Why Hollywood’s Obsession With White Actresses Is The Everlasting Buzzkill
The Oscar nominations were recently announced, and as always there’s the glaring omissions and the shocking additions, which are supposed to leave fans at the edge of their seats in anticipation for the Big Day. But this longstanding tradition of playful suspense, is no longer entertaining or mildly interesting.
The industry trades have unleashed their annual list of snubs, and of course thanks to pressure from the women’s movement, the Best Director category has to be rightfully shamed for being an all-male club this year, although that tends to be norm.
There’s also the unforgivable sin of having Green Book secure both Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (among others), after the damning controversy surrounding the making of the film and its release. Director Peter Farrelly and co-writer/producer Nick Vallelonga, who is the son of Tony Vallelonga, the character played by Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen, basically created a “symphony of lies,” and sold it as truth for the big screen.
Dr. Don Shirley, who has since passed, is the character that Oscar-nominee Mahershala Ali embodied, and the in the midst of the grand reception by award season, the Shirley family have been quite vocal about the outright betrayal by two White men, who were too greedy and inconsiderate to respect Dr. Shirley’s firm refusal to give his blessing to the Whitewashed narrative about his life.
We could go on and on about the other notable discrepancies, including the injustice of Vice getting the recognition it didn’t earn, based on the over-hyped marketing machine that loves to celebrate the star-studded White cast of movies about shitty old White men.
And we can be pissed that Ryan Coogler didn’t get a nomination for his stellar direction of Black Panther, and we can also be blown away that Spike Lee was ignored for Malcolm X, but managed to get the inclusive invite for BlacKkKlansman — for the very first time.
We can digest the stunning hypocrisy of an industry that pledges to do better in the realm of diversity, and yet one of the top contenders — Crazy Rich Asians — was inexplicably left out in the cold.
But more importantly, we need to examine Hollywood’s relentless obsession with White actresses, that begins at the ingenue stage, and then continues past adulthood — into the golden years.
All of the top White actresses, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Anne Hathaway, etc, were all feted and primed for global dominion. They are summoned as blossoming buds, and major studios pay close attention to their development through the “awkward stage,” and into the desirable age bracket that permits them to be cast opposite leading men — old and older.
The range of choices for White actresses are infinite; since their sufficiently viable template bequeathes the power to negotiate for any and every role on the planet without restrictions. They can be cast as part-Asians, and we all know why Natalie Wood was selected to play “Maria” in West Side Story, which was no biggie — thanks to the magic of the makeup department.
We can only imagine how intolerable it must have been for Rita Moreno, who is of Puerto Rican descent, to step aside and watch the part she was born to play, supremely assigned to a White actress.
Decades later, and Black actresses are not faring any better.
I’m still watching popular TV shows and Netflix originals (Bird Box anyone?), that are weirdly missing Black women. There are no words to describe how off-putting it is to notice how Black men are always included, whether they’re as dark as night or darker, while Black women are either missing or have to be biracial or at least racially ambiguous.
Progressiveness is slow in the film world, even though it has markedly improved from twenty years ago, when mainstream Black actresses had to look like Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams, Nia Long or Jada Pinkett Smith.
There weren’t any leading actresses that matched the features of Lupita Nyong’o, which explains why her ascension was so embarrassingly heralded by White beauty and fashion editors, who couldn’t quite believe that she was able to seamlessly make oceanic hues look so riveting.
Nyong’o’s trajectory clearly illustrates the challenges of being a Black actress, who looks unapologetically Black. The available roles that are meant to enhance visibility, both at home and abroad, don’t resemble the appetizing platter offered to White counterparts. And even though she’s brilliantly playing the game her way in order to retain the upper-hand, there’s still the roadblocks that demand the exhaustive hurdles.
The best way to gauge the seriousness of Hollywood’s rejection of Black actresses, is through the Oscar nominations, and how the major acting categories for women are either all-White or peppered with one or two additions of color.
This year, the superbly talented Regina King, is finally getting her due after years and years of excellent delivery, with a Best Supporting nod for her affecting performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. The gorgeous film based on a novel by James Baldwin was masterfully directed by Barry Jenkins, who gave us Moonlight, the 2017 Oscar-winner for Best Picture.
