Not the first time in their history, the Oscar Awards ceremony has a boycott in store this year. Started by Jada Pinkett Smith, it didn’t take long for the boycott of the Oscars ceremony (announced the day after the nominations were revealed) would take place. And the announcement was close on the heels of another protest in Hollywood – women’s salaries compared with those of men.
The complaint is there are far too few roles for Blacks on the big screen that result in far too few who are eligible for nomination for having done exceptional work. Some of Hollywood argues back that there aren’t enough stories to be told. In the alternative, the viewing public only identifies with White faces and characters, thus the casting of the parts. But the Oscars acknowledge the work of more than just those on the screen. There are also writers, directors, composers, designers, and more who comprise the entertainment experience. This year none of color were among those nominated. Protests regarding the good ole boys club atmosphere among those who can nominate and vote for Oscar recipients grew with such intensity that protocols were immediately changed and implemented – but too late for this year’s nominees. As long ago as 1970, George C. Scott was noted as having expressed his disdain for the Oscars. “George C. Scott held nothing but contempt for the Oscar organization. He called it a ‘2 hour meat parade’. He said the whole thing was offensive, barbarous, and innately corrupt.”
It was complained that only movies about slaves and slavery or racism are put forward as examples of Blacks who have done superlative work as actors. What about the other portrayals that could have been available? There are far too few. Why is that? It seems one of the complaints expressed during this year’s protest are accurate. It isn’t so much that the parts aren’t available so much as a matter of the parts for Black characters are converted to being played by White actors. This fact was memorialized in a book I happened to discover circa 2007 while at a Los Angeles branch library that dealt with the subject of Black Hollywood. A random opening of the book brought me to a section about the Western, “The Searchers” in which the scout is portrayed as a White man. According to the book, the scout was actually Negro but Hollywood didn’t find it appropriate to portray that fact.
The refusal of Hollywood to cast Black actors in positive roles has been cited as one of the reasons there is still a struggle for Blacks to rise into being viewed as a population other than suspect and available for exploitation. The outcries of 2016 are merely echoes of what was openly expressed in a 1999 paper on ethics wherein the three authors state:
Forcibly brought here as slaves to the white man, blacks have never been treated as completely equal to whites. Stereotypes of blacks as lazy, stupid, foolish, cowardly, submissive, irresponsible, childish, violent, sub-human, and animal-like, are rampant in today’s society. These degrading stereotypes are reinforced and enhanced by the negative portrayal of blacks in the media. Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1 888. But blacks weren’t even hired to portray blacks in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.” (http:/www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/open.htm). By refusing to hire black actors to portray black characters, demeaning stereotypes were being created as blacks were presented in an unfavorable light. In addition, blacks were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over blacks. This has had a tremendous effect on our society’s view of blacks since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years.
Add to that representation the unstated but very prevalent attitude that Blacks are an exotic race that is more for the appeasement of sexual gratification and stimulation, not for critical thinking and stubborn business aptitude.
The reference librarian who attempted to help me relocate that book from 2007 found a list of titles that may be helpful to your further inquiry on the subject of Hollywood and accurate portrayal of race. He never found the book. He explained that it may have been removed from the shelves. However, the list of titles he did find is provocative and can be found at the bottom of this post. To get more information about any of the titles, you may visit the page of your favorite book seller or put the title into your favorite search engine.
This boycott and protest is not new to Oscar. The civil rights of a pantheon of actors of all colors and genders, of every sexual preference, has endured throughout the ages. The question, then, is whether this latest wave will be effective in bringing about positive, enduring change.
- Portrayal of Minorities in the Film, Media and Entertainment Industries
- Diversity in Disney films : critical essays on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability
- Race & ethnicity in independent films : prevalence of underrepresented directors and the barriers they face
- . . . refused the Oscar in 1970 for ‘Patton’ but what was the reason why?
- 1971: George C. Patton said no to Oscar
- Marlon Brando declines Best Actor Oscar
- Katharine Hepburn Won Four Oscars, Never Recevied Them At Show
- Study: Hollywood female stars paid way less after 34
- Forbes list exposes Hollywood wage gap
- Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era by Ellen C. Scott
- Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood’s Construction of Afro-American Culture by Vincent F. Rocchio
- Race Results: Hollywood vs. Supreme Court ; ten decades of racial decisions and film by Eileen C. Moore
- Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race during the Civil Rights Struggle by Allison Schoen
- The subject of film and race : retheorizing politics, ideology, and cinema by Gerald Sim
- Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era
- The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film