The nominees are in… this past Tuesday the annual Oscar nominations were announced.  A lover of movies, I was always impressed by a show that honored the best of the best in film as a youth.

Once I became of age, I realized that while there were plenty of worthy actors and actresses being glorified for their performances, there were many thespians that were not.  Paul Giamatti for his role in “American Splendor” is one of several.  Nine times out of ten, when ever it comes to pass and there are no black actors among those nominated, the NAACP or some other black organization and/ or spokesperson is bound to protest — even if there were no worthy performances by an actor or actress of color that year.  Off the top of my head nothing in particular comes to mind, but I can recall people up in arms nonetheless.  It’s like this year with the forthcoming Presidential election, there are no formidable candidates within the GOP, yet Republicans will choose someone to represent them.  This year, there are three black women nominated for an Oscar.  American treasure Viola Davis, film industry/ film buff favorite Octavia Spencer, and songwriter Siedah Garret are all up for honors.  Davis and Spencer are up for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively for their roles in “The Help.”  All three actresses nominated in “The Help” were outstanding — Jessica Chastain is the third — and all three are nominated for Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) Awards tonight.  Spencer won a Golden Globe recently for her role as a domestic servant in 1960s America during the Civil Rights Movement.  “With regard to domestics in this country, now and then, I think Dr. King said is best: ‘All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance.’ And I thank you for recognizing that with our film,” said an emotional Spencer at the gala.  How fitting a statement, as the ceremony took place on January 15th, what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King’s 83rd birthday.  I was watching the show, and despite Spencer’s eloquent speech and the humane truth of it, I can’t deny my emotion.  “Yea!” I exclaimed, as I was instantly happy for Octavia winning, only to be followed a second and a half later by sadness because her victory was for being a maid.  Hattie McDaniel won the first Oscar by a black person for her portrayal of a slave, that was a domestic, maybe we’ve come full circle in the realm of award shows for being celebrated for these types of roles… doubtful.  It’s history, and these images will always re-occur in visual mediums.  That being our truth, perhaps the roles black talents are honored for will expand.  Jamie Foxx scored his Oscar for his magnificent portrayal of the legendary Ray Charles and Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win an Oscar for his character “Homer Smith” in “Lilies of the Field.”  The reality is, it’s been a long road, and all things considered we’ve come a long way — yet there’s so far we have to go — amazing isn’t it?

There are decision makers and shot callers in Hollywood that consistently use the same excuse for not producing more films that depict the black experience.  “Black people don’t go to the movies” and “We don’t know how to market it,” are the reasons that seem to be used the most according to second hand accounts.  George Lucas was the latest to relay this information, as he went to “all the studios” in support of his new film “Red Tails.”  The powers that be just get a kick out of spewing untruths for a number of reasons I’ll refrain from getting into.  What I will say and put in writing for the record, is what they already know, I express it because the power of the pen has — and always will change the way things are done.  It’s unfortunately rare that positive productions are supported by ones in a position to do so.  Tyler Perry landed a deal with Lion’s Gate, one of the smaller studios in tinsel town.  Lion’s Gate makes money due to Tyler’s works, and so does he — he’s opened his own studio, they are in business to make M$N$Y.  Tyler’s production of “For Colored Girls” and “Why Did I Get Married,” enables him to segue into making more quality films.  I congratulate him on all of his Madea success, I have to be honest, the character has made me laugh.  At the same time, the masses and the button pushers in Hollywood need to see us support more quality stories like that of “Red Tails.”  It’s also because of characters like “Madea” continually appearing in black movies, that studio heads continue to only allow a few dynamics of the black experience brought to light.  Perry attempts to broaden the scope of positive images in his upcoming flick “Good Deeds,” but from the look of the trailer, it may have been a better idea to cast someone else in the lead role besides himself.

Some Positive Images and/ or Black Stories depicted in Film and/ or Black Directors That WE HAVE SUPPORTED and have made money include: SPIKE LEE’S RELEASES; LEE DANIELS’ RELEASES; OPRAH WINFREY & DENZEL WASHINGTON’S “The Great Debaters”; Denzel’s ANTWONE FISHER; Films by THE HUGHES BROTHERS; QUINCY JONES and ROBERT TOWNSEND — back in the day; MELVIN VAN PEEPLES and OSSIE DAVIS — way, way back in the day; and “DREAMGIRLS.”  When “Daughters of the Dust” was at one theater in the village in NYC 20 years ago, we went out in droves and supported that film.  “The Best Man” was number-one at the box office it’s first week out.  “Red Tails” debuted at number-two last week raking in 19-million dollars, second to “Underworld,” which is a franchise.  “Red Tails” landed at number-four at the box office this weekend, its total gross so far is 33.8m.  Despite multiple successes, no light bulb has gone off in the heads of Hollywood Producers and Distributors yet, that black actors and actresses in film make money.  “Cadillac Records” grossed $8,134,217 at the box office, with an estimated budget of 12m — so at the box office it fell short.  Executive produced by Beyonce, those figures don’t include any monies it may have garnered in DVD sales.  Although it did employ many black actors, it didn’t pay for itself, and that’s the argument of those who green light projects.  But that’s just one example, among several I’ve mentioned that were successful.  You win some you loose some right?  We KNOW there have been a multitude of flops at the box office with a slew of other films that depicted other cultures, but movies still get made.

Sidney Poitier alone grossed millions of dollars at the box office for practically every film he appeared in.  This website has 2011 adjusted box office results for his works:  So the proof is there – that’s not REALLY the argument.  The argument is now that WE’VE PROVEN BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT, WHY ARE THE SAME CHOICES BEING MADE TO NOT GREEN LIGHT POSITIVE BLACK IMAGES.  This is what has to be taken to studios, this is the voice we need to ring louder than ever so that changes can begin to happen.  Spike Lee was pretty much bashed at Sundance this year for his new film, “Red Hook Summer.”

“I’m an independent filmmaker,” he says in an interview with The Root, which you can read in full here:  Despite poor reviews, when it hits the theaters, I and millions of others will go to see it because it the new Spike Lee film.  Just like there’s a loyal following for those who go see films by Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino.  And so go the polotricks…

Although there are many black actors who have gotten Oscar recognition for their work, because of the limited black experiences that have been brought to the silver screen, the roles that have been duly noted tend to be less honorable than the notoriety.  Besides being praised for depicting maids and slaves, we’ve been pimps, hustlers, chauffeurs, weak or abusive mothers, corrupt cops, and money hungry sports figures — and so lies the aspect of bittersweet.  While these type of people that have been depicted exist, they are not all we are — and the struggle for positive images to be magnified continues.  For a list of names of those who have been honored with an Oscar or nominated for one over the years, go here:

For some of the more outstanding speeches by black actors and actresses at the Oscars over the years, including Halle Berry, Mo’Nique, McDaniel, Poitier, Foxx and Washington, go here:

for the Love and Funk of Film


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