Black History Month: The Oscars, Revised

Monday 11th, February 2019 / 09:00
by Hogan Short

It was only three years ago that the 2016 Oscars inspired the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. Chris Rock hosted those 88th Academy Awards, ironically joking that if he didn’t take the job it would mean losing yet another gig to Kevin Hart. We’ve seen how that turned out, but that’s another story. Chris Rock had another funny line in his standout opening monologue, “I’m sure, in one of the years when Sidney (Poitier) didn’t put out a movie, I’m sure there were no black nominees.” He definitely had a point. The Oscars started in 1929. It took 10 years for the first black person to win an Oscar because Hattie McDaniel was just too damn incredible in Gone with the Wind to ignore. It then took another 24 years for Sidney Poitier to be awarded number two. From 1949-2000, 29 black actors were nominated for acting awards out of a possible 510 nominations. African-American film workers have not been given roles or positions historically, and when they are, the voting body of the Academy is 94 per cent white males over the age of 50.
Here we have a short list of a few contributions to film that did not even receive a nomination. Every year incredible talent goes ignored or unnoticed, but these examples are genuinely egregious snubs.

Best Director: Spike Lee
First he had She’s Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing (which wasn’t even nominated), and then Mo Better Blues, and yes, they are all worthy of best picture. But now Spike Lee has a bona fide star in a fleshed out biopic featuring what might be the best performance of Denzel Washington’s career. And nothing? Washington got nominated, and the film was nominated for Best Costume Design, too. Lee got his first nomination ever this year, but it should have been one of many to date.

Best Director: Ava DuVernay
Best Actor: David Oyelowo
This is considered one of the biggest snubs of all time. It came out late in the year, receiving incredible reviews for its intense and dramatic power. Was it too late to be considered? No, because they did give it a Best Picture nomination. How a film could be one of the best of the year and get a 99 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes yet not receive a nod for its direction or for the brilliant portrayal of an icon is still confusing.

Best Original Screenplay: Boots Riley
One of the best-reviewed films by critics and an audience favourite, this is a film that delicately carries humour while having a strong critique on capitalist society and being black within those borders. If this movie was destined for one award, it was for its script.

The sad thing about this award is that I barely have enough content to discuss. Try and think of five well-written films with a black female lead. Angela Bassett should have 10 examples herself. Great supporting roles happen often, even though they are rarely nominated. Kerry Washington has never had one, and think about Django Unchained and The Last King of Scotland. On IMDB’s list of the top 100 actresses, only three of them are black.

Best Picture
John Singleton was the first black person ever nominated in this category, which is ridiculous enough. And it didn’t even get a Best Picture nod, which is even more ridiculous. The two are not always hand-in-hand, but without calling any film in particular out, Boyz n the Hood was by far more deserving than most of the other forgettable films in the category.

Many people have expressed their disdain for the achievements of Black Panther, calling it overrated and unworthy, but for many, it’s the first time they have seen themselves represented onscreen as a superhero and politician. We made it through 17 Marvel movies before we saw a black person leading the story, and that story went on to be the Marvel Universe’s most profitable. Strides are being made, and things are becoming more inclusive in film. What we need now is complete inclusivity. Not just as the friend in a romantic comedy, but as the lead. Not just as the first person to die in a slasher film, but as the person who makes it out alive. Get Out was huge for a reason, but now it is time for Hollywood to allow for more films of its kind – not only when a genius filmmaker decides to comment on society’s many flaws, but also when a filmmaker just wants to tell a great story.