Friday, March 12, 2010

Do Oscars ‘Reward’ Blacks For Playing Negative Roles?

Do Oscars ‘Reward’ Blacks For Playing Negative Roles?

The complaints swirling around the tributes given the movie “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” seem to have increased with the presentation of the Academy Award for best supporting actress to Mo’Nique. The central criticism has been that white-controlled Hollywood is quick to salute black actors, directors and screenwriters for performances that portray African Americans in a negative light and less inclined to honor screen depictions that present positive images. (Geoffrey Fletcher also won the best adapted screenplay Oscar for “Precious.”)

Mo’Nique, sassy and self-confident, honored Hattie McDaniel – who won a best supporting actress Oscar for “Gone With the Wind” – in both her accolades and her attire. As the 1940 winner, McDaniel also was roundly criticized by many segments of the black community, including the NAACP, which claimed her role as “Mammy” in the movie was downgrading and stereotypical. She was further condemned for her similar roles as maids and cooks. Jill Watts, McDaniel’s biographer, said the NAACP was right but said the actress felt that black people needed a presence in movies and if she did not accept the roles she took black people would not be on the screen at all. Noting the limited acting roles, McDaniel reportedly said, “I would rather be paid $700 a week to play a maid than be one.”

Those who claim there are racist undertones in the Academy Awards presentations point to what they see as the less than commendable characters that have garnered the coveted statuettes for African American actors:

Halle Berry won her Oscar as best actress in 2002 for “Monster’s Ball” by playing a character, Leticia Musgrove, who exchanged sex for shelter with Billy Bob Thornton’s character—the prison guard who executed her husband.

Denzel Washington won as best actor in 2002 for “Training Day” in which his character was a crooked cop. He did not win for playing the title role in “Malcolm X.” (Washington also won the best supporting actor award for “Glory” by playing a runaway slave turned soldier.)

Forrest Whitaker earned his best actor award in 2007 for his portrayal of Idi Amin, the murderous president-dictator of Uganda in “The Last King of Scotland.”

“The Color Purple,” released in 1985, with themes of racism and sexism, was nominated for 11 Academy Awards but did not win any.

Another viewpoint states that blacks should not seek validation from the white establishment, and black actors and creative personnel in the movie industry and elsewhere should not feel compelled to hold up a banner that indicates blacks are always prim and proper. Depravity exists, the argument goes, and the creative mind should have the freedom to represent things as they are.

The tension between blacks and the moviemaking profession has existed almost from the beginning of the American film industry. D. W. Griffith was criticized for depicting blacks as savages in his 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation,” also known as “The Clansman.” In the 1930s and 1940s shuffling and bug-eyed characterizations by the likes of Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland generated many complaints. And in the 1970s blaxploitation films were derided because they glorified blacks as pimps and drug pushers.

Commercial and creative positions are often at odds. Add the race element, for, as Cornel West claims, race always matters, and it becomes a thicket so entangled it is almost impossible to bring the two ends together.

(George E. Hardin worked as a photographer, reporter and editor, and in public relations during a long career before he retired. His column appears every other week.)

More George E. Hardin On W.E. A.L.L. B.E.:

See Also...
Tha Artivist & W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News Salutes Mo’Nique On Well Deserved Oscar Win…
'Precious' Little Patience For Blaxploitation

Meet Lee Daniels The Mastermind Behind Precious...

No comments: