The Academy Awards are regarded as regal royalty in Hollywood. Pivotal in an artist’s career, the moment one wins an Oscar is both life-defining and life-altering. As the 84th annual Academy Awards took place, many viewed with much anticipation, speculation, and desire in hopes that their favorite celebrities, the ones who touched their core or made them laugh would be held in great esteem. However, as the awards show progressed, I realized that the Academy Awards is an overwhelmingly exclusive society whose primary focus will never be inclusivity, which may or may not be the problem.
In studying the demographics of Oscar voters, the Los Angeles Times found that there are 5,765 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Of that number, nearly 94 percent are Caucasian and 77 percent men. Blacks represent about 2 percent of the Academy. That being said, surely one begins to wonder, just what elements are necessary to win an Academy Award? Moreover, exactly how might an African American obtain an Oscar?
Fact: there is a prodigious lack of representation of minorities as participants in the Academy. There is a lack of diversity apparent and the omission of any group, black or otherwise, directly impacts the perspective when considering ballots. White guilt is prevalent in Hollywood by , as their representation monopolizes the most coveted, illustrious entertainment industry.
Paying little to no attention to talent, nor its objectivity, one can easily assess the state of the Academy Awards in relation to black America. The concern is not whether any nominee is deserving of the great statue. The focus is with to whom it is presented and why. In 2011, mainstream America saw two movies that emphasized, supported and employed African American actors, “The Help,” and “Red Tails.” Both films saw a season of tumultuous press and seemed eager for great approval.
George Lucas had no problem declaring the sentiments of many African American directors before him, that Hollywood does not see a visible lane for movies supporting all black casts. They see them as unmarketable, thus very few are green lit. He proclaimed that he used his own money in efforts to tell the story of a community he can only sympathize with as a white male. Realizing the only way that a film about black people with an all-blackcast would only see Hollywood is if he became a martyr and carried the African American community on his back, Lucas help to reaffirm and confirm the just of Hollywood.
Controversial as it may be, “The Help,” a story depicting domestic women and how they fare in society garnered much criticism from its supporting community. African Americans were enthralled that this story was still being told. Interestingly enough, the voters of the Academy found room to nominate two African American women for Best Lead and Best Supporting roles in a film.
The fact of the matter is that in 2012, the only chance an African American woman has at winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role is if she plays a domestic, a longstanding practice of the Academy. There have been many an actress nominated for domestic roles, and the first to win was Hattie McDaniel in 1940. The implication is that the Academy sees African Americans then as they do now; I am devastated. Not as an artist, because I know that the objective of an actor is three-dimensional story telling, but as an African American. Not one black male was nominated in an acting category, and Viola Davis’ loss makes me believe incessantly that the Academy deems it necessary to give at least one black actor an Oscar, whether they deserve it or not. We are not being praised merely for our efforts to succinctly transport and captivate audiences, although we do, and well. Simply put, the Academy is keeping up with the times and what looks like progression is not.
Sure, many will exclaim it necessary for African Americans to write, produce, direct, and star in their own films, but this is something that has been done for many generations. The problem is that African Americans find it difficult to get into the room, and when we do its as if there are no seats left. In gratitude, it appears our good fortune is having the guilt of whites in Hollywood. Over decades it has cascaded us to new heights and we have been able to take every bit of what has been given to us and expand. Just over ten years ago history was made, as Halle Berry and Denzel Washington were the first and only to win Oscars for Best Actor/Actress in a leading role in the same night. That moment was magical and deemed a catalyst. But I don’t think Hollywood will ever completely change its consciousness and focus highly on the quality of work represented. Also, it’s likely that its membership program will not explore options of gaining equal representation. So I ponder, how far have we come; and are we sure we’re headed in the right direction?