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Category: Denzel Washington

Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

February 24, 2012 |  5:01 pm

Hattie McDaniel

A decade ago, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington made history when they became the first African American performers to win the top acting Oscars in the same year, for "Monster's Ball" (Berry) and "Training Day" (Washington). A third black actor, Will Smith, also was nominated that year, and Sidney Poitier took home a lifetime achievement award. 

"This moment is so much bigger than me," Berry said at the time. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll.... This is for every faceless woman who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

But in the decade since, Berry's prediction has been slow to materialize, and a new UCLA study explores some of the underlying reasons why.

Oscars 2012: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

Titled "Not Quite a Breakthrough: The Oscars and Actors of Color, 2002-2012," the study was sponsored by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, UC Berkeley School of Law and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.Oscar voters study

Drawing a parallel between 2002 and 2012, the report notes in its opening paragraph that this year's Oscar nominees include two black women, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, as well as the Mexican actor Demián Bichir. The authors go on to observe that from 2002 through 2012, "almost 20 percent of nominees were people of color," a "notable increase" over the 9% of Oscar nominees in the top categories who were people of color between 1990 and 2000.

That's the good news. However, the study further observes that:

• All lead actress winners since 2002 have been white.
• No winner in any acting category during the last 10 years has been Latino, Asian
American or Native American.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color make fewer movies per year after their
nominations than their white peers do.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color are more likely than their white peers to
work in television, which is considered lower-status work.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color are less likely than their white peers to
receive subsequent nominations.

It's questionable whether television still is regarded as "lower-status work" than film, given the critical praise that's been heaped on ambitious, high-quality TV series such as "The Wire," "Treme" and "The Sopranos."

More complex is the question of why Oscar distribution tends to favor white over nonwhite actors. As a recent L.A. Times story documented, the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is indeed overwhelmingly white (94%) and male (77%). But the poor showing of nonwhite actors during Oscar season also simply reflects the under-representation of nonwhite actors in Hollywood films as a whole.

As L.A.Times reporter Lorenza Munoz wrote in a prescient March 2002 story about Washington and Berry's Oscar triumph, when individual nonwhite actors win Oscars they're unlikely to open doors for other nonwhites. That's because today's bottom-line-driven Hollywood studio industry is increasingly reliant on the international market, "where having minorities and women in starring roles is considered a detriment, particularly in action blockbusters," Munoz wrote.

Munoz's story went on to quote James Ulmer, author of "James Ulmer's Hollywood Hot List," which tracks actors' global marketability. "None of this is going to change the fact that you cannot package or sell [a movie] to the world market today with a black woman," Ulmer said of Berry and Washington's achievement. "I don't see [the Oscar win] as changing an industry where white male actors drive the train of the international marketplace." Those comments seem just as applicable, or more, today.

But, as the UCLA study's authors also observe, the issue isn't just the infrequency of nonwhite actors earning Oscar nominations and wins. It's also the limited types of roles for which nonwhite actors do  get nominated for Oscars. For example, they write, the Oscars still tend to reward black females not for playing women like Berry's tough, complex, erotically charged character in "Monster's Ball," but for roles that conform to old Hollywood racial stereotypes of black women "who are sassy, full-figured, maternal, or non-sexual."

"In short," the report asserts, "Hollywood has required black female Oscar nominees and winners to resemble Hattie McDaniel more than Halle Berry."

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-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Hattie McDaniel became the first African American female to win the supporting actress Oscar, playing Scarlett O'Hara's Mammy in "Gone With the Wind." Credit: Marc Wanamaker / Bison Archives


Will color return to this year's Oscar season?

September 21, 2011 |  8:31 am

Help

When Oscar nominations were announced earlier this year, it was impossible to avoid this unsubtle fact: All of the major nominees were white. And when the presenters had all taken their turn on the Kodak Theatre stage, not a single black man was among them, a fact that Samuel Jackson noted tartly in an email to a Times reporter.

It was a sharp turn from the 2009-10 season, when “Precious” and "The Blind Side" drew numerous accolades, and there were black nominees for best director, best picture and best actress (and black winners for best supporting actress and best adapted screenplay).

