Common and John Legend show off their Oscars Getty Images
Common and John Legend strike victorious poses for their Oscar win for Best Song , “Glory,” for a motion picture from the film Selma at the 87th Academy Awards Sunday
Upon the announcement for the 2015 Oscar nominees word was a buzz that the year’s list was a total white blitz outing Blacks and Brown people. Of course we took it personally and in this instance perhaps we should. Still the nominations remained as they were announced and everyone Black, Brown, Red, Yellow or White showed up all dolled up and ready to walk the red carpet whether they were on the coveted nominations list or not.Truth is most people in the film industry want to be recognized for their work. And the Oscar at one time the only game in now is now the most recognized if not the most coveted. It was cool when Marlon Brando and the other greats like him didn’t show up for the awards have stated that they weren’t interested in the Oscar that they were about the art of acting. Those were the days. But very few could live up to that standard. Top Blacks it meant acceptance and proof that they were equally as great. In recent year sBlacks have been awarded well deserved Oscars. Who could have dared question Jaime Fox’s portrayal of Ray Charles in the film “Ray?” Only Ray himself could have done it better. Or Lupita Nyong’o for her role in 12 Years a A Slave, or Cuba Gooding in Jerry Maguire. Then there were Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Lou Gossett Jr., Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson and others who have received this esteem recognition yet somehow we always feel shorted. And yet we still support the Oscars. So Ironically the one Black film by and about Blacks– Selma, which addressed the struggle of Blacks in America seemly taught us nothing because apparently because we were there, everyone of us in attendance, or watching the Oscars on T.V. If we were serious then we would have boycotted it. But then Common and John would not have received their moment of glory for “Glory.”
But there was one brave soul who stepped up to the plate and said what was on his mind about the ‘Black Out’. Leave it to Sean, yes we can always depend on him.Before presenting the Academy Award for best picture to “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu, actor Sean Penn said, “Who gave this sonofabitch a green card?” (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
So with one joke, Sean Penn underscored the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences had been trying desperately to disprove all evening — the one summed up in a hashtag created by social media consultant April Reign: #OscarsSoWhite.
In this instance, it was #OscarsSoWhite Penn couldn’t present the Academy Award for Best Picture to “Birdman” director Alejandro González Iñárritu without first uttering, “Who gave this sonofabitch a green card?” Penn opened the envelope, asked the question, and then proceeded to announce Iñárritu as the winner.
Then Iñárritu, who directed Penn in “21 Grams,” took the stage.
“I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico,” Iñárritu said at the close of his acceptance speech. “I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.” Later, Iñárritu said he found Penn’s joke “hilarious.”
All of this came after the very well orchestrated expose of a nearly four-hour parade of black and brown presenters that appeared as an effort to distract from the fact that this year’s crop of nominees was the least diverse since 1998. In addition to trotting out Oprah Winfrey, Kerry Washington, Terrence Howard, Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and other highly visible black stars to present awards, there was a running gag between host Neil Patrick Harris and “The Help” Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. In another audience bit, Harris chose “Selma” star David Oyelowo to demonstrate how everything sounds better in an English accent, but butchered the pronunciation of Oyelowo’s name twice.
By the end of the bloated telecast, Penn’s green-card gaffe served as punctuation to an awards season fraught with conversations and think pieces about Hollywood’s lack of diversity — a season in which both Ava DuVernay, the director of “Selma,” and Oyelowo, its star, both endured snubs from the Motion Picture Academy. Interestingly enough the nominations are not done in a group but rather by individuals who nominate the films for teh various categories which is then calculated and the determines the nomination. The ballots are sent to the members. Members then cast their vote independently without discussion or interaction with one another and are returned to the Academy by mail. So perhaps the voters arrived at the same conclusion; that DuVerney and Oyelowo just didn’t cut the mustard. I saw the film and liked it but it didn’t wow me. Aesthetically it was a good film about a very important aspect of our history but not a great film. Anyway Harris skewered the disparity with his first joke of the evening. “Welcome to the 87th Oscars,” he said. “Tonight, we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — sorry, brightest.” On the other hand
It was those initial snubs that informed Reign’s decision to organize a boycott of the Oscars broadcast. In January, when the Oscar nominations were announced, Reign created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, and it took off. Larry Wilmore even referenced it in his inaugural broadcast of “The Nightly Show.” “The Oscar nominations are out, and they’re so white, a grand jury has decided not to indict them,” he quipped.
