My title may be a bit misleading. I’m not advocating for an Oscars for black actors. I am merely pointing to the fact that how we watch the Oscars and how others watch the Oscars is quite different. Mostly, we watch award shows expecting some sort of let down (i.e. Beyoncé not winning AOTY at the Grammy’s). True to form these awards shows never seem to disappoint us. We hope every year for mainstream America to accurately critique our artistry. At times they get it right and often times they get it wrong. This year’s Oscars were no different.
Viola Davis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in a movie. I saw Fences, the movie she was awarded the Oscar for. She carried the film and that’s saying a lot with a cast that included Denzel Washington, arguably the greatest actor of our era. Viola Davis’s performance captured the power, strength and ultimate vulnerability that is the black woman. They bend, but never break. Viola Davis’s ability to bring such emotion to her roles, is the reason she is at the top of her profession. A true Thespian and one of only two black female EGOT winners. The EGOT is the triple crown of acting. It is when you are awarded an Emmy, an Oscar and a Tony. For actors there are 3 mediums. The stage, the TV screen and the movie screen, winning an award for excelling in all three mediums says a lot about her craftsmanship. This award is well deserved, if you haven’t seen the movie Fences, please do so. It is important for the times we are living in. It forces me as a black man, to think of the scars infidelity leaves on the women we love. It is a story about mediocrity, complacency and disloyalty. It is a story of pride and ego. Viola Davis’s role will resonant with many women, a fact I personally wish were not true. Nonetheless, Mrs. Davis earned this award and all the future accolades that come with it. I want to note that Mrs. Davis staked her place in Hollywood by working hard and not by allowing Hollywood to define her. We should all take note and use this as motivation to succeed in our respective industries. You can catch Mrs. Davis in her role as Annalise Keating on the hit TV show HTGAWM, it airs Thursdays at 10pm on ABC.
Mahershala Ali won the academy award for best supporting actor in a film, for the movie Moonlight. Ali’s role as a mentor to a young boy who is fatherless, with a drug addicted mother and coming to grips with his sexuality, is one of the most important roles of this era. One can’t advocate for change without acknowledging that all stories need to be told. The same as we wish for more roles depicting black actors, because we want to see ourselves appropriately represented on film. The LBGTQ community deserve there stories to be told as well. African-Americans aren’t monolithic our stories differ and Moonlight places a spotlight on that. Ali becomes the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. The fact that it’s 2017 and we are still dealing with first anything, says a lot about the county we reside in. Either way, Ali’s performance is one for the ages. Whether it’s in the critically acclaimed House of Cards or many other roles. Ali brings it every time. In addition to Ali’s award, Moonlight won best picture after a confusing few minutes where The movie La La Land was first declared the winner. Apparently, the wrong card was given to Warren Beatty and he mistakenly declared La La Land the winner of best picture. After a few moments of confusion, the creators of Moonlight swapped stage with the creators of La La Land. Moonlight had its moment and all was well again. I’d chalk this up to human error, I’m sure the conspiracy theorist will come out in droves. Nothing to be alarmed over, the one thing you can’t account for on live TV is human error.
The crowning moment of the night was a reaffirmation of sorts. We knew Denzel Washington would not be awarded his 3rd Oscar, 2nd for best actor. The best actor award went to Casey Affleck, the younger brother to the more notable Ben Affleck, for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Despite, Denzel Washington clearly outperforming Mr. Affleck. The award went to a Hollywood insider, with a history of sexual misconduct. Affleck’s past is only important because the same benefit of doubt afforded Casey Affleck was not given to Nate Parker. The director and star of Birth of a Nation, was not shown such leniency despite an acquittal on all charges. Mr. Parker’s moment in the spotlight was sabotaged. Parker is black and Casey is white. Yes, the degrees of sexual misconduct are very different. If one is excluded from reaping the benefits of his art because of an alleged past, both should be. But what’s America without a little racial undertones. I mean we built this country on slave labor, no affirmative action or social programs can erase the vile, history of our ancestors. To play devil’s advocate, I feel Fences by August Wilson previous exposure became a hindrance of sorts. Fences, has been a running play for quite a long time and while Denzel portrayed the character brilliantly. One could argue James Earl Jones depiction of the character on stage, is a hard act to follow. But Washington’s performance wasn’t up against Jones, it was up against Affleck’s. I also must admit I’m biased, I love all things Denzel. Also, I am still dealing with the pain from him not winning an Academy Award for his depiction of Malcolm X. In my community Denzel is a folk hero, revered, respected and often imitated. When he speaks, we listen.
Overall, the Oscars came and went. Black America makes up 13% of the population and we can’t win all the awards. Even if we feel we should. If I’m being objective, every decision made by the Academy isn’t made on race. Most of it, I’d like to believe is based on merit and artistry. Sure there may be subconscious bias-ness to certain films due to cultural ignorance. But all we can do is continue to tell our stories and educate those who lack knowledge of our culture. From the speeches and the tears. I love seeing those who look like me, in a place where people just like me, weren’t even allowed a short time ago. History was made and it is my hope that through the arts, we as a culture can continue to give our contribution to society.