Why the Academy snubs of Black performers and filmmakers matter
This is not a trivial thing — this is a global message, one sent by the Academy re: the Oscars for 95 years: Black women’s talents will be vastly ignored
By Omar Moore
February 1, 2023
Keke Palmer. Regina Hall. Gabrielle Union. Alice Diop. Lashana Lynch. Gina Prince-Bythewood. Naomi Ackie. Kasi Lemmons. Tamara Tunie. Kayjie Kagame. Guslagie Malanda. Chinonye Chukwu. Thuso Mbedu.
Janelle Monae. Viola Davis. Danielle Deadwyler.
These are just a few of the many Black women that the mostly white, overwhelmingly male Academy of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences ignored and did not acknowledge in last week’s Oscar nominations. While Angela Bassett and costume designer (prior Oscar winner) Ruth E. Carter were nominated, the vast majority of Black female filmmakers and collaborators were left in Oscar’s cold shadow.
Undeniably the Academy’s record over the last 94 years is appalling and racist. Where its acknowledgment and awarding Black women for their work on film is concerned it is downright racist and embarrassing. In 94 years, the Academy has awarded only one Black female actor the Best Actress Oscar (Halle Berry). The Academy has never even nominated a Black female director for Best Director in its 94-year history. This despite the many Black directors who have been directing for years (Dee Rees, Ava DuVernay, Julie Dash, Euzhan Palcy, Kasi Lemmons, Regina King, Amma Asante, Gina Prince-Bythewood and many others.)
These are calculated exclusions from the Oscars landscape — and this is important because the message from a 10,000-member body (which is in the process of diversifying more concretely) is that Black women and films made by Black women are not considered as valuable or as important and award-worthy as films made by white filmmakers.
The Academy is a global body, the foremost film awards body in the world, with members across the planet — and consequently that body sends a global message and reinforces the anti-Black (and by extension anti-Asian and anti-Brown) system of whiteness to the world when it tells a world of global filmgoers via the Academy’s choices that Black women’s cinematic art and enterprise is not valued. The reinforcement of this racist and misogynoirist message filters to and reconsecrates itself in already-hardened white male Hollywood film studio executives who are very often reluctant at best to greenlight films for, by and about Black women.
The system that is the Academy is no different from any other anti-Black system. And while it may be relatively trivial to many people (a large number of them white non-film awards enthusiasts) who is or is not nominated for an Oscar, what is far from trivial is what the decision to deliberately bypass the vast majority of the work of Black film artists at large — especially Black women artists on film — says about the larger U.S. society many of us reading this live in.
Ironically last month just five days before the Oscar nominees were announced, the usually and decidedly white nominee-laden British Academy Film And Television Awards (BAFTA) nominated both Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”) for Best Performance By A Leading Actress.
Now more than ever, it is so vitally important that Black film awards bodies and organizations honor Black filmmakers and Black collaborators in front of and behind the camera. The Black Reel Awards and the NAACP Image Awards are just two of the numerous Black film awards organizations that work tirelessly in the dedication, respect and honoring of Black people on film, particularly Black women.
On February 6 the Black Reel Awards (this writer is a voting member) will do what the Academy has largely not done over the last 94-plus years: honor Black female filmmakers and artists. On February 25, the NAACP Image Awards will do the same. Please be sure to watch these important awards shows.
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