When Octavia Spencer won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last night, I thought this blog had written itself. All I needed to do was list the names and roles of black women who had won Oscars, make a few comments about some very obvious things, and keep it moving. However, Meryl Streep’s shocking win over the presumed winner of the Best Actress award, Viola Davis, threw a bit of a wrinkle in that plan.
I’ve made it very clear that I was neither in support of The Help nor black actresses only being awarded for their craft when they reinvigorate old stereotypes that are both problematic and troublesome. I wonder, though, how many understand Davis’ unexpected loss. It seems like there are a few ways to interpret it:
- Are we happy about this “snubbing,” and understand it as a kind of “justice”? Does Davis’ loss come with the comfort that finally a black actor does not receive the admiration and respect of her peers by helping bring a kinder, gentler version of racism to the fore? Does losing the Oscar obscure all the other ways this role was validated with Davis having already received a slew of awards for it?
- Are we upset that Davis lost? After all, although Davis’ role was problematic, we must admit that until Tyler Perry gets his game up, (Oscar-worthy) roles for black women are incredibly few and far between. Therefore, do we temporarily put our problems with Davis’ role aside in exchange for a position that finds the symbol of awarding a black woman for her role in a mainstream movie more important, as it would both (theoretically) give the actress a career bump and highlight the skills of black women actors?
- Is there a position somewhere between these polarities where we can hold both of these opinions? Do these perspectives meet somewhere in the middle and generate a more complicated appreciation of what happened this awards season?