It certainly shouldn’t be a shock to anyone reading this when I say that there haven’t been very many acceptance speeches delivered by black artists (both in front of, and behind the camera) on the Oscar stage over the years. In fact, since the very first event in 1929 – 84 years ago – there have been roughly 30 black Oscar winners total! I’m not including “Honorary Oscars;” but even if I did (there’ve only been about 5 of those), the total number is still laughably small, relative to how long the awards have been in existence, and how many award categories there are.
Not to diminish the accomplishments of those who’ve won an Oscar, but we’ve still got a very long way to go before reaching anything that looks like *equality.* It’s even more of an embarrassment given how liberal Hollywood claims to be.
I wonder what a Republican-run Hollywood would look like; mind you, not today’s Republican, but maybe Lincoln’s Republicans, since the more seemingly progressive Republicans like to draw a distinction between the old Republican party of Lincoln’s time, and the new one that’s being over-run by extremists and blowhard radio talkshow hosts.
Some will question whether black artists should care about the validation that winning an Oscar might give them. In response to that, I’d say that, many DO care, whether you like it or not. When you’re working within a specific system, you adhere to the rules and regulations of that system, and you cherish the rewards that come from doing your job, as identified within that system. So if you’re hoping for a black boycott of the Oscars, don’t hold your breath.
But this is a problem that runs much deeper, and is bigger than one award show – something we’ve discussed, and continue to discuss on S&A.
Right now, as I look over my black Oscar history spreadsheet, I noticed a few items that I thought were worth mentioning in a post, since many of you are already in that head-space, as we head into tonight’s event.
The most significant is – considering the few black artists who just might be delivering Oscar acceptance speeches tonight – if Quvenzhané Wallis wins the Oscar for Best Actress, she will become only the 2nd black woman in the 84-year-old history of the Academy Awards to win in that category. The 2nd!
Of course, Halle Berry was the very first, over 10 years ago.
Denzel Washington holds the record when it comes to the most nominations for a black Actor: 4 Best Actor nominations, and 2 Best Supporting Actor nominations. One of those 4 Best Actor nominations happened this year, for his lauded work in Flight. He also holds the record for most total Oscar wins by a black actor – 1 for Best Actor, 1 for Best Supporting Actor. If he wins tonight, he’ll obviously stretch his lead by 1. He’ll also be the oldest black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar.
He actually already is the oldest black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar. When he won for Training Day, he was 47.
In the acting categories, Washington and Wallis are the only 2 black actors with nominations this year.
The 2 Oscar categories with the most wins by black artists may or may not surprise you: Best Supporting Actress (5 total winners – Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer); and Best Original Song (also 5 total winners Isaac Hayes for Shaft; Irene Cara for Flashdance; Stevie Wonder for I Just Called to Say I Love You in The Woman in Red; Lionel Richie for his contribution to the White Nights soundtrack, Say You, Say Me; and Three 6 Mafia for It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp in Hustle & Flow).
One of the most bothersome of all the key categories in which there has been virtually zero participation by black artists, is in the Best Director category.
Just twice during the 84-year history of the Oscars, has a black director been nominated in that category (John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood; and 20 years later, Lee Daniels for Precious).
Of course neither of them won, so, as it stands, there hasn’t been a single black director to win the Best Director Oscar, in the history of the ceremony.
Again, this is the result of a much larger issue of representation that I’m not going to get into here (feel free to read my Pondering The Seemingly Dismal Outlook For Black Filmmakers Working Within The Hollywood Studio System post), because we talk about these things often.
Still, it’s absolutely pathetic.
The same goes for Best Picture. A black film (a film with a primarily, or all-black cast, with a story or stories that revolve around that cast) has never won in that category. 4 nominations in 84 years; zero wins. And even if Django Unchained wins tonight, for many, it won’t be enough, considering the many issues around it that we’ve discussed ad naseam on this site – who’s story it tells, the POV and motivation of the writer/director, who’s white, etc.
But if Django does win for Best Picture, it’ll be producer Reginald Hudlin’s first Oscar win. In fact, it’s his first Oscar nomination ever! He’s only the 4th black producer to be nominated for Best Picture in the history of the Oscars.
And the same goes for Best Original Screenplay – 3 nominations (Suzanne de Passe for Lady Sings the Blues, Spike Lee for Do the Right Thing, John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood) but zero wins.
For Best Adapted Screenplay, Geoffrey Fletcher won for Precious – the only black winner in that category of 3 nominees in 84 years.
There are 2 other black Oscar winners with enough trophies to match Denzel’s 2 wins, and you probably don’t know who they are: Willie D. Burton and Russell Williams. And they both won in the same category: Best Sound Mixing.
Willie D. Burton is the most Oscar-nominated black talent ever, with 7 total nominations. If you can find another black person with more than 7 total nominations, let me know! But my research (digging through the Oscar’s own archives) tells me that he has the most Oscar nominations for a person of African descent.
Quincy Jones has 6. It’ll be 7 if I added his Humanitarian Award, but, as I said at the start, I’m not including any Honorary or Special awards.
Mr Burton was nominated for his work on The Buddy Holly Story (which made him the first black person to be nominated in that category), Altered States, WarGames, Bird, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Dreamgirls.
He’s won twice: for Bird and Dreamgirls.
Russell Williams was nominated in back-to-back years, and he won both times: for Glory (1989) and for Dances with Wolves (1990).
For Best Editing and Best Cinematography, 1 person has been nominated in each category: Hugh A. Robertson for Midnight Cowboy in 1969 (how many of you knew that a black editor cut Midnight Cowboy, a film that’s considered a classic today?). So, since 1969, a black editor hasn’t been nominated in that category.
Worth noting, Midnight Cowboy won three Academy Awards that year: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I think editors everywhere will argue strongly that Mr Robertson’s skill was of influence in the Best Picture win, especially.
And in 1998, Remi Adefarasin was nominated for his work as cinematographer on Elizabeth. He’s the first and the last DP of African descent to be nominated in that category. Of course, he didn’t win. But something tells me that an “up-and-comer” by the name of Bradford Young just might shake things up a bit in coming years.
Seriously, there are some strong DPs working right now, so I really hope they get the right opportunities to demonstrate their talent.
I could go on with this breakdown, but I’ll leave it there. I think there’s plenty here to chew on tonight, as we all watch the 85th Academy Awards, live on ABC.
I’ll probably be live-tweeting and *Facebooking* it, so, despite the lack of black nominees this year, I’m going to find a way to have fun, one way or another. There’s always something to talk about…