As many people have already heard, the Oscar nominations have been released and…drum roll please… no one of color is in the running for an Oscar this year. Big shocker! (that was sarcasm) Call me a pessimist, but I didn’t expect any diversity in the sea of nominations this year at the Oscars, as there was none last year or hardly any in all of the previous years. I think it is very clear, and has been for a long time, what the esteemed Academy sees worthy of praise and recognition. However as another year comes, more controversy arises in the wake of these nominations. I see this Oscar controversy as a battle in connection to a much bigger war and I’ll begin with discussing the former.
Many people, including celebrities, are deciding not to support the Oscars this year; refusing to attend the ceremonies or watch it on TV in reaction to the exclusion of black nominees. Of those offended by the lack of diversity are Jada Pinkett-Smith, Idris Elba, and Spike Lee. Jada recently posted a video of her reasons to disengage from the Oscars this year:
I wholeheartedly support the notion purposed by Jada that black people need to create our own, a concept that we are very accustomed to. The recognition of black talent is highly important and should be celebrated equally. To me, there is a barrier to the celebration of black film. That barrier really boils down to empathy. There is no empathy when it comes to black stories. There is a huge disconnect when the characters are black, the story is written by black writers and the directors are black. Somehow once black is attached to film (and music for that matter) it no longer becomes relatable to the masses. Somehow the black family on TV, the black couple in the movie, or the black protagonist in the story can only apply to black people. That is the problem.
There is a misconception that blackness is categorized and not understood, therefore it is not seen or praised equally. What makes a story about a black man less recognizable on the emotional spectrum worthy of all accolades versus that exact same story played by our counterparts? The fact that this year Ryan Coogler, a young African-American director revived the Rocky series to a whole new generation with Creed; chronicling the life of Apollo’s son played by African-American actor Michael B. Jordan grossed over $100 billion and the only nomination from the Academy was for… Sylvester Stallone? That is a slap in the face. This entire project was spearheaded and birthed by Coogler, yet where are his awards? The honor goes to none other than the supporting actor who was not even the focal point of the story. Struggle, triumph, success, and failure; all universal emotions, yet no universal praise if the characters or story tellers are black.
I will hold Jada Pinket-Smith accountable to make good on her promise to create our own. In doing so, we must support our own. Support the young black actors and producers. Support the new TV show with the black cast. Support the black female director. Support the BET awards, NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Awards, etc. Because time after time, we are forcefully reminded that all we have is us.
Why is this struggle for recognition taking centuries for black celebrities to finally act upon? The truth is The Academy has shown for so long where black people’s place holder falls at these award ceremonies. Eddie Murphy addressed this exact same issue in 1988 as he presented the nominees for best picture:
So that was almost 30 years ago… and yet we are still fighting the same fight? We are still fighting for recognition and praise. To be blunt, we are, in all honesty, fighting for acceptance. Why is that? The answer lies beneath the surface as an inferiority complex. By putting the Oscars on the highest of caliber, you are internalizing the need for white confirmation. When this confirmation is not achieved, there is a sense of worthlessness and defeat. Sure, getting an Oscar or Golden Globe is a huge career milestone, and I am not naive to what an accomplishment that holds. But, when this award is given to you only to pacify your people, your worth is being diminished. Does appreciation from the Academy mean so much to the point of losing your own dignity?
I think it’s great that black celebrities are finally waking up and choosing not to attend the Oscars in hopes for changing the future. It’s great that this problem in Hollywood is being addressed, even if it is for the umpteenth time. It’s great that diversity is being demanded for recognition. I agree that all of these issues need to be confronted head on, but the Oscars are a small aspect to a much larger issue at hand.
I believe that it takes a specific set of circumstances for certain people [mainly celebrities] to feel impacted to the point of obligation to use their voice and influence. With all of the much needed rallying and advocating for black life and injustice from celebrities to no avail, one must question the abrupt interest of Jada Pinket-Smith and others who have been mute on the topic. This sudden call to action and ban of the Oscars from the Smith family does seem a little…convenient considering Will Smith was not nominated this year for his performance as Dr. Omalu in Concussion. Is it a convenient time now to “speak up” cloaking these Oscar nominations as injustice for all, when in reality it is injustice for you? Although I concur with Jada’s decision, I question her motive. Apparently I am not the only one. Janet Hubert (a.k.a. The Original Aunt Viv) had no problem addressing this elephant in the room in her reaction video to Jada’s decision:
Aside from Janet’s clear shade and lingering animosity towards the Smiths (which I’m thinking was the main catalyst to her commenting) she also made a valid point; there are other problems in the world; problems that are much bigger than the Oscars. This statement caused me to connect this Oscar controversy to a larger direct message.
As I mentioned earlier, the Oscars are a battle within a war. In my opinion, the Oscar nominations are not as simple as just a problem within the Oscars or The Academy; it is a problem with America. The disconnect and lack of empathy towards black cinema that I previously referenced, also applies to real life as well. Black children are being killed. Black men and women are being murdered with no regard or sympathy. Black people are pleading for the right to live. Black life seems to hold no value in this country. Again, there is no empathy towards the black life that was murdered. There is no empathy towards the black mother who lost her child. There is no empathy towards the black family who lost their father. There is simply no empathy given towards the black life. This reoccurring cycle of compassion, or lack thereof, regarding black life is loud and clear on all mediums. The only people fighting for acceptance, compassion, and humanity are black people. The only people devoted to this cause are black people. The only people that believe that black lives should matter are…black people! Is it a coincidence that again the only people fighting to be seen, heard, nominated, and appreciated at the Oscars are..black people?
To put this all into perspective, this Oscar outrage is nothing surprising to me. The Academy reflects America. It further confirms the fact that black life does not seem to matter in cinema or in reality.