBlack came at too high a price.
It’s the hard slap in the face that knocks the wind out of you, until you regain control of your senses, and finally reconcile the painful truth of why the Academy operates solely for its own benefit without any consideration for those who don’t apply.
The hashtag that overtook White Hollywood has produced wonders, but now we know there is a limit to how much Black creatives can hope to receive. We know that Black Panther didn’t win best picture because it was too Black. We know that If Beale Street Could Talk wasn’t even nominated because it was romantically Black.
Oscars 2019 was the “year of firsts” and we are aware of how tragically awful that is when you contemplate the loss of potential Black talents, who never stood a chance against the machine of their discontent. And even now with the monumental wins that recently occurred, we can’t assume that this will be the way forward.
The anointing of a movie that was built on the treacherous motives of White creatives, who exploited the real life story of Dr. Don Shirley in an effort to uplift the White character beyond the actuality of his relevance, at the expense of the bereaved and inconsolable family members, who are victims of Black trauma at the hands of White supremacy — proves that not much will change in the realm of equalizing the power structure of a White-driven institution.
The Academy didn’t “Do the Right Thing” when Driving Miss Daisy won best picture in 1990, instead of Spike Lee’s racially-charged gem that was easily the more superior offering.
And the habitual dissing continues, but the good news is that Black Panther will continue its everlasting peak of global dominance for decades to come, while Green Book will be a forgotten item of disposable trash that White people can dust off every now and then for their greedy enjoyment.
#OscarsSoBlack gave us a lot to be thankful for, but most importantly it disciplined us into the acceptance of the great divide between White Hollywood and Black Hollywood.
And why it’s better off that way.