Eighty-seven years of filming excellence…The Oscars. In recent times the ‘race issue’ has coloured the Academy Awards ceremony causing fierce debate. Arguably the most prestigious film award ceremony in the world, it’s no wonder such as big stage highlights how homogenous the mainstream film industry is.
Race on its own is a complex issue and when it infiltrates other facets of life; its texture remains the same. In 2014, 12 Years A Slave was a big hit in the world of cinema; winning Oscars among other awards and introduced the masses to an unknown Kenyan woman – Lupita Nyong’o. But as some criticised, it was ‘another slave film’. This year a film depicting (once again) the oppression of black people, Selma ignited the latest race debate, generating hash tags on twitter such as, #OscarsSoWhite. Selma was nominated for Best Picture which it didn’t win last night, but the fact that leading actor British-Nigerian David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay were not considered in their respective categories caused upset.
Unfortunately oppression is a significant piece of the history and present of black people, and these stories need to be re-told, not just for black people but the rest of the world. Aside from the apparent snub of Selma by the Academy, the main issue isn’t just Selma but the lack of representation of black and other ethnic minorities in mainstream cinema.
Give credit where credit is due.
Not every black actor out here is good (as with actors of other races), but even after 87 years of golden statues, the shade of the tans have changed but Hollywood still remain predominately white. Part of this is due to where you start the race, as we know not all people are created equal. When the Academy Awards first started, black people in America were not even allowed to vote! Considering this, there has been progress and it seems easier for black actors to ‘make it’ in America than in other countries, such as Britain.
Most people actually thought Idris Elba was African-American when he stared (as a drug dealer) in the hit series, The Wire. Idris along with David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor (and many other black British actors) were hardly mentioned in British media or given the opportunities (it seems) to showcase their talents on such a big stage until they went across the pond, so I guess it’s not all bad.
Film is supposed to be a means of escape, fantasy, truth, etc…. and we ALL want to see someone we can relate to on screen, if humans are the main subject of interest. We just need a fair representation of black and ethnic minority actors, whatever their nationality in the mainstream film industry, and they are out there! I’m not saying that every fictional film should have a majority black cast but a least include us, so that films are a true representation of the current racial mix.
Put ME in the story – Viola Davis Best Actress acceptance speech at the SAG awards 2015
I was surprised at the backlash British actor John Boyega received after announcement that he was being cast as a lead character, in the new Star Wars film – The Force Awakens (especially as Samuel L. Jackson was part of the franchise). Some fans didn’t think Boyega was appropriate for the role, with comments on You Tube including:
“Dear Black People, We are forced to include you into everything awesome we do.”
Another comment suggesting the film “didn’t need some black Jedi”.
To which the actor responded “To Whom It May Concern, get used it.”
British comedian Lenny Henry has been vocal about the lack of ethnic minorities in British television and last year along with others including Idris Elba, asked TV executives to improve their representation of ethnic minorities on British TV. Stating his concern of the “paucity” of black talent in British “high-end drama and comedy”, Henry compared British TV to the US, which has highly successful shows such as Scandal (the best show on TV at the moment – I love me some Papa Pope!), Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder. The issue isn’t just with the paucity of ethnic minorities on the screen but also production staff behind the scenes; spotting a brown face is still like looking for a chocolate chip in a bag of flour.
Of course some people aren’t sympathetic to the plight of ethnic minority representation in mainstream television and don’t think it’s a big deal. In response to Lenny Henry’s calls for equality a counsellor from the so-called political party UKIP stated:
“I think if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people why are they here? If he (Henry) wants a lot of blacks around go and live in a black country.”
There are many who would agree with this; but Henry doesn’t want black only institutions, only a level playing field. Mixed-race people are becoming the fast growing ethnic minority group in the UK, so I don’t think black people have a problem with ‘mixing with white people’ either.
Selma didn’t go home completely empty handed on Oscar night, Common and John Legend won the Oscar for Best Original Song, apparently making it the 32nd time out of over 2,900 winners in the past 87 years that a black person has won a competitive Oscar. Their performance brought some in the audience to tears and earned a standing ovation.
Glory – “The struggle for justice is right now.”
So what happens now?
That’s up to the Academy Award board of which, apparently 94% are white and 3% black, including the president elected in 2013, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American to hold the position.
It remains to be seen how quickly change will come, maybe it’s up to ethnic minorities to create their own mainstream, which won’t be easy as it never is when you enter the race late. There are movements in this area, Tyler Perry has built a profitable empire giving black talent opportunities to shine, there was the romantic comedy ‘Think Like a Man’ that did well in the US and Europe and I can’t wait for Lupita Nyong’o to star in AND produce Americanah, an adaptation of the award winning novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
So watch this (white) space…or just accept that Hollywood; a district, in one city, in one country has all the power in film and really is just as white as it looks.
Always from a colourful perspective