By Francis White
By now many of you have heard of former rapper and actor Will Smith's public boycott of the Oscars (also known as the Academy Awards). The hash tag he has been using is #OscarsSoWhite. He basically felt he was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organization that runs the Oscars) for not being nominated for an Oscar for his role in the Columbia Pictures 2015 movie production of “Concussion”. In the movie (which is based on a true story) Smith plays doctor Bennet Omalu a Nigerian born (American citizen) forensic pathologist working for the county of Allegheny in the state of Pennsylvania. After doing an autopsy on the dead body of a former Pittsburgh Steelers player (the city of Pittsburgh sits within Allegheny county), Omalu discovers what appears to be an NFL cover up of players and former players who were dying with head injuries, but reported to the public as dying of something else. Omalu joins with some other medical professionals to produce a paper on his findings but is harassed out of his job, threatened, and forced to move to another state by those who did not want this truth to go public.
As the history of Hollywood goes as it relates to blacks (and other minority groups) in movies and on television Smith is probably right. Whether this snubbing was intentional or unintentional, Hollywood seems to love the idea of celebrating and rewarding black characters in movies and on TV with no redeeming value. Hollywood also seems to like to keep the range of character offerings for black actors to certain type casts. Black actors are either street type characters, house servants, tokens, slaves, hip/jive type characters (JJ from Good Times), in jail, or portrayed in other negative and limited scopes. Black actors and the black community have been complaining about this for years.
The first black actor to win an academy award was Hattie McDaniel who famously played a nanny in “Gone with the Wind.” There have been quite a few black actors who have been nominated for the award but who haven't won. Among the very few that have won awards were Denzel Washington who played a crooked cop in “Training Day” (many wondered why he didn't win for his great and memorable role in the movie “Glory”), and Halle Berry who won for her seedy role in the very weird movie “Monster's Ball”. In Monster's Ball a film that had many people in the black community scratching their heads, Berry's character loses her husband and son (who are black) and ends up falling in love with the white racist prison guard (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Coincidentally, this is the same guard that walked her husband (played by P-Diddy) to the electric chair. There is a sex scene (with Berry and Thornton that some felt sold the academy on her being nominated and winning an Oscar for that movie.
With all that being said, it's interesting when I hear recently what veteran actress Meryl Streep said “there is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture and after all, we're all from Africa originally” when asked a question about the diversity of the Oscars. I could write a whole piece on the history of the human race and mankind, but I'll keep it shorter for you here. I noticed that there were a lot of people Tweeting things along the theme like “why does she think she's black now?”, when in all actuality what she said had a much more deeper meaning than that. As far as I know most of the major archaeological work around finding the origins of humanity is happening in places like Africa and the Middle East, places not native to Europeans. The people looking for answers and doing most of the “tomb raiding” are Europeans. Western science who has long understood the significance of Africa as the possible location of the “Garden of Eden” is now coming to the realization that Africa is most likely the the actual location of the origin of man (and woman). The oldest human bones ever found (those of a woman) were found in Africa, scientists have nick named the finding “Lucy.” And, lol, of course some of them are saying that Lucy was a monkey. Life in Europe seems to have blossomed sometime around 5,000 years ago, but we know that there are other cultures around the world that have histories much longer than this. Aback of all these ideas and theories about the true origin of where people come from is the idea that people generally started out in one place on this planet and then spread to other parts. So based on much scientific research and data, we may as well start singing “we are family” black and white people, because we may be relatives whether we want to admit it or not.
Art reflects life and life reflects art. You see, Hollywood is a business who is in business to make money. The people who go to the movies and watch mainstream television (or at least the people that Hollywood mostly markets itself to) are mostly white middle and upper class citizens. Hollywood who doesn't seem to have a social justice bone in its body (where money is not concerned) isn't interested in telling the story of black people, the story that black people want to be told about them, a story that mainstream America will not accept. It doesn't care about ending stereotypes that it promotes (very powerfully) that help to restrengthen and uphold a system that keeps people of color and other groups from advancing in critical life areas. It's not easy to live a fruitful life, to achieve racial and economic equality, and to integrate in this society, if the people with the power over you have been programmed into believing that you don't have any redeeming value as a member of the human race. It is hard for that to happen if they only see you as a pimp, a gang member, a sex object, a maid, a thug, a butler, or a hippity, jivey character that is not a member of their family - no one related to them at all.
Posted on Thu, February 11, 2016
by Francis White