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Why the Oscars Don’t Deserve People of Color

Something Strange About Which People of Color Actually DO Win an Oscar:

"If one reviews the times that African people have won the Oscar, be it for Best Actor/Actress or in the Supporting categories, they all have been roles where the character is demeaned and victimized. Even Sidney Poitier’s win in 1963 was for the anti-Communist LILLIES OF THE FIELD, a picture produced just over ten years after Paul Robeson had his passport revoked for being pro-Soviet. Hattie McDaniel won an award for playing a character actually named Mammy. Denzel Washington did not win for playing Malcolm X, he instead earned a golden statue once for a role where he literally is whipped for being insolent and another where he plays an over-sexed, corrupt, drug-peddling policeman who gets killed in a hail of bullets from his mobster paymasters at the end. Jamie Foxx won his statue for portraying Ray Charles as an over-sexed dope head. And Forest Whitaker had to eat human flesh on screen to get the gold. Whoopi Goldberg won for playing a con artist while Halle Berry was even more dubious in character when she took the win. Lupita Nyong’o’s win in 2013 was for getting brutalized and raped on screen."
—Andrew Stewart


Hattie McDaniels (left) was the first African-American to win an Oscar for her role in Gone With The Wind.  In the film her character was actually named "Mammy". It would be 51 years before another African-American  woman would win an award (Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, where she played a maid-like facilitator, similar to  McDaniel's "Mammy" character).
Hattie McDaniels (left) was the first African-American to win an Oscar for her role in Gone With The Wind.
In the film her character was actually named "Mammy". It would be 51 years before another African-American
woman would win an award (Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, where she played a maid-like facilitator, similar to
McDaniel's "Mammy" character).


Why the Oscars Don’t Deserve People of Color


By
This could be an undermining revolution and Mr. [Louis B.] Mayer was one of those Russians who loathed revolutions. So he got a few friends together and said they needed some formula to make unions unnecessary. It would be a way of settling disputes before they arose… So Mr. Mayer and his pals decided they needed an organization to handle labor problems at the studio without having to get into the union thing, and it would be a public relations operation that pumped out the message that Hollywood was a wonderful place where delightful and thrilling stories were made to give the folks a good time. They liked the scheme and wondered what to call this organization. It needed a word with class, history, distinction . . . ? In a few more days they had fleshed it out: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The “Arts and Sciences” touch was genius because it made you think the Academy had always been there, arranged by God and Harvard and Albert Einstein.

-David Thomson, The House That Mr. Mayer Built: Inside the Union-Busting Birth of the Academy Awards

The latest fiasco in Hollywood, a city populated by people who are perpetually up their own behinds and removed from reality, is the slate of Oscar nominees, which could double as a roster for the caucasian invasion. There is a boycott, Twitter hashtag, and the predictable slew of statements and rebuttals coming from various personalities. Michael Caine and Charlotte Rampling have been particularly offensive, Danny DeVito has been been brutally honest in calling the whole show racist, and Spike Lee has been, well, Spike.

But the fact is that no one is saying the obvious thing: the Academy does not deserve the great performers it consistently passes over.

Let us begin with just an examination of the nominees. One of the films nominated for Best Documentary Feature is WINTER ON FIRE: UKRAINE’S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, which I have previously called TRIUMPH OF THE WILL 2.0. Nominated for Best Documentary Short is CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH. For those who are not savvy, Lanzmann’s documentary SHOAH is arguably one of the foundational cornerstones of what Dr. Norman Finkelstein called “The Holocaust Industry”. Hollywood itself understands this phenomenon very well, that is why a studio executive once said with much irony “There’s no business like Shoah business”. The late Dr. Edward Said said in an episode of the British television show EXILES in 1988 of Lanzmann’s film “This is the legitimization of what has happened to us as a people, the Palestinians.”

In other words, we are dealing with an awards ceremony that is honoring through nomination one picture that celebrates unrepentant neo-fascism and a stab at neoliberal hegemony in Eastern Europe while another glorifies a man who famously broke with the French Communist Party over Israel and has spent his career conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Even the much-lauded TRUMBO, a film I enjoyed and which is nominated for Best Picture, falters in its inability to critique SPARTACUS and EXODUS, the two films that helped break the black list, for their Zionist ideological coordinates. Why look for validation in such company?

But there is another issue at play, a deeper one. If one reviews the times that African people have won the Oscar, be it for Best Actor/Actress or in the Supporting categories, they all have been roles where the character is demeaned and victimized. Even Sidney Poitier’s win in 1963 was for the anti-Communist LILLIES OF THE FIELD, a picture produced just over ten years after Paul Robeson had his passport revoked for being pro-Soviet. Hattie McDaniel won an award for playing a character actually named Mammy. Denzel Washington did not win for playing Malcolm X, he instead earned a golden statue once for a role where he literally is whipped for being insolent and another where he plays an over-sexed, corrupt, drug-peddling policeman who gets killed in a hail of bullets from his mobster paymasters at the end. Jamie Foxx won his statue for portraying Ray Charles as an over-sexed dope head. And Forest Whitaker had to eat human flesh on screen to get the gold.

Whoopi Goldberg won for playing a con artist while Halle Berry was even more dubious in character when she took the win. Lupita Nyong’o’s win in 2013 was for getting brutalized and raped on screen in a film Armond White called torture porn that white supremacists could love because of how it de-contextualized and objectified slavery as a historical once-upon-a-time instead of one form of white supremacist capitalism that continues to victimize and torture people of color, moving from the plantation-industrial to prison-industrial complex. And while SELMA’s Best Picture snub was controversial, what no one thought to mention in that discourse was what Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report highlighted , “Oprah insults Black SNCC civil rights heroes, but she protects the white, rich Kennedys.” I doubt one must be André Bazin to notice a pattern here. When one understands that the Oscars were founded as pro-capitalist, then a certain disparity becomes obvious. As Dr. Tony Monteiro and others have emphasized, the struggle for African American emancipation has always been inherently anti-capitalist in part because this struggle began as a battle against the most brutal form of capitalism in human history, the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This is why great minds like Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all completed their journeys through white supremacy and ended up embracing anti-capitalism in some form or another. Some chose the Communist Party, a movement that, despite its flaws, was always one of the most militant anti-racist political parties in American history.
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