In the current climate, the best you can hope for is to shift the Black narrative forward, just a bit. For this reason, Ava Duvernay has won.
As I look at the Oscar winners today, I see that imagination, to an extent, is being honored: “Birdman”, “Boyhood”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. But while white boys and girls get to play, we get to be mired in the past. Now, what Ava has done, within this context, with knowing that this is where Hollywood is (because, based on her previous work and work that she champions, she is clear about the need for Black creativity in cinema), Ms. Duvernay worked with what was before her and transformed the narrative.
A month or so ago, I saw Ms. Duvernay on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. She stated that she wanted to make a film that made Black people proud of the Civil Rights Movement, about the people in the movement. Stop. Take that in. 1960’s cinema has been delivered to us in a way that was not concerned with making us proud about it. “The Help”, good grief. “Mississippi Burning”, good grief. I don’t want to think about it. If given the screenplay, in the current climate, I do believe most filmmakers would have colored within the lines. Ava chose not to do that. She chose to move Black America’s narrative forward.
As we see, there was a cost to that. People, especially Hollywood, are very comfortable with seeing Black folks presented in a certain way. To be creative, within that context, is a challenge. But, Duvernay achieved that. And, for that, she gets the prize. This is the cost of being a Black creative in these times. If you attempt to change the narrative, it isn’t going to feel good. You are going to take hits, be maligned, be misunderstood. Because, simply, folks ain’t seen nothin’ like it before. Certainly, we are aware of Black creativity in cinema- see Terrence Nance, see “Newlyweeds,” watch “Evolution of A Criminal” (http://video.pbs.org/video/2365383781/). We know it exists. But, the marketplace isn’t championing it.
We have our Azealia Banks and Flying Lotus in music. They are creative and fierce and challenging. I even believe that Beyonce is an artist. Yes, within the pop climate, she has found a way to be creative within the confinements of the marketplace. We have yet to see this same bold creativity in cinema and television. The publishing world even allows a space for creativity with Teju Cole and Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward. But, that creativity has not translated to film.
Trust her work; Ava has shifted the paradigm. I believe that. Steve McQueen has, too. No, not Tarantino folks. Even he used a White male to deliver the story of an enslaved Black man. Ava has done a great deal. And, I look forward to work in the future.
And, whereas I am seeing a lot of conversation about Ava being slighted because she is Black, her being a woman is missing in the conversation. What she has achieved has broken ground. And, I do wonder how her being a woman challenges a majority male club. As we continue the conversations, let’s remember this fact.
Folks, it’s all politics. People are playing a game that they’ve been playing for years. I believe we are getting better at the game. And, we are bringing our creativity to the game. For that, I am hopeful. I would advise you not to step into the ring if you can’t sustain blows. Because blows will come often and they will come hard. Ava has stood in the ring, she has taken hits and she is winning. I believe she will continue to do great things. She has used her platform to advance the careers of others. She has offered a kind word and venues for others as she climbs. She has been amazing on many fronts. She has gone above and beyond in ways that we will never know. And, for that alone, she wins.
Ava and David Oyelowo mirrored the collaborative spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. In the tradition of Scorsese and other Directors, Ava and David are building a relationship together. A muse for one another. It is this spirit of collaboration, a Black male Actor championing a Black woman Director, that is brilliance. Because, in the current landscape, Black males (however limited), have the power in Hollywood. Yes, Oprah Winfrey does, but even she has been supportive of Black male Directors. From what I’ve read, David inspired Oprah to support Ava. For the last few decades, Black men in Hollywood have done very little to bring Black women to the table. So, I love seeing the relationship that Ava and David are building. (Just as I love the relationship between Gina Prince-Bythewood and Nate Parker.) And, the relationship began before “Selma.” David appeared in a Black woman’s film when she was in the trenches of independent cinema. This is something few Black Actors are willing to do. For this, I tip my hat to David. For all of the talk about British Actors and their training (honestly, that needs to stop. It’s creating a rift where there doesn’t need to be one), I would say, David’s belief in a Black woman Director deserves praise. It is a rare and beautiful thing to witness. And, of course, Ava’s support of David, her belief in his talent, is awesome!
Imagination is the true issue, here. Black people are not allowed to imagine themselves beyond the narrative that Hollywood serves us. Meanwhile, White boys can take 12 years to make a film and get funding along the way. White boys can make a flick about anything they can imagine. And, mind you, I am all for awarding films that celebrate imagination. That’s why I’m a creative, my imagination means the world to me. The trouble is, imagining Black people and people of color beyond what we have seen- comes with a price.
And, in our attempts to bring diversity to Hollywood, let us remember that Native Americans, Asians, hell, most people of color, need to be represented as well.
Support one another as you climb. Keep creating. And know, this is our leg of the journey to change America. We have to change the way things are done so that our children can create, dream, live well and win awards, too. And, if you are a Black creative or creative of color who hasn’t figured out that we need to support one another – get out of the way; you are slowing down the movement! We are loosening the chains of the Black Hollywood that believed they needed to work with White Directors for the work to have value. That sh** is old news!
This is my takeaway from this awards season: BLACK COLLABORATION IS THE NEW BLACK!