The excellence of Black Hollywood doesn’t need to be validated by mainstream awards
I have to ask why we should ever give a damn about the Oscars, Golden Globes, or Emmys failing to be inclusive of us.
by Khaaliq Crowder
As a Black millennial, I sometimes forget about the advantage that folks of my generation have as opposed to our grandparents and older relatives when it comes to media representation. Black people weren’t always in movies, and when we were, our presence was seldom.
My grandparents, who grew in the 1930s and ‘40s did not have performers with the kind of visibility that the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, or Audrey Hepburns had. They didn’t have many massive Hollywood stars and entertainers who looked like them, we do. In the 1990s and mid-2000s, Black culture was virtually everywhere in Hollywood. We had movies we now deem as classics and actors we consider the greatest for their stunning looks, screen presence, and wide range in pivotal roles.
Who can forget the strength and vulnerability of Janet Jackson’s character Justice in the urban Black romance film Poetic Justice? What about the assertiveness and confidence of Denzel Washington in films like Philadelphia and He Got Game? The cautionary tales of Black boys in an inner-city environment of Boyz In the Hood or Menace II Society. Or the solidarity of Black women faced with adversity — whether romantic or systemic oppression — like in Waiting to Exhale and Set It Off. We can’t forget what has become embedded in Black internet culture as relationship goals, Love Jones and Love & Basketball, where Black love is found through passion for art and sports, respectively.
It didn’t matter whether or not these films took home a bunch of mainstream awards, were box office hits, or what (mostly white male) critics had to say about them. Movies like these struck a chord with our culture. They bonded many of us together no matter our location, ethnicity, or socio-economic background and readily made available whether an auntie had a brigade of them in her DVD collection or via channels like BET and Starz in Black.
With so many old and new gems asaparta of our culture, films that speak directly to Black audiences, I have to ask why we should ever give a damn about the Oscars, Golden Globes, or Emmys failing to be inclusive of us to the point where hashtag like #OscarsSoWhite and #EmmysSoWhite have been created to address their constant oversight.
Some may believe we need not segregate ourselves with different award shows, but I believe in the exact opposite, with much enthusiasm. In an interview with Sway Calloway, comedian Mo’Nique addressed the significance of taking home an NAACP Image Award as opposed to an Oscar.
“I understand why people always say Academy Award winner. Cause its conditioning and we believe that the Academy Award is the be all to end all, it’s the greatest award. For me, it wasn’t the Oscar. For me, it was the Image Award because as a little girl when I watched the Oscars, I didn’t see people that looked like me get that award. So, my dream was to never get an Oscar, but when I watched the Image Awards, and I saw those women that looked like me being called up on that stage, I said one-day baby they gon call my name for that award.”
Mo’Nique’s backing for the Image Awards to be valued in Black pop culture isn’t far off from my own mom’s speech to me when I would observe awards seasons to see if any films starring our people would get acknowledgment.
And truth be told, four years later, as an older and wiser person, I understand the importance of that energy in the age of #OscarsSoWhite. There is also something to be said for when Black creatives seemingly only take home awards for portraying a stereotype or real-life historical trope (i.e., Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years A Slave) or when a Black host is chosen to provide comic relief despite the lack of our presence in the nominations and eventual wins. Not to mention, how bothersome it can be to still be witnessing Black Firsts, especially in this industry where many Black actors and filmmakers are finally getting the recognition they deserve.
It’s time Black audiences put more value in awards like the NAACP Image Awards and the relatively new African-American Film Critics Association Awards. We continue to break boundaries in Black cinema with films like the Afro-futuristic Black Panther and the Oakland-set fantasy-comedy about upward mobility in Sorry to Bother You.
A 2018 study done by the UCLA Hollywood Diversity report found that in the year 2016, Black folks only made up only 12.5 percent in shared film roles as compared to whites, who overwhelmingly made up 78.1 percent. It’s basically a given that we are bound to be thought of less, despite our excellence, because of this underrepresentation. Moreover, our films can’t be properly honored at mainstream award shows when the committees who are in charge of nominations are mostly white as well.
The red-carpet fashion may be alluring and we may have been taught to value these awards more than celebration and recognition from our own community, but we should not continue to pedestal awards shows that never appreciate Black people the way they should. We have our own. Let’s stop taking them for granted and start valuing them more in this new Black Renaissance.
Khaaliq Crowder is from Long Island, NY and is a senior at the University of New Haven studying journalism, with minors in Black Studies, photography and theater arts. He has interned at New York City’s HOT 97 and currently interns at VIBE Magazine. His work has appeared in latter magazine along with Blavity, YES! Magazine Caged Bird Magazine & HerCampus. Follow him on Twitter & IG: @Leeky_Knowles