Oscar Blackout Alert: The Academy Awards could be very, very white this year
Very few stories about the Oscars actually grab my attention, but the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday had a truly depressing story on its website suggesting that, as Gregg Kilday and Matthew Belloni put it, "for the first time since the 73rd Oscars 10 years ago, there will be no black nominees in any of the acting categories in the February ceremony." The article quotes filmmaker John Singleton, who says, "It's more difficult than ever to get a picture made with any serious subject matter -- let alone an ethnic-themed one."
Ouch! The Reporter makes a solid case that if the current awards-season films (think "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "The Social Network," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Hereafter") have anything in common, it's that they don't have any African American actors in any leading roles, much less any black filmmakers behind the camera. I'm sure Lionsgate is hoping it could stage an awards campaign for Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls," because it has a classy theatrical pedigree and loads of African American talent in the cast. But it remains to be seen if Perry, best known for his ribald comedies, can deliver the kind of drama that would be Oscar bait.
So why are the Oscars so white? Was last year's respectable representation of black actors just a fluke, thanks to "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," which earned six nominations, one of which yielded a best supporting actress victory for Mo'Nique? You certainly can't blame the academy, which has been willing to hand out nominations to deserving African American talent, even giving Singleton a best director nomination on his first film, "Boyz N The Hood." (Although I'm sure Spike Lee would still say, and rightfully so, that he and Denzel Washington got robbed on "Malcolm X.")
The problem actually starts at the top. You have to remember that dramas, not comedies, earn Oscar nominations. And if there were more black executives running the studios, the studios would be far more likely to not only make low-budget, low-brow African American comedies, but make an occasional black-themed drama. But because the studio executive ranks are lily-white, there's no one on the inside lobbying for that kind of material. And there are also shockingly few African American filmmakers in the indie film community, which is the breeding ground for most of the indie dramas that end up as awards hopefuls.
It's a vicious cycle. If there were more African American talent making movies, we'd see more black actors making the rounds at Oscar time. But studio chiefs still believe that a drama with an African American cast is box-office poison. And until someone proves them wrong, the Oscars are going to continue to feature a lot fewer people of color than we get to see in the rest of today's society. It's time for a change, but I've got to say that when it comes to Oscar opportunities for black talent in Hollywood, change has been far too long in coming.
Photo: Mo'Nique, pictured with her best supporting actress trophy, at the Academy Awards. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times