Since we are currently navigating the “woke” era, that mandates the inclusion of non-White talents that deserve to be duly recognized, regardless of their racial makeup, it makes sense that we should expect this endorsed practice to extend to the Academy of Motion Pictures.
But, Tuesday morning’s ceremonial announcement was the wakeup call that shook us back to reality.
White actresses can’t ever be overshadowed by their darker-skinned counterparts. The acting categories will continue to be dominated by White faces, because the industry can’t accommodate the threat of an equalized setting.
This must be the reason why up and coming actress KiKi Layne was excluded from the list of Oscar nominees. The twenty-something stunner, was wonderful in Beale Street, and there’s no doubt that if she were White, there would be every effort to ensure that she made the list.
Layne’s Oscar snub is the demonstration of how young Black actresses at the tip of stardom are derailed by biased voters, who can’t visualize her viability based on the handicap of her ethnicity. She’s simply not profitable enough to garner the recognition that could skyrocket her career.
It’s criminal to have acting categories barely featuring of women of color, and this definitely reactivates #OscarsSoWhite because as much as the industry likes to tout its advancements — when it comes to the gross negligence levied on Black actresses — those achievements are null and void.
Tessa Thompson’s immense contribution as a captivating performer was evident in Sorry to Bother You. We would’ve been happy to see Amandla Stenberg recognized for The Hate U Give. And Michaela Coel was robbed by the Golden Globes, because her delightfully whimsical turn in Netflix’s infectious musical Been So Long was worthy of a shoutout — if we are truly trying to give Black actresses the opportunity to shine and prosper.
But the worst offense of all has to be the tallest “middle finger” bestowed on the flawless cast of the best movie of 2018.
Black Panther was and is the Black movie that White people couldn’t stand because of their exclusion and the intimidating themes of Black pride, Black love and Black power.
White Hollywood prefers the “White savior” anthems that make The Blind Side, The Help, The Butler and of course Green Book, marketably appealing, because of the way White characters are lauded for dutifully enlightening the mindset of Black characters.
When Black Panther hit theaters almost a year ago, the cultural movement was initiated all over the world, as Blackness became a coherent language that united us without the shackles of White supremacy. It was a breathtaking season of wondrous love, that uplifted spirits with reminders of the religion that was stolen but painstakingly reclaimed.
Hollywood didn’t completely buy into the hype, and while it was agreed that the global juggernaut would be added to the lists of nominations during award season, we can assume that this was done to avoid the complications from a potentially unrecoverable backlash.
It was more than fair and reasonable to add Black Panther to the Best Picture category, but how can the Academy make sense of the fact that none of the cast members were nominated?
It’s hard to recall any movie that was nominated for Best Picture, being ignored in any of the acting slots, even if it’s just a single nomination. It’s quite possible that it has happened before, but I’m almost certain that this is a first.
Both Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, absolutely should’ve been given nominations. Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan were also robbed. And we all know that Letitia Wright is missing out on the action because she’s not a young White actress who happens to be in one of the biggest movies of the decade.
White Hollywood has a major issue when it comes to allowing Black actresses the very same privilege that White actresses take for granted.
Back in 2015 — actress Anne Hathaway, who has enjoyed the supremeness of being a highly sought-after ingenue, casually noted the rigidness of the system that she has righteously benefitted from:
“I can’t complain about it because I benefitted from it. When I was in my early twenties, parts would be written for women in their fifties and I would get them.” “Now I’m in my early thirties and I’m like, ‘Why did that 24-year-old get that part? I was that 24-year-old once. I can’t be upset about it, it’s the way things are.”
And she’s not the only White actress to throw a fit over the industry’s pampering of younger White counterparts, but heaven forbid that these “aging” White actresses would take a minute to speak out against the oppression of Black actresses, and make the effort to generously offer allyship in the form of unyielding support.
Diversity is the word on the street, but it becomes an inaudible whisper when Black actresses are the topic of discussion — and while we can be gratified by the emergence of Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, Amma Asante, Chinonye Chukwu, Nikyatu Jusu, and all the other superwomen who are making great strides — we still have to contend with the crusty Academy’s snobbish attitude.
And that’s a major buzzkill.