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Why White Hollywood’s “Wokeness” Is a Double-Edged Sword

Since #OscarsSoWhite became the rally cry that turned an entire industry upside down and right back up again with the firm promise that change would be delivered right away without further delay — it’s hard to examine the last four years without making more the notations that serve as proof of onward progression in the making.

The “True Hollywood Story” began when the Oscar nominations were announced one cold morning in January, 2015, and the lack of nominees of color in the roster of the finest and brightest was met with a rather chilly reception by the activated climate of “wokeness,” that was formed out of the channels of social media activism, that bequeaths the power of shared enlightenment to anyone who possesses the aptitude to stand out in a sea of worthy contenders.

April Reign, was the anointed one in this scenario, as she diligently picked up the distress signal about the diversity problem preventing Academy members from spreading the wealth of recognition to non-White talents, who are just as deserving if not more so.

And so #OscarsSoWhite was born, and its conception was stimulated by the early realization of how heated scuffles with social media users with loud enough voices to fuck up the durable pillars of long-held traditions, are best handled with the swift waving of the white flag, along with the extra goodies that live up to the bold declaration of turning over a new leaf.

Literally overnight, there was a complete overhaul of the Academy’s standard practices, thanks to the efficiency and due diligence of its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who happens to be the first African-American woman to hold that illustrious office.

The revisions have included the mandatory invite to creatives of color to join the Academy, as a way to ensure that there won’t ever be a repeat offense of nominations lacking the reflection of a diverse universe where Whiteness is no longer retained as the dominant force. And this updated operational system naturally extends past the Oscars, and into the realm of other noteworthy genres that feature the privileged race for gold.

But the fundamental instrument of verified progression had to be funneled through casting, which has always been a major challenge when you consider how righteously biased the studio system has been, and still is, when it comes to endorsing the viability of leading men and ladies who are outside of the preferred default of “White and straight.”

To be fair, more than a handful of Black actors have had prime opportunities to spread their wings in the comedy, action and even romantic categories, and the requirement of settling for female co-stars who are either White or possess the exoticness that ranges past the “regular Black woman” template, was evidently well received and understood, which is a deeper conversation for another time.

Black women who actually look “Black,” and lack the main ingredients of “biracial” or “multi-racial” delicacies, have weathered the very worst treatment imaginable.

As a Black woman with dark skin and a profile that doesn’t fit the stringent palette of picky film executives on the hunt for the next “Tessa Thompson,” I can attest to the brutal messaging of the nineties and the early aughts, that depicted the exclusion of actresses that resembled my skin hue in favor of the more demure and feminine versions.

Even Black movies followed the rulebook of how dark-skinned actors need to be paired with a lighter-skinned love interest to compliment his manliness. If she’s my complexion there’s the risk that the audience won’t buy his quest to win her heart because of the obvious assumption that he can do so much better.

But it’s now 2019, and instead of bitterly resurrecting the past, it’s best to celebrate the current wins and toast to an even brighter future.

The global phenomenon known as Black Panther was the remarkable feat that revolutionized the Black cinematic experience with the first-ever Black superhero movie that showcased a cast of kickass Black women who were darker than me!

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Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright in Black Panther

The epic success of the movie that held the world hostage in a delightful period of cultural reckoning and the pride of Black power, that gives White supremacy the high dosage of pain and suffering, was the resounding victory that finally shamed White Hollywood into submission after decades of wasted years that kept the door firmly shut on the faces of Black talents, who had to accommodate decades-long wait before acquiring a cushioned seat at the table.

But the amazing ride of Black Panther was also a bitter one, and that has everything to do with box office receipts that calculate to reveal the downpour of cash that fill up the pockets of pampered presidents of major studios like Marvel, and the well-positioned executives at Disney, who are “woke” enough to take advantage of the flipped script that highlights the value in hiring the once-discarded gems that were criminally regulated to the background to give way for their more valued White counterparts.

