“Generally speaking, we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative, driving it forward.”
In that clip, you witnessed actress Hattie McDaniel (the first African American/Minority to win an Academy Award) give her acceptance speech for her Oscar-winning supporting role as “Mammy” in the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind. Now, before I state my opinion regarding the hot topic circling the internet about the Oscar’s lack of diversity, I did some fact-finding and I want to share this information with you first.
- The Academy Awards was founded in 1927 at the home of M-G-M studio chief Louis B. Mayer. Douglas Fairbanks became the first Academy President (1927-1929)
- The First Academy Awards (Oscars) Ceremony took place on May 16, 1929
- Cheryl Boone Isaacs became the first minority Academy President in 2013 – Present
- There are currently 25 Oscar Award categories
- 26 Minority Actors/Actresses have won an Academy Award for leading or supporting roles
- 14 Black/African American Winners
- Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Louis Gossett Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, and Lupita Nyong’o
- 1 Native American Winner
- Sacheen Littlefeather accepting the award for Marlon Brando
- 7 Spanish (Latino/Mexican/Cuban/Puerto Rican/Hispanic) Winners
- Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn, Rita Moreno, Mercedes Ruehl, Benicio Del Toro, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz
- 4 Asian Winners
- Yul Brynner, Ben Kingsley, Haing S. Ngor, and Miyoshi Umeki
I wanted to share those fun facts with you first because it’s going to help me solidify my stance on this “Oscars So White” debate. For those entertainers, directors, producers, film critics, viewers, and etc. who are upset about the lack of diversity from this year’s Academy Awards (second year in a row, by the way), you have every right to be. However, I would like to ask the following question.
Why are you surprised?
Seriously, why are you surprised?
The Oscars have always been “so white.” February 28, 2016 will mark the Academy’s 88th Oscar Ceremony and since 1929 there have only been 26 minority leading/supporting actors and actresses to win an award. So, again, why are you surprised?
I’ve seen several videos and have read several articles regarding the diversity issue this year and I can’t bring myself to care about this ceremony/award. In my opinion, for me to be emotionally invested in an award show or industry that has never equally diversified it’s playing field, would be doing a disservice to the artists who don’t entertain for recognition but for passion. Mind you, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the greats, such as Hattie McDaniel, Denzel Washington, and Lupita Nyong’o who’ve won this award, but at what price and for what role? That’s another question. I mean, one played a mammy, one played a slave, and another played a crooked cop. I would have cheered for those same actors and actresses if they were in a different role, but if the Powers-That-Be think that their best work consisted of playing characters who are depicted as “less than” who they are, then who am I to complain? Right?
“Begging for acknowledgment or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power.”
– Jada Pinkett Smith
So, to answer my question that entitled this blog post: No, minorities shouldn’t care about the Oscars because this award show has never truly catered to the power behind ALL of our stories. The fact that some people of color seem to be so emotionally distraught over the lack of recognition from this year’s Academy Awards is disheartening more than anything, because it’s proof that we’re putting more pride in someone else’s adoration for us rather than ourselves; i.e. Hattie McDaniel’s acceptance speech. Filmmakers, entertainers, viewers and supporters of minority storytelling, please don’t let one award show that was started by the majority, dictate the greatness that is your individuality. All of our stories deserve to be told and to be told the way that we would like them to. So that means that it’s high time that we take back that power and start telling/rewarding our own.
Until Next Time…
Academy Story. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.oscars.org/academy-story
Awards Categories. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.awardsandshows.com/features/awards-categories-1.html
Wood, J. (n.d.). Minority Winners in Major Acting Categories. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/entertainment/awards/oscar-minority-winners.html