Then she decided to take things further. On Sunday night, Reign led a live-tweet session of the Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America” during the Oscar telecast, refusing to reward the institution with her viewership and hoping to send a message by way of Nielsen ratings.
“Do anything other than watch the Oscars,” Reign said in phone interview Sunday afternoon. “They don’t represent you. They don’t really care about your thoughts, and you’re just watching for that one snippet of your favorite actor who’s going to be on for 45 seconds. They don’t deserve the ratings if they’re not going to think about us the other 364 days of the year.”
Reign doesn’t think that actors and directors of color should divorce themselves from seeking recognition and validation from institutions like the Academy, which is 94 percent white and 77 percent male, but she did want moviegoers to send a message to studio executives and Academy members.
“I want to people of color, people of marginalized communities, to be seen as equal with respect to the talents that they bring,” Reign said. “There can be no argument that David Oyelowo gave a fantastic performance in ‘Selma.’ How can one not say that his performance was not on par with Michael Keaton of ‘Birdman?’ And Michael Keaton did a great job, but so did David. How can you nominate ‘Selma’ for Best Picture but then not nominate any of the facets that make up a best picture?”
Reign’s judgement regarding David Oyelowo is partial to say the least and truth be told the timing of the film after all the horrific attacks on unarmed Black men nationwide elevated its significance even more. SO the emotional tie is perhaps greater than the film itself as a work of art goes.
Before the “Coming to America” tweet-up/Oscar boycott, Reign hosted a live Twitter interview with actress Aunjanue Ellis, one of the stars of the BET miniseries “The Book of Negroes.”
“We have to stop measuring ourselves against the white gaze, their institutions, their traditions,” Ellis tweeted, echoing a sentiment previously voiced by Spike Lee and Anthony Anderson. She continued, “When the Oscars fail to see the glory or brilliance of the work of non-whites, it is NOT our failure or insufficiency; it is theirs.” I thoroughly agree with her sentiment. Once we get it out of our head that we have to be approved of by Whites we will do well for ourselves. That’s no to say that we don”t interact or collaborate and work together to accomplish things. That’s a given. I’m just saying, let us do us and be self expressed as we express ourselves. However we have to be clear what we are evaluating and not confuse art with the color of our skin and the content of our character but rather look at our bodies of art based on what makes are good and what makes are great.
Sunday was a study in contradictions; there was overwhelming emphasis on the visibility of Black people in Hollywood, yet their peers hadn’t deemed their work fit for nomination in any of the major individual categories. That is a perspective. There were others.
“I’m tired of all of this talk about ‘snubs’ — I thought for every one of [the snubs] there was a justifiable reason,” an anonymous Academy voter told the Hollywood Reporter last week. “What no one wants to say out loud is that Selma is a well-crafted movie, but there’s no art to it. If the movie had been directed by a 60-year-old white male, I don’t think that people would have been carrying on about it to the level that they were. And as far as the accusations about the Academy being racist? Yes, most members are white males, but they are not the cast of ‘Deliverance’ — they had to get into the Academy to begin with, so they’re not cretinous, snaggletoothed hillbillies. When a movie about black people is good, members vote for it. But if the movie isn’t that good, am I supposed to vote for it just because it has black people in it? I’ve got to tell you, having the cast show up in T-shirts saying “I can’t breathe” [at their New York premiere] — I thought that stuff was offensive.”
When John Legend and Common performed “Glory” Sunday in front of a re-created Edmund Pettus Bridge, they received a dramatic standing ovation. Tears streamed down Oyelowo’s face. Later, Common and Legend, the only Black winners of the night, took home Oscars for Best Original Song. And things go on as usual.