No doubt you’ve heard that the Oscar nominations were announced last week, and no doubt you heard that the acting nominations are lily white … again … as are most of the other categories. The nominations are so white, in fact, that the host of this year’s show, Chris Rock, has dubbed the Oscars “The White BET Awards.”
And all kinds of stars, actors and directors and such, are spilling their beans about this mess. Spike Lee is pissed—but when isn’t Spike Lee pissed—and I agree with him. I don’t, however, buy into Jada Pinkett Smith’s outrage and I’ll tell you why … but first, a little history:
Hattie McDaniel was the first Black actress to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, for Gone With The Wind, in 1939, but then took fifty-one years until Whoopi Goldberg won for Ghost ; there seemed to be a change, sixteen years later, when Jennifer Hudson won for Dreamgirls in 2006, followed three years later when Mo’Nique won for Precious in 2009; two years later Octavia Spencer took the Oscar home for The Help  and the very next year Lupita Nyong’o won for Twelve Years A Slave in 2012.
But still, that’s eighty-eight years of Oscars and just six wins for Black actresses in the Supporting Actress category.
Supporting Actor? The first Black actor to win that award was Louis Gossett Jr in 1982 for An Officer and a Gentleman, followed by Denzel Washington in 1989 for Glory; then Cuba Gooding Jr. took the prize for Jerry Maguire in 1996, followed by Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby in 2004.
Four Black Supporting Actor Oscar winners in eighty-eight years.
Best Actor? The first was in 1963 when Sidney Poitier won for Lilies of the Field, and then it was thirty-eight years before Denzel Washington won for Training Day; Jamie Foxx won for Ray in 2004 Ray and Forest Whitaker in 2006 for The Last King of Scotland.
Four Black Actor Oscar winners in eighty-eight years.
As for Best actress? There’s one, just one; Halle Berry in 2001 for Monster's Ball.
So, if there are four acting categories with five nominations each over eighty-eight years of Oscars, that’s 1760 nominations and yet Black actors have won just 16 acting awards … or less than 1%. Oh sure, Black actors have been nominated sixty-seven times, in those 1760 nominations over eighty-eight years but that accounts to less than one nomination a year in all acting categories.
Does that seem kinda not right to anyone? Yeah, it does to me, too. But it’s not new; I have been amazed by the lack of diversity almost every year when I see Black actors snubbed—Diana Ross, Lady Sings The Blues; Chiwetel Ejiofor, Twelve Years A Slave; David Oyelowo, Selma to name just three amazing performance by Black actors that, while nominated, did not win.
Now this year we have many Black actors, producers, directors, calling for a boycott of Oscar and I wonder … is that the right way to go about expressing your displeasure? It really isn’t the Oscars, it’s the movies, but then when you have people like Jada Pinkett Smith calling for a boycott of the show — she’s announced she’ll be staying home this year … boo hoo — it seems kinda disingenuous.
Why not, Jada, rather than boycott the ceremony, boycott the films themselves that lack diversity? If a film comes out and there are no actors of color, actors of a different ethnicity other than white, don’t go. Patronize the films that appeal to a broad section of the populace, or just don’t go.
Better yet, Jada, why not refuse to work for studios and producers and directors who don't cast and hire with diversity? Why not call out those filmmakers who are underrepresented diversity?
Why not, Jada, since you and your husband are part of that Hollywood movie-making machine, why not demand more roles for Black actors, and actors of all ethnicity? Why not do something from the inside rather than kvetch and moan and avoid the party?
And while I’m on the topic, Jada, honey, I haven’t heard your outrage before, ever. In all the time you’ve been acting where was your outrage over the lack of diversity at the Oscars or the lack of diversity in film? It didn’t rear its ugly head until this year, when some people assumed your husband would get a nod and he didn’t and now, suddenly, you’re angry.
As a Black actress where was your outrage that the first Black women to nominated was Dorothy Dandridge in 1954, but then no other Black actress was nominated until Ross in 1971. Or even the fact that, out of eighty-eight years of Oscar, only ten Black actresses have ever been nominated? Or that just one woman of color has taken home that statute?
Start there, Jada; do what you can to change the direction and stop this posturing that you’re disgusted about the whole thing, because if you were, and if you wanted to boycott, you would have started with the movies and you would have done so long before now.
I agree that something needs to be done; I’d like to see more diversity in film; my world isn’t lily white and I’d like to see that represented on the screen. But, when you are part of the film community, and a powerful part at that, and yet you seemingly do nothing, say nothing, until you have a horse, er, husband in the race, it appears to be something more.
And I find it a little suspect.