Friday, 23 October 2009

Everyone's A Little Bit Racist

With all the recent [and deafening] buzz surrounding the prospective chances of Precious taking home a crap load of prizes at next year’s Oscars I couldn’t help but assess the cultural implications of a potential win for the film. There are two things I’ve been hearing about for ages since I’ve been taking notice of that guy called Oscar. One is that Oscar is homophobic. Two, Oscar is racist. As a black person I’ll look at the latter.

It is a fact that the number of black persons who have been Oscar winners and nominees is a small fraction of the white winners and nominees but I don’t see how this is proof of the Academy’s racism. I’ve heard the fact that losses of Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, Cicely Tyson, Viola Davis, Angela Bassett and countless others are all proof that Oscar hates the blacks. But as a black person myself, I really don’t see how this claim can be substantiated. The number of black actors (directors, writers etc) is much smaller than the number of whites. There is a reason that black people are regarded as a minority in America. And notwithstanding, if it comes down to two performances of equal merit, should Oscar reward the black person just because they’re black?
Writing this, the topic of Denzel Washington came to mind. I don’t like him much. The guy has two Oscars, he’s a good box office draw and he’s well liked and famous. When I told this to a classmate of mine that I didn’t like him [but liked Pitt, Depp, etc] she said I was a racist – yes I’m black. But my dislike of Washington has nothing to do with his race. If for some inexplicable reason I was contestant on Jeopardy and for some reason Alex Trebeck’s clue was “The white Denzel Washington” I’d promptly answer Tom Hanks. I don’t like him either. The two actors are different sides of the same coin for me. Both are popular, two Oscars each, and bland as far as I’m concerned. But at least Washington stars in good films. Most of the time, at least. Which I can't really say for many black actors.
Isn’t the lack of blacks at the Oscars a reflection of lack of substantial good performances? Sure, Oscar isn’t omniscient and we don’t always agree with some of the choices that they make but I can’t remember when a film or actor has been snubbed completely for being black – I can’t remember it seeming like that either. And no, Dreamgirls cannot be an example. Yes Condon and Company [mainly white] were snubbed in the main categories, but Hudson [who was less deserving that Condon and Co. would have been] was nominated and went on to win. And if we’re going to talk about Dreamgirls being snubbed despite a mass of nods what of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? or The Poseidon Adventure or even The Dark Knight. They each earned multiple nods with no correlating best picture nod. Nothing to do with being black.
Precious isn’t at the top of my list as far as the possible Oscar contenders I’m yet to see goes but I wouldn’t grudge it if it wins. But I hope it doesn’t win it doesn’t turn into a march against Oscar’s racism. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll see it and think it’s perfect but perfection doesn’t always win. So I wouldn’t throw the race factor into it. To be honest though, all the recent buzz for it has made me hope it doesn’t win the Oscar. This reminds of last year when in the thunderous rise of Obama I was hoping that Hillary  Clinton would pull an upset. Not only because she turned into the underdog, but I just liked her more. I remember people saying I was a bad black person. Obama's black, a win for him would be historic etc, etc,  so I should like him. But I’ve never been one to defend something based on race. But the whole issue has become somewhat exacerbated by the comment I read where someone said that you should like Precious because it’s excellent and if you don’t you’re a racist.
I mean, WTF? But who knows? Maybe I’m racist. What do you think?


Univarn said...

It's hard for me to talk about racism, being a middle class white male people automatically null my point of view. The truth is, Hollywood is a little racist, but more so it's self destructive. "Black" films these days (pick any tyler perry film for instance) boil down more to exploitation of blacks for profit. Why else is the black entertainment channel run by white people, and perpetuates only black stereotypes? You know, all black people listen to rap, watch Tyler Perry 24/7 while selling drugs, and wearing sagging pants.

Hispanics are almost always side kicks, buddies, the creepy friend, or gangbangers. Yet if you told the most racist whie male in Hollywood tomorrow he could make $100million by producing a film with a hispanic lead he'd call up the KKK and renounce his membership before you could leave the room. But at the same time nothing will send whites running for the hill faster than someone mentioning racism... they'd go back to vietnam to avoid that accusation.

