Who could have predicted that the Academy Awards, those beloved Oscars, would be the next battleground for the civil rights movement? Yet here we are, and I’m not so sure Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently released their annual list of nominees for all of the categories. Some people noticed something they thought was wrong: there were no black actors nominated. Once the list of nominees was released, Jada Pinkett Smith took to social media and blasted the Academy for having two consecutive years with no black nominees.
Spike Lee joined her cause, and now Will Smith is backing up his wife. Smith said on Good Morning America:
There’s a position that we hold in this community and if we’re not a part of the solution, we’re part of the problem, and it was her call to action for herself and for me and for our family to be a part of the solution. [For] my part, I think I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and our Hollywood community great.
The response from the white community has been mixed. Some are quick to jump on board and call for change within the Academy. Others have replied with snark, saying things like:
But there won’t be any white people nominated for the BET Awards!
We’re actually talking about a couple different issues, and conflating them doesn’t do any good to anyone. Let’s talk about the first issue: minority representation within the Academy Awards.
Are the nominees primarily white? Yes.
Is there black representation among nominees (if not this year or last, how about the history)? Yes. Here’s a list of brown-skinned Best Actors/Actresses and Best Supporting Actors/Actresses:
1963 – Sidney Poitier, 1970 – James Earl Jones, 1972 – Diana Ross, 1982 – Louis Gossett, Jr.,1985 – Whoopi Goldberg, 1985 – Oprah Winfrey, 1986 – Dexter Gordon, 1987 – Morgan Freeman, 1987 – Denzel Washington, 1989 – Morgan Freeman, 1989 – Denzel Washington, 1990 – Whoopi Goldberg, 1992 – Denzel Washington, 1993 – Laurence Fishburne, 1993 – Angela Bassett, 1994 – Morgan Freeman, 1994 – Samuel L. Jackson, 1996 – Cuba Gooding, Jr., 1999 – Denzel Washington, 1999 – Michael Clarke Duncan, 2001 – Denzel Washington, 2002 – Queen Latifah, 2003 – Djimon Hounsou, 2004 – Jamie Foxx, 2004 – Don Cheadle, 2004 – Morgan Freeman, 2004 – Sophie Okonedo, 2004 – Jamie Foxx, 2005 – Terrance Howard, 2006 – Forest Whitaker, 2006 – Jennifer Hudson, 2006 – Djimon Hounsou, 2006 – Eddie Murphy, 2006 – Will Smith, 2008 – Taraji P. Henson, 2009 – Morgan Freeman, 2009 – Gabourey Sidibe, 2009 – Mo’Nique, 2011 – Viola Davis, 2011 – Octavia Spencer, 2012 – Denzel Washington, 2013 – Chiwetel Ejiofor, 2013 – Lupita Nyong’o
If you look at the list you’ll notice that there are some years with no brown-skinned nominee. This list is NOT to say, “See, there’s no racial bias in Hollywood!” (Quite the contrary, I DO believe there is racial bias in Hollywood. The bulk of the best roles seem to go to white actors. While this would make sense in biopics and period pieces, there are many films that don’t necessitate a white actor, yet the white actors get them.)
This IS to say that I believe the Smiths are blowing things out of proportion to boycott the Oscars in one of the off-periods. It seems less about the race issue and more about a reaction to Will Smith not receiving a nomination Jada thought he deserved. She wasn’t saying anything about the issue in 2010, 2007, 2000, etc. Even Will Smith’s former co-star on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air commented:
I’m a real freedom fighter. I’m not a pretend freedom fighter. I stand up for other actresses, other people. The Smiths just irked me because they are such pretenders, and everything is a photo op. It’s just self-contrived because her hubby didn’t get a nomination. ~ Janet Hubert
No, Mrs. Smith, I don’t think you have a legitimate beef to bring against the Academy Awards, which has been nominating people of color for over 50 years and even has a black woman as its president. It’s not the Academy that has bias against brown-skinned people. Producers and directors, perhaps, but the Academy Awards have been supportive of minorities for a while.
The second issue raised by people in this recent segment of the race war is white people complaining about the BET or Image Awards. If black people have those awards, why are they complaining about the Oscars? White people don’t complain about not being nominated for a BET Award…
Well, that’s true. But we don’t need other awards. We have the Oscars. It’s not that the Oscars are designed to be a “whites only” club. It’s simply that American culture, for the most part, is geared TOWARDS whites. We don’t need our own television station – we have almost ALL of them! We don’t need our own awards show – we get ALL the rest.
Black television stations, awards shows, etc. are not about elevating blacks and diminishing whites. It’s really about validation. In a culture and society that, historically, has NOT validated minorities, it’s completely reasonable and understandable to create programming and events that validate your identity.
So how should Christians respond to all this drama? I believe that we have a biblical mandate to pursue justice and to seek racial reconciliation. We are called to be peacemakers. This means we can show empathy and understanding for our brown-skinned brothers and sisters who feel that society diminishes their identity. We can speak out against injustice. We can pursue avenues of equality.
In the big picture, is an awards show a HUGE deal? I don’t think so, no. But white people must not invalidate the feelings of minorities by burying our heads in the sand and pretending that racial bias doesn’t exist.
But that doesn’t mean Will Smith should get an Oscar this year. 😉