It’s 2016, and the annual Academy Awards ceremony is an institution that is about to celebrate its 88th year. However, when people of color aren’t nominated for their work there’s still an uproar over the lack of diversity and I can’t understand why.
Maybe it stings a bit more this year because the Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is an African American.
Actually, she’s the first African American to hold the title , and the third woman since Fay Kanin in 1983.
This lack of inclusion has caused a reaction from many in Hollywood, with stars like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee boycotting the ceremony.
Honestly what I would love to see is the 100% total disengagement of all people of color from this ceremony, but I know that’s not going to happen.
Because as an actor attending schmoozin’ and boozin’ events like the Academy Awards is similar to any person with a job that needs to attend a networking event.
For the past few years I have had my own personal gripes with the Academy Awards not because of their lack of diversity (because that’s just Hollywood in general) but because of the roles people of color typically win for.
This practice goes far back to Hattie McDaniel who was the first African American to receive an Oscar for her portrayal of MAMMY (I kid you not) in the classic wartime romantic drama Gone With The Wind. From her win in 1940 up until Halle’s historic win for Monster’s Ball in 2002 thirty African Americans in total were nominated in various acting categories with only six winners in between a sixty-two year span.
Therefore, wouldn’t it be best to surmise that inclusion isn’t one of the Academy’s strongest traits?
Then why do people care so much about the Academy Awards?
Perhaps it’s because obtaining an Oscar is deemed the pinnacle of your success as an actor. It states that Yes, you ARE good enough. You ARE one of the best in the business.
That’s all well and good because who doesn’t want to be considered one of the best in their craft? However it seems as though the Academy continues to remind everyone of how insignificant our stories are to the masses every year when they fail to include diversity in their nominations.
True, there are exceptions to this rule like Jamie Foxx’s win for Ray and Jennifer Hudson’s win for Dreamgirls (two films with heavy musical influences that lend to the whole singin’ and dancin’ stereotype we’ve lived with since we disembarked in our new land, but I digress) still the fact remains that as African Americans we continuously look for the validation from an institution that doesn’t want us sitting at the table unless we’re serving them or serving up sass, crass or ass in the films they wish to acknowledge us in.
I don’t understand why we’ll rally around a ceremony like the Academy Awards to provide us with the boost we need to feel good about ourselves as a race when we have ceremonies like the Image Awards which celebrate ALL of our images. True, at its base the ceremony targets African Americans specifically but the Image Awards are an accurate representation of diversity and inclusion that many other awards shows should learn from.
Because let’s face it; if the Academy president is a sistah and the landscape of nominations is still whiter than Aspen in February what hope can we keep alive to change that kind of institution?
Perhaps the real challenge here is to stop caring about an institution that clearly undervalues our dollars, our stories and our presence. Because begging for them to acknowledge us makes it easier for us to devalue ourselves by stating that white acceptance is the only acceptance. And that’s an image none of us can afford to make our reality.
We must continue to tell our stories and tell them well without the end goal being acceptance from an antiquated institution such as the Academy because whether they accept us or not we’ll never know. Anyone can lie to your face and keep a pretty facade to keep you in place. But when it stops mattering to us then maybe it won’t sting so much when we’re not included the next time.