I think what happens is every year there exists maybe 2-10 films featuring a prominent black cast of notable quality, and when they're the odd man out it gets blown up because of social concerns. Nobody wants to appear racist, but nobody wants to give things away unearned for fear of it.

The real sad truth of America is too many people in America profit off of racism being an every day issue. Preachers screaming "white men are the devil," "blacks are the weaker race," "hispanics are unworthy of our country"... it's the dirty little secret nobody wants to talk about. In Durham, NC (20 minutes from my home town) a few years back a black girl accused several members (all white) of the Duke lacrosse team beating and raping her. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and many others all came down to make an example and support her. Calling for those white kids head... when it turned out she fudged some of the facts, and maybe wasn't telling the whole truth, all the hundreds who came to support her vanished in a second. And white politicians, local bureaucrats, and white clergyman came to call for societal apology for the white students.

Though of course, they all made sure to bring their own photographers.

I don't know what to think of race in the US, let alone Hollywood. You say Hollywood isn't race half the world calls you ignorant, you say it is half the world calls you a race profiteer. Great post, sorry for the long rant, some things just get me all worked up.

MovieNut14 said...

I wouldn't say that AMPAS is racist. African American actors aren't given enough meaty roles.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say they are racist, I just think the wrong black actors win Oscars (Denzel, J Hud, Jamie Foxx) but I'm pulling for Monique to get the win this year and it'll be highway robbery if she doesn't win.

By the way, Precious was the best film I saw this year so far.

joe burns said...

I don't think that AMPAS is racist (and neither are you). In The Heat Of The Night didn't deserve to win Best Picture over Bonnie And Clyde and The Graduate, but people think that it won because the academy wanted to show that they aren't racist. What do you think?

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Univarn Thanks for the guest post there. Good stuff.

But as you all say there aren't good enough roles.

Joe Wasn't In the Heat of the Night the worst of the five? Not a bad movie but if they so wanted to reward the blacks give it to Stanley Kramer [Guess Who's Coming to Dinner]. It's lightweight, but the guy should have an Oscar.

joe burns said...

If they wanted to reward them, I also think that Guess Who's Coming To dinner would have been a better choice since it dealt with more important issues then ITHOTN DID. But I haven't seen the entire movie since I turned off like three years ago. Do you recommend it?

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I guess it's a B-, B. It's been a while. It's an okay film...but general the police on film just bore me. But it does have Poitier and Rod Steiger. Both great actors.

joe burns said...

I meant to ask if you recommend Guess Who's Coming to dinner, but I made a mistake in my comment. Do you recommend it?

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Guess Who's Coming... is good. B+. I know it's somewhat hated for things among then Kate's win. But I think it, and her are fine. Sure it's not her best, but it's good and Tracy, Kellaway, Poitier, Richards etc are good. Only Houghton is the blight and she's the only bad thing really so it's all right.

CS said...

While I am pulling for Mo'nique to win best supporting actress, I am not sold yet on Precious winning best picture. Having seen the picture, I think that it may be too depressing for most of the academy voters. I also think the early buzz will cause a lot of voter backlash. Only time will tell I guess.

The Mad Hatter said...

I think movie nut said it best, noting that it might be a reflection of not enough good parts being written. With that in mind, it feels like every other year entertainment publications bemoan Hollywood for not creating enough good female parts...let alone black female parts.

I am indeed quite curious to see PRECIOUS, but think it's a tad early to be calling it the best movie of the year. When that topic comes up, I have to wonder if people put too much stock into its Sundance & TIFF performances.

Couldn't agree with you more about DREAMGIRLS btw, but the one black actor who didn't get mentioned in your post (and the comments) is Forest Whitaker. Whaddaya make of him and his Oscar win?

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

The Mad Hatter Of the recent black wins and nods Whitaker is my favourite. Sure when doing my review of 2006 he was not my fave, but the performance was good. I don't think he'll be able to do anything as good, and I can't call him a favourite but the performance was good. [Denzel is a better actor overall though I don't like him.]

joe burns said...

This is off topic, but you should do a worst Supporting Actress Winners list as your next post. Just a suggestion

The Mad Hatter said...

Good to know you dug Forest as Amin as well. I really loved the ferociousness he brought to the part. I think Forest is a bit of an underrated actor actually, but that might come back to the sorts of parts he tends to land.

(This is a great post btw)