It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and African-American’s are feeling good. #Oscarsnotsowhite has dominated the headlines for the past two months with the announcement of not one, but several African-Americans nominated in multiple Oscar categories for 2017. What an accomplishment for African-Americans one might think. But will this year’s diverse pool of nominations help to add on to the meager list of 35 African-American winners over the Oscar’s 87-year history?
Twenty-seventeen is making up for a two year hiatus of color at the Oscars. Denzel Washington (Fences), Viola Davis (Fences), Octavia Spencer(Hidden Figures), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Mahershala Ali, (Moonlight) Ruth Negga (Loving) all have received nods in the acting categories. Barry Jenkins has made history by earning a trio of nominations including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture for “Moonlight.” Celebrated filmmaker Ava DuVernay received a nomination for her documentary feature “13th.”
In an effort not to make a third year of #oscarssowhite, film industry insiders were challenged to make a change. At this year’s, Oscar nominee luncheon, Academy president Cheryl Boone Issacs charged decision makers in attendance to “stand up to those who try to limit our freedom of expression.”
In a USA Today interview, Issacs responded to questions relating to her initiatives to diversify the Academy members.
“So much depends on movie distribution patterns, which we have no control over. It just so happened that there were films this year with diverse talent in front of and behind the camera. There was much more inclusion. But the important issue remains the same, the issue of inclusion in Hollywood with regard to employment.”
While having a significant number of people of color nominated in numerous categories for 2017 is a feat to be applauded, is it enough to make up for the desolate years? In nearly a century old celebration of cinematic creativity, is it possible that less than 50 African-American’s were talented enough to receive this precious recognition? It’s incredible to note that even with improved race relations over the decades, inequality continues to exist in all realms of society.
The historic first Oscar win for an African American was Hattie McDaniels back in 1940 in Gone with the Wind, spoke volumes to a segregated nation. The sound of music has always created a way of communicating across color lines, opening victorious winning doors for Isaac Hayes 1972 for Shaft, Irena Cara in 1983 for “What a Feeling” in Flashdance; Stevie Wonder “I Just Called to Say I Love You” in Woman in Red, and Prince’s Purple Rain score both in 1984. The 90’s caught a couple of wins. In 1991 Whoopie Goldberg won for best supporting actress in Ghost. Then in 1996 Cuba Gooding Jr. won for his support in Jerry Maguire. Halle Berry ignited the industry in 2001 when she became the first Black actress to take home the Best Actress award for her role in Monster’s Ball. Also in the same year Denzel Washington became the only Black actor to receive two Academy Awards, one of which was for his part in Training Day. In 2005 Jamie Foxx made history with the accolade first black actor to win for a musical for portrayal of R&B icon Ray Charles in the biopic Ray. The 2000s ushered in a slew of other African-American Oscar awardees, but merely enough to justify the lack over nearly a 90-year time span. So how is it justifiable that the spotlight not shine on any African-Americans for 2 more years?
The 89th annual Academy Awards will take place Sunday February 26th at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. Tune in as the awards fade to black. People of color are set to make history at this year’s show. Tune in to witness the dynamic display of talent. EGL will be watching.
Written By: Tawana C. Coleman