Monday, January 25, 2016
Lack of Soul at the Oscars
I've been thinking a lot about the current Oscar uproar in regards to no black actors being nominated. Frankly, I think it's been about time this conversation took place, and people should listen.
It's become so apparent that movies about the experience of black people, and other communities considered "other" have long been excluded, while movies that seem to be steeped in "white people problems" or the man's point of view are applauded.
For example, I found "Casablanca" contrived, and if it had been told from the view point of Ilsa, and not Rick, it would have been deemed as simply a "chick flick." Recently I saw "Jerry Maguire" and found it bogged down in a woe-is-rich-little-white-me narrative, and wondered why does the Academy only seem to care when an upper-middle class white woman in the 1950's has a love crises ("Carol"), or a privileged member of royalty has to overcome one of life's hurdles ("The King's Speech"). Yet other films that had so much to say, like "School Daze," "Sarafina," and "Fruitvale" get ignored.
A movie like "Waiting to Exhale" which featured solid, strong performances from 4 stunning actresses at the top of their game gets no love and is dismissed as a "chick flick." Why the writer, director and actors in "Eve's Bayou" received no Oscar recognition even though it's a haunting story that was expertly filmed?
How is it that Jennifer Hudson gave one of the most exhilarating screen debuts in cinematic history with her portrayal of Effie in "Dreamgirls" and yet, even though she did take home the Oscar, she's not being offered parts worthy of her talents, so she has to go to TV and Broadway to find those roles?
Anyone who has watched the work of Tisha Campbell, Regina King, Angela Basset, and Lynn Whitfield know that all of their careers can and should be so much more, and each still have the potential to be given meaty roles that blaze across the bring screen and garner Oscar love.
Did no movie producers see the way Jill Scott acted the heck out of "Why Did I Get Married" and say to themselves "That woman is a STAR!" and find ways to create movies for Jill to soar in? (At least HBO was able to see Jill's gifts when they cast her in "#1 Ladie's Detective Agency.)
Has anyone noticed that Niecy Nash has quietly become an actress who can do comedy and camp with lots of make-up and big hair (like tv's "Scream Queens"), as well as devestating, 3-dimensioanl, understated drama with no make-up and lived-in hair (like HBO's "Getting On")? Why isn't she being offered movie roles that drip of Oscar-nomination possibility.
It's sad that Whoopi Goldberg has not had a more glorious film career, because Whoopi can act. Put her silent, nuanced portrayal of Celie ("Color Purple") next to her boisterous, hysterical Odea May Brown ("Ghost") to see how far she can stretch herself. At least she was nominated for both roles, and won for Odea. But just like Jennifer, Tisha, Angela, and Lynn, Hollywood just doesn't seem to know what to do with Whoopi. In part it is because of Whoopi's race and age, and also because her "look" was never, ever conventional. At least Whoopi is a smart business woman/entertainer and she knew how to pick other projects to stay active and to get paid ("The View).
And how is it that Regina did not get an Oscar nomination for "Ray"? She was, in many ways, the heartbreaking heart of that film.
I think, in many ways, these ladies made it look so, so easy that people failed to see the acting they were doing.
There's also the musical aspect. Listen to "Be Alone Tonight" from "School Daze" and ask yourself- how could this not have been nominated (and won!) for Best Song from a movie? How did none of the songs from "Waiting to Exhale" or "Jason's Lyric" or "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" not get a nominee? Especially "Waiting to Exhale" in which the entire soundtrack, produced by Babyface, featured a who's who of R&B songstresses and used the music to tell the story.
How could "See You Again" from "Furious 7" not get an Oscar nod this year for best song, when the entire movie lead up to that final scene in which everyone in the theater shed a tear?
While I'm on that subject, did anyone else notice that "Mad Max", which is nothing but an extended car chase, is set in a future world in which apparently no one is black or biracial? But the "Fast and Furious" movies feature the most racially diverse, and kick-ass assortment of men and women in movies.
I am glad that people are finally talking about the ways in which Oscar neglects the faces, talents, stories, and artistic gifts of the black community. Because it is a conversation that has needed to be addressed for decades.