The Oscars were Sunday night, and I have to say I didn’t think my weekend would end with so much frustration. When looking at the nominations for this year, I was already predicting a disappointing awards ceremony due to the old, white, boy’s club, otherwise known as the Academy. However, I was not expecting my experience to start with Billy Crystal in blackface for his impression of Sammy Davis Jr. Feministing’s Vanessa Valenti talks about Crystal’s use of blackface being a “historically racist act that’s been practiced in theater and film as a way to stereotype black people – and regardless of comedic intentions, that history and hurt it’s caused the black community trumps.” With The Academy already perpetuating white male dominance through its membership, this just blew my mind.
I was extremely disappointed with Viola Davis’ loss for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Sasha Stone at Awards Daily articulates my frustration well when she explains, “The Best Actress race is not a fair fight to begin with. There aren’t producers and Oscar dream makers lining up to make Oscar-winning roles for black women in their 40s. And though people like David Poland and Jeff Wells say things like ‘Viola Davis will have plenty of chances,’ those of us at this long enough know that just ain’t true.” Hollywood reality being what it is, there may not be many other chances for Davis to be nominated again. After the nominations were announced this year, Davis explained that “there aren’t a lot of roles out there that are going to bring you back. Say if you have two great roles for an African-American actress in a year – one actress can cover it.” Come on Academy, why couldn’t you have just recognized Davis’ talent and given her the much-deserved win? It would’ve made her only the second black woman to win Best Actress in the entire 84 years of The Oscars. With 3 Oscar wins including this year, as well as a whopping 14 nominations besides those, I feel confident in saying that Meryl Streep will probably have another nomination in her future. Stone reminds us that it isn’t just the members of the Academy that contribute to few actors of color being nominated. “The key to this discussion is how impossible and improbable it would be for an actress like Davis ever to get a part like Streep got in The Iron Lady.”
I was also disappointed to see Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s original screenplay for Bridesmaids lose to Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris. An old white guy wins for a movie about a young, rich, straight white guy, what a surprise!
There were some positive moments throughout the night, including Octavia Spencer’s win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in The Help. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Documentary Short win for Saving Face was also a positive point, winning the first Oscar for Pakistan. The documentary follows the work of a British plastic surgeon as he helps women who have been attacked with acid.
Stone feels that “the Oscars aren’t really anything important. They aren’t curing cancer or helping the poor. They are a night for back-patting and really nothing more. They can’t mean anything because the people voting on them don’t consider them carefully enough for them to mean something.” While I do agree that a lot of times the awards are not given based on actual talent, I believe the Oscars are still very influential in reinforcing what our idea of a “good” movie is. If the films represented at The Oscars continue to be stories of white men and boys, it sends the message that those are the only stories that matter and are worthy of publicity and honor.
To find out about upcoming films that share the voices of female filmmakers and individuals that aren’t white or male, follow the postings on blogs like Women and Hollywood, Colorlines, Racialicious, and Feministing. Also check out our own WAM!Boston Film Festival coming up at the end of March!