The Academy Awards will be announced during next Sunday’s broadcast, and I’m boycotting it because this Oscar’s a grouch and a racist.
I’m not talking about Sesame Street’s Oscar. He’s cool. In fact, he hangs out with Blacks, including his best friends Gordon and Susan, lives in the ‘hood, and is the author of a book partially titled “The ‘Dark’ Genius of Oscar the Grouch.”
Also, he hates Fox News, which he disdainfully refers to as Pox News. So he’s cool.
But the same can’t be said about the Academy Award’s Oscar. That little bastard is no friend of African Americans. I call him little because he’s only 13 1/2 inches tall. And I call him a bastard because his parents, namely the present-day Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, weren’t married (i.e., officially organized as they are today) when they hooked up at The Hotel Roosevelt and gave birth to the then nameless offspring on May 16, 1929, in a secret (actually private) ceremony.
By the way, nobody knows for sure how he even got the name Oscar. However, the prevailing theory is that when the Academy’s executive secretary first saw him in 1931, she said he reminded her of her “Uncle Oscar.” A reporter supposedly heard her and wrote the story. The rest, as they say, is history.
That 1929 birthday event was held to “honor outstanding achievements of the 1927-1929 film season.” And a few years later, the Oscar statuette began to be presented as an award “of merit for distinctive achievement.”
But it wasn’t until a decade later that any African American did anything meritorious or distinctive in the motion picture industry — or at least that was the Academy’s position. Finally, in 1939, the multi-talented Hattie McDaniel became the first Black not only to win an Oscar but the first to be nominated.
McDaniel, who won for the Best Supporting Actress role in “Gone With The Wind,” was not just a great film actress, she was also a remarkable stage thespian, a skillful radio performer, a melodious singer who recorded with none other than Paul Robeson, a prolific songwriter and a key philanthropist to the Black community. She also was the daughter of formerly enslaved parents, and her father Henry fought in the Civil War as a member of the U.S. Colored Troops.
Her life is worthy of an Oscar. But the Oscar she won wasn’t for the dignified person who she was. Instead, it was for her demeaning role as Mammy, an enslaved maid. The demeaning would have been even more flagrant if the NAACP hadn’t succeeded in forcing the director to delete the frequent use of the word “nigger” before the film was seen by the public.
Fast forward nearly three quarters of a century. Did things get better? No. They got even worse in 2001 when the Academy awarded an Oscar for the Best Actor In A Leading Role category to one of this country’s greatest actors of all time, Denzel Washington. He received it for his portrayal of the brutal, ruthless, thieving and lying Detective Alonzo Harris in “Training Day.” He was snubbed in 1992 despite his powerfully and eerily realistic transformation into Malcolm X and in 1987 despite his just as powerfully and eerily realistic transformation into Steve Biko in “Cry Freedom.”
Well things certainly must have improved for African-American actresses. Nope. They didn’t. In fact, in 2001, they were just as problematic for Black women when the Academy decided that the Best Actress in a Leading Role award should go to the otherwise masterful Halle Berry for her portrayal as Leticia Moore in “Monster’s Ball.”
You mean to tell me that the first African-American actress in history to win the Best Leading Actress award had to be an alcoholic, poverty-stricken, willing sex toy of a racist prison guard, spouse of an accused cop killer, and mother of a lazy and shiftless son? What?
Did the Academy sleep through the stellar performances of Dorothy Dandridge as Carmen Jones in 1954, Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings The Blues” in 1972 and Cicely Tyson as Rebecca Morgan in “Sounder” also in 1972? And what was up in 2009 with that Best Actress in a Supporting Role award given to Mo’Nique in “Precious” as Mary Lee Johnson, the vile, child-abusing, welfare-cheating mother of an illiterate, incest-victimized, HIV-positive, “dark-skinned” daughter?
Just like last year, all of this year’s acting award nominees are lily white. I guess the Academy didn’t see, for example, the riveting Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” or the engrossing Michael B. Jordan in “Creed.” And although “Straight Outta Compton” played up the stereotypical “dangerous young Black men” theme, those NWA-portraying actors were exceptionally compelling. But not one of them was nominated. However, the four whites who wrote the screenplay were!
And I don’t care that the Academy selected a Black woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, as its president or a Black man, Chris Rock, as the host or another Black man, Reggie Hudlin, as the producer. We’re not fooled by Black faces on white supremacy any more than we’re fooled by a pig wearing make-up.
From 1929 through 2016, the Oscars have ignored, disrespected and demeaned us. But it’s partially our fault. Our folks often behave like an abused spouse who keeps coming back after every black eye and busted lip and bloodied nose. We keep saying he’s gonna change and he’s gonna treat us better. But he never does. And he never will.
Therefore, let’s follow the advice of Jada Pinkett Smith who said, “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity … So let’s let the Academy do them … and let’s do us… .”
In other words, support the NAACP Image Awards or create something similar- of, by, and for Blacks.
The words from David Walker’s Appeal, written in 1829, and the words of Christopher James Perry Sr., founder of The Tribune in 1884, are the inspiration for my “Freedom’s Journal” columns. In order to honor that pivotal nationalist abolitionist and that pioneering newspaper giant, as well as to inspire today’s Tribune readers, each column ends with Walker and Perry’s combined quote- along with my inserted voice- as follows: I ask all Blacks “to procure a copy of this … (weekly column) for it is designed particularly for them” so they can “make progress … against (racist) injustice.”