Monday, February 29, 2016

Classic Corner: They Don't Have No Award For That

by DaCogNegro

Since the announcement of this year's nominees for the 81st Annual Academy Awards reveled that, for the second consecutive year, no actors or directors of color were nominated for the awards' major categories, the OscarsSoWhite# movement gained steam with the sole purpose of addressing the lack of recognition and celebration when it comes to the contributions of individuals of color. Spear headed by Spike Lee's and Jada Pinkett Smith's call to boycott the show, the  movement drew as much support as it did ire. One thing was certain, the unprecedented controversy made what is usually viewed as an out of touch and stuffy ceremony into must see TV.

At the forefront of the controversy was its' host: comedian Chris Rock.Despite the urging of many, Rock decided not to boycott the event . Of course, the question on everyone's mind was how would the usually brash and often time controversial actor respond to recent events? Well, Rock did not waste anytime in addressing the elephant in the room. In fact, you can say that he fed it an economy sized  bag of peanuts purchased with your cousin's Costco's  membership card. Though there were attempts at addressing the lack of recognition of people of color, it ultimately came off as patronizing, anemic and ultimately null & void especially when a recorded segment, which had Rock interviewing black patrons at a movie theater in Compton in regards to their views on nominated films and the lack of diversity on the show, reinforced certain stereotypes when it comes to our taste in our selections of films, ability to stay abreast of cultural offerings and  the inability to elegantly express our feelings and thoughts in an articulated manner. As a result, the Academy failed at seriously and effectively addressing a issue that many of us held closely to our hearts and instead mocked and playacted our desire to create change and  create awareness.

(Despite having 11 nominations, including Best Picture,
 at the 59th Annual Academy Awards,
The Color Purple failed to win any awards!)

But the question still remains: is this issue worth the attention it has garnered? In his  opening monologue, Chris Rock stated that this is not the first time that African Americans have been omitted from these categories. Yet,we did not address our outrage in the past because we were fighting more "important" wars that dealt with inequality and injustice. Well, his "joke" regarding the night's memoriam being filled with African Americans ,whose lives were taken by the police, was evidence in showing that we are still fighting injustice but  have decided to include this particular issue in our cause. It's called multitasking Mr. Rock! Maybe you should actually be excited that we are proactive in creating change as opposed to you trying to use such intentions for a flaccid punchline.

(Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing was selected by the National Film Preservation Board, a component of The Library of Congress, due to it being
deemed  culturally and historically significant. Yet, it only gained a Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor nominations. The film that one Best Picture that year: Driving Ms. Daisy!)

Some have mentioned that the OscarsSoWhite# movement is  an admission that we seek validation and acceptance from mainstream media  rather than place more credence and esteem in our own ceremonies that honor our artistic contributions. And while there is apart of me that agrees with this viewpoint, there is nothing inherently wrong with desiring acknowledgment beyond a segmented audience. Contrary to what Ms. Clueless Dash and others may believe, such ceremonies do not perpetuate segregation and separatism. Such a myopic and narrow view clearly shows that these pundits have overlooked the original intention of said ceremonies: to recognize the work of a population that is generally ignored. Moreover, art is indeed a means of expression. However, it is also a career meaning that being recognized on a grand scale can increase the notoriety of an relatively unknown actor which can result in them receiving more opportunity not only to work, but to also create more diverse offerings. If you think this is far fetched, I implore you to look up Nate Parker and his incredible journey of bringing Nat Turner's rebellion, a story I never thought would be adapted, to the silver screen. 

In an effort to create more diversity amongst Academy, its' Board of Governors approved a series of substantive changes to its' membership. Its' ultimate goal, double the number of women and diverse members of its' voting committee by 2020. Now before I start a slow clap in my empty room, there lies a hidden danger in such actions. My biggest fear is that we will see films and actors arbitrarily nominated for the mere fact that they are "diverse".Therefore, they will only act as placeholders to appease the "villagers" so to speak. For example, many felt that Straight Outta of Compton was snubbed for a Best Picture Nomination. Under the Academy's new initiative, such a film would probably earn a best picture nomination. Was F. Gary Gary's music biopic a good film? Yes. Was it best picture material? I personally didn't think so. However, it was the only mainstream drama, with a predominately black cast, that was widely released. So acknowledgement is only half the problem.

"We Are an Underfed Market"

We need to hold Hollywood to task when it comes to offering a variety of films that feature African Americans and other individuals of color. The great thing about The Golden Era of Black Films (Roughly 1987 to 2003) is that there was a cornucopia of offerings that were released which depicted various facets of our cultural experiences and identity. Sure, some of the tropes began to get a bit repetitive, but we still had choices and so did The Academy. However, they chose to ignore them. So Mr. Jamie Foxx, it's not just about the need to "ActBetter#", but for us to get the opportunity to do so in better vehicles! Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg said it best when asked about his opinion on the mater:

It's not just the Academy...It's the people that hire, it's the people at the main gate of studios and independents. It's the stories that are being told. It's who' writing. Diversity starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and seeking talent

Hopefully, the actions by the Academy and other conversations that have been produced will result in all parties being more active with telling and recognizing the stories of the underrepresented. With such films as The Birth of a Nation and Miles Ahead being released in the near future, I am genuinely excited about the year 2016. But as Mr. Spielberg said, we all share a responsibility. Therefore, when such films are released, support them! Especially if  the films' intentions are noteworthy. Till then, save me a seat and a box of Goobers!

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