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Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios

Of course it’s exhilarating to witness the historic “firsts” that are embarrassingly transpiring at a time when we should be way past that phase. And while it’s obvious that this touchy subject is difficult to execute because of the buzzkill attached to it, we can’t definitely can’t avoid the hard truths of how White studio executives are reaping the financial rewards of their strategic investments in the goldmine of ambitious projects that produce a casting sheet of healthy diversity.

From the recently debuted remake of The Lion King to the upcoming casting announcements that present Halle Bailey from the group Chloe x Halle as the heralded choice to play Ariel in the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, and British actress of Jamaican descent, thirty-one-year-old, Lashana Lynch, who portrayed Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel; and is now presently shooting Bond 25 with Daniel Craig, as the next in line for the title of 007 — there seems to be tangible commitment to make up for the shittiness of the past.

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Lashana Lynch

And while the huge strides that have been achieved in just under five years, including the epic announcements from the Marvel universe, can be described as both impressive and laudable, we can try to forgive the wasteland of Black faces that were never given the chance to shine through the stages of ingenue and beyond, but we absolutely can’t forget the debt that will never be repaid in full.

Movie producer, screenwriter, and actor, Tyler Perry knows this better than anyone, since he basically built his empire from scratch by creating franchises and vehicles for his star-studded cast that consists of mostly Black creatives.

While accepting the well-deserved the BET Ultimate Icon Award, Perry appreciatively outlined the genesis of his career and the attributes that propelled the enviable track record that made him responsible for the trajectories of Black actors and Black actresses that have gone on to bigger things.

He also touted his massive production studio, headquartered in Atlanta, GA, on an extensive landscape that used to house a former Confederate Army base, that has now been converted to a source of inspiration and hub of creativity for Black locals in the area, who wouldn’t ordinarily have that level of accessibility to the fotrress of their dreams.

Perry also used his acceptance speech to subtly reference Lena Waithe’s controversial comments about Black Hollywood, that included the swipe she took at heavyweights Will Smith and Denzel Washington for their lightweight contributions to the enhancement of up and coming Black filmmakers.

The founder of Tyler Perry Studios who single-handedly saved Oprah’s OWN from an untimely demise, acknowledged the saving grace and timely arrival of #OscarsSoWhite, and while not diminishing the necessity of inclusion at the seat of the now extended table, he firmly rejects the notion that in order to thrive in Hollywood, Black creatives have to fight for what never belonged to us in the first place.

You all go ahead and do that.” “While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.”

Perry also preached about the double-edged sword of being feted by the immense rewards of stardom, that stem from the generosity of White executives at major studios, who hold all the cards, and the complete authority to distort Black narratives to suit their purposes.

Films like The Help, The Blind Side, Hidden Figures, GreenBook, were all catering to a predominately White audience, despite the strong appeal for Black moviegoers, who were caught between a rock and a hard place when it came to showing support for narratives that were tainted with the “White savior” badge of honor.

This explains why Waithe and Perry are vocal about the vital need for Black Hollywood to finally step up to the plate when it comes to taking ownership of our stories, instead of falling for the euphoric rush of validation from White Hollywood, that does nothing more than to maintain the limitations for future generations.

Perry said it best at the BET Awards when he ended his speech with the zinger of the night:

Amen!

Yes, we can celebrate this era of “wokeness” emanating from White Hollywood, but the gold that’s amassed from box office glory will be filtering into the studios that still house an all-White staff of White men, who park their jaguars sedans at Craig’s in West Hollywood, to toast the profits from the wokest Black movie to date.

Black everything is the only way to win big without reservations, and with the pride and security that comes from knowing that it will alight the paths of those who follow closely behind.

Until, then the White man takes it all and then some — and that’s not being “woke” — that’s called stealing.

Written by

Juggling Wordsmith. I have a lot to say! https://medium.com/membership https://www.patreon.com/Ezziegirl

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