By Patrick Washington
The Academy Awards air this month, and four Black actors are going into the ceremony with nominations: Will Smith for “King Richard” and Denzel Washington “The Tragedy of Macbeth” for best actor. And Ariana DeBose got nominated for best supporting actress for “West Side Story,” as did Aunjanue Ellis for “King Richard”
But I won’t be watching the broadcast.
Some of you may remember the historic Oscar Academy Awards night in 2002 where Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, and the late great Sidney Poitier all received Oscars for their work and legacy.
I actually wrote something at the time called “The Night the Oscars Went Black” as a knee jerk response to an event I had predicted months earlier. If you recall, there was more going on this night than just the entertainment industry nominations honoring films made in 2001 and sobbing Halle Berry speeches. Let me set the stage…
At the ceremony in 2001 year prior, Denzel had lost a Best Actor win to Russell Crowe for his performance in 2000’s “Gladiator,”; however, Denzel had been nominated for the lead role in “The Hurricane”, and was pretty much expected to win the Oscar for his biopic portrayal of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, a former middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted for a triple murder in a bar in Paterson, New Jersey.
It was an adaptation — , Oscar bait — , about a real person — , Oscar bait — , starring an Oscar winner — , Oscar bait. , AND it had some white savior flavor in there – , OSCAR BAAAAIT! Not to mention, Denzel Washington had already won the 2000 Golden Globe for Best Actor, which is a good indicator of how the Oscars will go.
Halle Berry was also nominated for her role in the film “Monster’s Ball.” I have to be honest:; I’ve never saw seen this movie all the way through. and even in 2001, I was content not watching another a Black woman being “loved” — if that’s what we’re calling it — by some white man for some asinine reason.
Secondly, I saw the Hollywood shuffle happening with Halle long before this win, but I digress. To be fair, the nominations this year for films released in 2001 weren’t strong and, the year prior, due to the Denzel snub for “The Hurricane,” many folks were expecting a classic Hollywood overcompensation routine.
Finally, we had Sidney Poitier being honored with an Honorary Oscar, given by Denzel no less.
Ok, so why all this backstory? and not even address the headline. So here we go…
Those three Oscar wins that night were in response to a year of pressure, reminders of the mistake, and the politics of the industry; not the talent. Denzel won for playing a villain in “Training Day”, Halle won for playing broken black woman sexually known by a inferior white man “Monster’s Ball”, and Sidney Poitier “won” for basically being Sidney Poitier for the last 50 years. That’s it.
In her announcement, even Julia Roberts , who presented the award to Denzel, in her announcement proclaimed, “About time!” as if to subtly let us in on the joke.
I remember sitting sat there watching the broadcast with my cousin and her friends. I remember it well. I’d accurately predicted out loud the winners of most of the categories and when it came to the moment for Denzel and Halle, I told them everyone confidentially ,“Oh they will win, trust me… they don’t want that drama again this year”, and moments later, they were all mouth open-mouthed and amazed at the wins. I wasn’t. When Denzel won, he stated “Two birds with one stone eh?” and the crowd lightly chuckled, again letting us in on the joke. I stopped watching the Oscars after that.
So here 500 words in you get the headline: I knew it but it wasn’t true until then. There is no Black Hollywood, and this that moment made me understand it.
You see Black folks have long maligned the representation of our community, as it is portrayed thought he Hollywood lens. Another op-ed could easily be about the beginnings of Hollywood and it’s reliance on Black oppression. “Birth of a Nation”, “The Jazzman,” “ Gone With the Wind,” — Hollywood still keeps us remembering how amazing these films are even though they add to the violence against Black people. They are touted as “‘technical marvels” and “cinematic master classes” — and are even still being placed on lists of the top films of all time lists in perpetuity.
Years later after Denzel, Halle, and Sidney won, prominent Black filmmakers still beg to get their invite into the VIP with campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite… that next hashtag should be #Duh.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Many have tried and failed to create the a media industry that represents Black America.
Tim Reid — , for my generation, the dad on the sitcom “Sister Sister,” has, since the late 70’s campaigned for control of the creative works of African Americans. He has launched production companies, and even recently launched a streaming service. I recently watched an interview with Tim Reid where he lamented that his colleagues didn’t believe they could achieve the type of success they wanted without major studio partnerships or investment.