For anyone concerned about which way the Oscars could go this year, there's reason to take heart. As a new season gets underway, there are signs the Oscars could return to the diversity of two years ago. In fact, the show this year could match and even surpass those landmark events -- and not only because Eddie Murphy is presiding (the first black host since Chris Rock in 2004) or because Oprah Winfrey will be given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award,  the academy's honorary Oscar. It's the potential nominees themselves who offer the prospect of a more diverse Oscars.

And it could happen, notably, on the basis of more than just  one or two films -- and without the help of Oscar stalwarts such as Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Halle Berry or Will Smith, none of whom have new movies this year.

Driving the expectations, of course, is the Southern drama "The Help." Oscar handicappers are already predicting a best actress nomination for Viola Davis, while Octavia Spencer could be in the mix too, likely in the supporting category.

There's also T.J. Martin, co-director of the documentary "The Undefeated,” which was a hit at the South by Southwest festival in March and wowed crowds at the Toronto Film Festival last week. A football documentary about a black high school in Memphis, Tenn., the movie is getting a release from Weinstein Co. and has a solid shot at a doc nomination. Martin would be only the second black director ever to be nominated in the documentary category.

But it's hardly just those films, or even race-themed movies in general, that could color in the Oscars. Steve McQueen, director of "Shame" (about a sex addict and dysfunctional sibling relationship, not about race at all), generated buzz at early fall film festivals and is shaping up as a strong contender this season. If the sophomore filmmaker lands the nomination, he would become only the third black director to ever be nominated.

(Asked about the subject of race and the Oscars in an interview with 24 Frames, McQueen said he wanted to think about it a little more before answering and would get back to us later in the season. The BAFTA winner did note that he believed racism, both in the entertainment business and society at large, was far worse in his native Britain than the United States.)

Joining these Oscar hopefuls is director Dee Rees and the actors of "Pariah," a favorite from this past year's Sundance Film Festival that features an almost entirely black cast and deals as much with themes of sexuality as with race. Focus Features is releasing the micro-indie and is expected to give it an awards push.

Davis may also have a shot at a supporting actress nomination with her part in Stephen Daldry's much-anticipated (though so far unseen) 9/11-themed literary adaptation "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

At a time when black actors say there's a dearth of meaty parts, it's hard not to find at least some encouragement in all of this. A new class of black actors is getting a bit more of a toehold in prestige movies -- witness Davis springboarding to these parts from her role in "Doubt" a few years back.

Hollywood still makes fewer serious movies than it has in a long time, and minorities struggle to land parts in those films. But the early indications, at least, are that the Oscars this year look a little less like the rest of Hollywood and a bit more like the real world.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

 Photo: Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help." Credit: DreamWorks



Does Hollywood discriminate against young black actors?

March 4, 2011 |  3:25 pm

  Adjust
Shortly after the Oscars ended Sunday, Samuel L. Jackson sent an e-mail to a Times reporter wondering why no black men had been chosen to present awards on the film world's biggest stage.

"It's obvious there's not ONE Black male actor in Hollywood that's able to read a teleprompter, or that's 'hip enuf,' for the new academy demographic!" Jackson wrote. "In the Hollywood I saw tonite, I don't exist nor does Denzel, Eddie, Will, Jamie, or even a young comer like Anthony Mackie!"

Jackson may be on to something, at least when it comes to the young comers.

There is still a sizable number of black actors in Hollywood with box-office clout and meaty roles, a point that will be underscored when the NAACP hands out its annual Image Awards in Los Angeles Friday night. Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world, a title he's held now for several years, and Denzel Washington remains at the peak of his box-office powers.

But most of the prominent male black stars sit on the other side of 40. The best known of the next generation -- say, Derek Luke (36), Chiwetel Eijofor (33), Idris Elba (39) and Mackie (31) -- are not only less influential, they're not nearly as popular in their 30s as the previous crop was at their age. (Washington, for instance, had already won an Oscar and made "Glory," "Malcolm X" and "Philadelphia" before he hit the big 4-0.)

That's not because any of these actors aren't capable of pulling off a "Malcolm X" or a "Philadelphia," of course. It's because they're not given the chance. Mackie has one of the more substantive studio roles for a younger black actor in a while as Matt Damon's guardian angel in this weekend's "The Adjustment Bureau." But it's hardly the role of a lifetime.

