A side eye look at the OSCARS and the type of Black roles they honor.


Like many of you who watched or later learned of the impressive wins from African Americans at this year’s OSCARS, we cheered with a collective pride that Hollywood recognized us for our achievements in cinema this past year.  We were also glad to see that the Motion Picture Academy had elected film executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs as President.  This was a historic achievement that many people were not aware of. She was only the third women and the first African American to become President in the 87 year history of the organization.

While not to take away from 12 Years A Slave receiving Best Picture, John Ridley’s Screenwriting Oscar, Lupita’s Best Supporting Actress win, and Cheryl Boone Isaacs achievement in the leadership….should we be totally satisfied with OSCAR’s recognition of black life and culture in film?

Should we also take a side eye look at the roles and stories that the Academy has chosen to honor over the years involving Black women? If you take a critical look back at African American women who’ve won OSCARs, you will see a pattern that speaks more to our struggles then it does to the positive aspects of our lives and how we see ourselves.

Let’s take a look at how OSCAR has honored Black women’s roles.

Halle Berry, the only African American female to win an Oscar in the Best Actress Category, played a prostitute in Monster’s Ball. In that film she also had several sexually exploitive scenes that were hard to watch.  In fact, both Angela Bassett and Vanessa Williams turned down that part because they both felt it was demeaning and played on negative stereotypes of abused Black women.

Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an OSCAR, won for her role as a maid in Gone With The Wind. Octavia Spencer won her OSCAR for a maid in The Help. Lupita Nyong’o received her OSCAR this year for being a slave.  Whoopi Goldberg won her OSCAR for a charlatan psychic in Ghost, a character that was described in the script as conniving and a cheat.  Jennifer Hudson won in Dreamgirls for being an overweight, down on her luck, unwed mother more than for being an aspiring singer who overcame challenges to become a success. Monique’s OSCAR win was for being an overweight, down on her luck, unwed mother in Precious, who was also very cruel and a violently abusive parent.  And that’s it.

Sure, many of these roles show Black women overcoming extreme obstacles and challenges to better themselves.  But, why should those be the only OSCAR winning portrayals that show the strengths and virtues of Black women? There have been plenty of movies with Black women in positive and uplifting roles, but those didn’t get the attention much less resonate with Academy voters.

This is not an attack on Hollywood that has made great strides in bringing the various facets of Black culture to the screen.  This is more of a reflection of the predominately white male subculture that not only makes up the majority of Academy voters but the decision makers that control Hollywood and the media.

What can we do?  Support Black Film, Black Filmmakers and the actors and actresses of color in the roles that they do get.  Because, the more we show up in theatres to see their movies…the more movies they’ll make to get us to show up.

What are your thoughts?


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