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Why Can’t Hollywood Give Black Women The (Right) White Treatment?
Even if when it’s unavoidable
This time a handful of Black talents were included in the mix but only two got my attention. Singer and actress Mary J. Blige deservedly secured a Best Supporting Actress nod for her stoically understated performance in the gorgeously powerful period film — Netflix’s Mudbound.
My other personal investment didn’t quite reap the expected returns but at least esteemed director — Dee Rees wasn’t completely discarded since she made history as the very “first Black woman” to be nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. She also made history as the “first Black woman to direct a film for which an actor or actress was nominated for an Academy Award.”
2018 is shaping up to be another year of “firsts” for Black talents and these references seem to give the general impression that we’re finally headed in the right direction — and perhaps it’s time to retire the hashtag that initiated the cloak of awareness — that was purposely allowed to gather dust at the expense of hard working folks.
But, there is nothing victorious or even emotional about the notion that This Is Us actor — Sterling K. Brown finally broke the streak of ignorance by being the “first Black actor” to win the SAG award for outstanding male actor in a drama series. Brown also made history weeks earlier when he won a Golden Globe for best actor in a TV drama.
Again, when you consider that this is 2018 — it’s hard not be rattled by these epic wins in ways that don’t necessary warm the heart.
Unfortunately — Black men seem to have an easier time when it comes to Hollywood’s tendency to acknowledge their contributions at the most vital moment. Black women can’t seem to garner that same respect even when it’s glaringly unavoidable.
Dee Rees was tragically robbed of the opportunity to follow in Ava DuVernay’s (Selma) footsteps by snagging a Best Director nomination. And the impeccable work she did on her most stunning film to date has received glowing reviews from me and more reputable critics who are all united in their unrelenting praise for Mudbound, which makes the fact that it failed to get a Best Picture nomination even that more scarring.
Greta Gerwig and her charming film — Lady Bird — booted Rees out of the illustrious race and if you’ve seen Gerwig’s directorial debut — you will instantly comprehend how this happened. Academy voters can’t resist tales about complex White teenagers who are saddled with the responsibility of navigating awkward and sometimes turbulent relationships with family, friends and the boy that almost got away.
As charismatic as star and darling of the awards circuit — Saoirse Ronan is in a role that was undoubtedly made for her — it’s almost impossible not to be gutted that Lady Bird beat out Mudbound for a best picture nod.
Both offerings are obviously very different in tone and themes with the latter hinging on superior and memorable. Lady Bird is the great American love letter — but lets face it — no coming-of-age movie starring a Black girl with similar hurdles would even be presented as a contender — unless it replicates the heaviness of 2009’s Precious.
Rees is an astutely profound filmmaker who blazed onto the scene with her semi-autobiographical stunner — Pariah — in 2011 and instantly became a sensation — with major shoutouts from the industry’s best. Her other impressive effort — HBO’s Bessie (2015) didn’t quite resonate but it still showcased her organic approach to the skill of filmmaking.
There’s no doubt that if a White male had produced and directed Mudbound — the industry would’ve instinctively feted him and his cast with all the regalia befitting his status. English actress Carey Mulligan who also starred in Mudbound — is steadfast in her belief that Rees was shut out because of her race and gender.
It’s fantastic to hear Mulligan spell out the truth without filters — but being upfront about Hollywood’s stubborn stance when it comes to recognizing the worth of Black women is failing to reverberate in ways that assuage the fear that this climate of gross negligence will be over sooner rather than later.
Black women are almost always missing from the vast narrative of creativity and it’s even more dire than I imagined. As I binge-watch past and present fare on Netflix — I’m sadly aware of the stark absence of Black actresses in the shows that were deemed noteworthy way before the mandated “diversity” clause came into effect.
Top rated shows like Lost, The West Wing and The Office— are all proof that there’s a tendency to stalk up on Black actors, but Black actresses are able to be excluded for countless seasons without guilt or shame. If not for the birth of Shondaland — major networks would still be in the red when it comes to conceiving successful dramas that center the interests of Black women.
The issue seems to be the fact that the powers-that-be don’t seem to be convinced that enough of us care or notice the absence of Black actresses — especially when all the other boxes are checked. This truth was brought to light when HBO’s Project Greenlight series aired back in 2015 — and featured film and television producer — Effie Brown — a Black woman with a bloated resume that includes a producing credit for the 2014 sleeper hit — Dear White People.
While on the show — Brown — an industry pro — was quick to point out the lack of diversity in the bevy of directors that were under consideration for the ultimate prize. Actor Matt Damon — who co-produces Project Greenlight alongside a handful of White men — including longtime friend and collaborator — Ben Affleck — wasn’t impressed with Brown’s critique and immediately shut her down.
Damon — like most men who share his privileged aesthetic — has a very difficult time being challenged by a Black woman who knows her shit. It’s almost as if it goes against the law of nature — so the only way to respond is by demeaning the value of the contribution as a way to ward off the “attack.”
Damon’s method of delivery was casually harsh:
“When you’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.”
Obviously this didn’t sit well with Brown or viewers who were shocked and dismayed at Damon’s bluntness and audacity to venture into a territory that he was obviously woefully ill-equipped to handle with care and thoughtfulness.
But — it thankfully helped to shed light on the intensity of the bias against Black women who can’t ever overcome the dominion of their White counterparts.
Greta Gerwig gets her illustrious nominations despite being a first-time director while Rees is left to fight another day.
Another major defeat comes in the form of Vanity Fair’s splashy annual Hollywood edition — which has just been unveiled — and features the usual suspects are all lined up with only bi-racial newcomer Zendaya and the woman “White people love to love” — Oprah — glamorously repping for women of color.
It’s hard to fathom that in this sensitive climate — there was no conversation about worthy options for this cover — like the female squad from one of the most anticipated movies of the century — Black Panther — Danai Gurira, Leticia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett. And how can you explain the absence of two-time Oscar-nominee Mary J.Blige?
The White treatment in Hollywood seems to be the golden standard and as exhausting as it is to keep harping on a subject that has been beaten to death time and time again — we can’t ever get to that place where we throw in the towel so as to escape the threat of sounding like a broken record.
The continuous exclusion of Black women is a tradition that needs to be halted — effective immediately.
And it begins with the input of influencers like Oprah, Shonda Rhimes, etc who have spent enough time reaping the benefits of catering to White people at the expense of their own. It’s time to also help Black actresses win million dollar contracts — or reject the notion of posing for a magazine cover that leaves more to be desired in the realm of equality.
Black women should be catered to in the same way White women are permitted the longevity of careers that begin with the ingenue phase. The White treatment isn’t a bad thing — it’s just unfair when it blocks the advancement of others who’ve also earned the right to be seen and heard.
It’s time to make things right — not White.