Then there’s Robert Townsend, who created of the quintessential Black Hollywood experience film, “Hollywood Shuffle.” has He’s repeatedly tried to get his peers to join him in creating a “Black Hollywood “center. Again, he has stated that he couldn’t get the support of the other Black people around him.
There are others who have tried the same thing.
So why? Why can’t Black people create this “thing”? After a few decades of studying this and watching it unfold in real life, I have to come to the conclusion that the Black people working in Hollywood don’t want to.
Not to count anyone’s pockets, but of just the Black Oscar nominees and winnweas, you’re looking at half a billion in wealth and resources — and that doesn’t even include the other members of “Black Hollywood”; not to mention production companies, social clout, fanship etc.
You really have to ask yourself why do you keep hearing from Black audiences, “We don’t want non– American actors playing historic Black American roles” or , “Why can’t we just have a Black James Bond?” or , “Why we always get the same type of slave movie?” and — especially when we know the people and resources are available to make it, right?
We get hit with the same okie– doke as that corporate America throws when it comes to recycling: …. “Well, what are you doing about it?”
Seriously, that’s the response. “It’s on you, Black community.”
The problem is, an affinity for white validation runs deep in the Hollywood’s Black circles. DEEP. Ranging from the ever– so– subtle stereotypical characterization of Black Americans, to the forced, token white character present in most, if not all, Black media.
I personally think Black people working in entertainment have been beaten up so much, that they think the way Hollywood runs is actually supposed to be that way. Like, how can you you make a movie if there are no white people involved?
It starts to get the community in the right state of mind because at some point you have to realize that there hasn’t been any Black programming or cinema that has been created specifically for Black people. It’s all for white people — for the white gaze. Yep, even the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and “Martin”, Even your “Living Single”s and “Family Matters” —… all for white people.
And if by some chance, white people ain’t feeling it like that, they’ll add some shows — because they can just for sh*ts and giggles. Don’t believe me?, Reference “New York Undercover,” anything on the WB and the entire UPN network.
So, what to do we do? Well, as always, support the Black Press — the foundation of Black media — and watch ground up level entertainment be built from the ground up, which is the best plan, if you ask me and , or stay woke. Because, what you should have noticed by now is that its has been 20 years since that dark Oscar night where Halle and Denzel won, and not much if anything has changed. Black entertainers still make millions, , they create production companies — and even now have full studios —, and we still get remakes of past white TV shows, and movies shaded brown for “diversity and representation,” and, re-imaginings of old Black shows and movies. , and when something does comes out that we Black people actually like, it gets cancelled or under– marketed so it can’t last (Check Misha Green’s catalog for reference).
The only way to make a Black Hollywood is to first understand Hollywood is an actual place. Put it in Google — , you’ll get directions. It’s not an idea or a social concept. It exists! It’s full of studios and filmmakers and lawyers. It has scale and reach. It took a hundred 100 years to build, and it’s a major part of the American social fabric.
It’s NOT an imaginary feeling created by of people who want to be seen. It’s not a theoretical concept only shared by creatives. It’s not a pretend secret club with gatekeepers who just don’t want you Black people in. It’s a REAL secret club that doesn’t want you us in.
But here’s some good news: . Black people can make enough money to build studios. Black people can be creative enough to write good scripts. Black people can be savvy enough to partner with movie theaters, and build TV stations and streaming services. And Black people have enough money to spend to make Black Hollywood albeit an industry.
And maybe, just maybe, we can look to ourselves to honor ourselves. We can give them a cheeky nod when we all show up looking like the Harlem Stroll in 1924 to the Micheaux Awards (see what I did there), and never again worry about what the old Hollywood squares think was worthy that year.
I still love movies, and I am excited about where Black filmmakers are taking the art; Jordan Peele, Misha Green, Barry Jenkins, Melina Matsoukas, Boots Riley, Jeymes Samuel, and many more are slowly creating that reality.; I can see it. I just don’t want them to get to the top and realize that they only got to where they are because Black people saw white people watching them in awe and thought, maybe we should watch, too.
But I have hope and faith, that one day they will realize they already have the tools —, and the resources — to create Black Hollywood for real.