"It's frustrating that the movies I want to make I haven't been able to make," Mackie told 24 Frames. "Orlando Bloom was given 15 opportunities after 'Lord of the Rings.' Black men are given no opportunities."

Race in Hollywood is a subject close to Mackie's heart. He's studiously avoided the "Who's Your Caddys" and "Big Momma's Houses" of the film world, going instead to indies such as "The Hurt Locker" and, almost as frequently, to the stage.

"In the  early 1990's, every black actor you know now was starting out and making movies. They were  making more movies under Daddy Bush than we are under Obama, which is ridiculous," Mackie said.

The scarcity of black roles in 2011 is partly a function of fewer movies being made, and certainly fewer serious-minded movies at the studios. When Washington and Smith were coming up, there were routinely chances to make those types of films. (Smith made "Six Degrees of Separation" with MGM when he was 24 and in the middle of shooting a network sitcom.) Now you need to go indie or wait for lightning to strike at a studio.

The growth of the black-comedy niche may also have, paradoxically, resulted in fewer opportunities, as black actors get cordoned off in the land of "Soul Plane."

But while some studio executives will privately say they're simply reacting to the marketplace realities when it comes to casting younger black actors in lead roles of mainstream films, the actors don't buy it. "They say there's not an audience for black stars, but that's because you're not feeding [audiences] them," Mackie said.

Actors can take a long time to develop their talents and establish a relationship with an audience. The dearth of young black actors may be obscured in 2011, with Washington and Smith -- not to mention Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker and others -- still making movies. But one wonders what type of entertainment world we'll be occupying when these stars are in their 50s and 60s and Hollywood has cultivated almost no one to take their place.

--Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo: Anthony Mackie, left, John Slattery and others in "The Adjustment Bureau." Credit: Universal Pictures 


'Book of Eli' star Denzel Washington, at an action-movie crossroads

January 14, 2010 |  7:00 am

Denzel

Denzel Washington, whose "The Book of Eli" opens this weekend to what will likely be strong box office, has worked with Tony Scott on four previous movies and recently wrapped their fifth, a train thriller titled "Unstoppable" with newly minted Captain Kirk Chris Pine.

The title "Unstoppable" carries particular irony because the project was delayed several times by what insiders have said were diverse factors such as budget-related studio reluctance and star hesitation.

So how unwilling was Washington? In a conversation about the religious and other aspects of "Eli" -- he notes, incidentally, that Warner Bros. wanted Bible references toned down to the point that "it sometimes got ridiculous in how you were trying to hide it"; see the full fruits of that interview here -- the actor tells 24 Frames that he pretty much didn't want to make "Unstoppable."

"To be honest with you, I didn't want to do the movie," Washington said. "The studio [Fox] didn't care. I said, 'I don't want to do it' and they said 'Good, get out.' I said, 'Fine.' But then Tony said, 'I don't want to do it unless he [Denzel] does it.' The way it was told to me, he said, 'If he's out, I'm out.'"

That prompted Scott to make the hard sell to Washington. "Tony just wouldn't let it go," Washington continued. "I said, 'Come on.' He said, 'I need you, I need you.'" I said [going to a whimpering-little-boy voice], 'I don't want to be on top of a train.'"

So what made Washington finally relent? "Because I love him. What am I going to do?" he said, adding, "That was one for him. He owes me one now."

Scott's recollection of events pretty much dovetails with Washington's -- though he's not shy about putting a fine point on it: "I kept beating on his door and saying ... do it." (Washington, as he was later hanging on to a train hurtling along at something like 50 mph, recalled quipping to Pine, "You know we're all just pawns, right? It's all about the trains.")

Washington's future holds a few other possibilities. He's soon headed to Broadway for an August Wilson revival, is toying with the idea of moving forward on a World War II drama called "Brothers In Arms" and is even contemplating a return to the political roles for which he became famous earlier in his career. A South African producer has recently sent him a script about a person he describes as a "prominent" South African politician ... who may or may not be currently personified on screen by Morgan Freeman. Whatever Denzel takes on -- for now, at least -- he seems to be hopping off the action train.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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