For the past Century, Hollywood and African Americans have had a star-crossed relationship with the movie industry waging an image war against Blacks. Here's my Chicago Defender column on this sad situation.
Selma boycotted but Hollywood still got Glory
Hollywood’s snub of the very important Black film, Selma, about the extremely important march to demand voting rights for African Americans 50 years ago, was so absurd, so ironic, that it was joke worthy.
On cue, Host Neil Patrick Harris literally opened Sunday night’s 87th Academy Awards show with this pale one-liner: “The best and the whitest...sorry brightest.”
It was a feeble attempt to sugar coat the bitter truth. Although the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is a Black woman, the actors nominated for best performances this year were all white.
The Blacks-are not-worthy judgement was determined by the Academy voters who are 94 percent white. Last month’s Golden Globe Awards paid a little homage at least. David Oyelowo’s brilliant performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ava DuVernay inspired direction at least garnered two nominations.
“Why are we still begging white people for approval?” asks Sergio Mims, who writes for a Black film website, Shadow and Act, and is a co-founder of Chicago’s Black Harvest Film Festival, before shrugging off the Oscars brush off as no big deal.
Mims might be right. There are the obvious bragging rights, but there is no guarantee that an Oscar will get an actor more work or a higher salary.
And long after all the sound and the fury over this year’s Oscars have come and gone, the real action will remain where it already is: at home on our big flat-screen TV sets.
Going out to see a movie, with servings of popcorn, soda and candy, can cost a family of four as much as $80 so we’re staying away in droves. According to a CBS News Poll, 84 percent of Americans see movies at home, four percent at the theater and 10 percent pretty much divided between home and the theaters.
Television is also giving the theatrical movies a run for the fame and fortune as far as actors and producers are concerned.
More than two and a half viewers watched Laurence Fishburne’s Hannibal every week as the veteran Black actor pulled down $175,000 per episode. Fishburne is also a co-star along with Anthony Anderson on the TV sitcom, Black-ish. He and Anderson are also producers..
Producer Lee Daniel’s new drama, Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, has been building its viewership from week to next. The Hip-Hop mogul show, which MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry summed up as a combination of Breaking Bad, Glee, House of Cards and The Real Housewives, is the new “it” show for Black viewers.
Since she created Grey’s Anatomy, Writer and Producer Shonda Rhimes has her own cottage industry on network TV with Private Practice and Scandal. She is also an executive producer on How to Get Away with Murder, the new TV drama that last month earned the show’s star, Viola Davis, a Screen Actors Guild Award.
More than nine and a half million viewers watch Kerry Washington’s Scandal religiously. She reportedly earns $150,000 per show which means no one’s going to be throwing a rent party for her anytime soon. But, this is where the money gets really funny. While the audience for ratings champion, The Big Bang theory, is twice that of Scandal, all three of the white stars, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki are paid $1 million each per episode.
That’s entertainment. Hollywood won’t be winning many awards for treating African Americans fairly over the past century. America’s movie industry has been waging an image war on Blacks since D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation first hit movie theaters 100 years ago. Griffith’s movie, originally named The Clansmen, espoused white supremacy while glorifying the KKK. One scene features white actors in blackface who are supposed to be newly elected Black legislators during Reconstruction, sitting around, barefoot, eating chicken, drinking whiskey and recklessly eyeballing white women.
Donald Bogle’s, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, pretty much sums up much of Hollywood’s presentation of Blacks well into the 1980s.
It’s that history and what took place on the Pettus Bridge that brought tears to some in the audience as they watched John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn-- aka John Legend and Common--perform, and later accept Oscar for Best Original song, Glory.
“We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world,” Legend said during their acceptance speech. “There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.”
Common and Legend are right on. The struggle continues. But every now and then, we do get to witness some glory.