Last night at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, Halle Berry introduced an extended tribute to Lena Horne. Horne was an actress, singer, and activist who faced numerous obstacles throughout her professional career and found acceptance as an artist and a performer to be an uphill battle.
She passed away last May, but the struggle didn’t die with her.
Far from it, in fact. For despite over fifty years of work by people like Horne to change perceptions and open up doors in Hollywood, there was not a single black nominee for an Oscar this year.
Some such as Whoopi Goldberg would insist it’s not a trend, but the silver and small screens don’t lie. This isn’t a statement on the Academy Awards so much as the industry as a whole, which continues to keep its doors closed to black artists. Black films and television shows are an anomaly in the 21st Century. On the rare occasion they do get made, they only get acclaim if they show black America trampled under foot and experiencing the harsh travails that come as a result of racism.
Apropos? Perhaps, given that the entertainment industry continues to whitewash America despite periodic glad-handing such as airing a tribute to a woman whose work has not gone unnoticed, but whose aspirations for a more welcoming entertainment industry have gone unrealized.
Strides have been made since Hattie McDaniel won her Oscar in 1940. Blacks are not subject to the same abuses, mistreatments, and injustices both on and off-screen that Ms. McDaniel had to endure. However, the counterpoint to that should have been better black roles, not a near disappearance from the mainstream.
Then again, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that the Oscars are so out of touch given last night’s ceremony, which tried to put pretty stars and starlets in the roles of comedian hosts. The result was like watching a butcher try to perform open-heart surgery, with non-jokes and egotistical snark (“good job nerds,” James Franco said after a segment was shown congratulating the technical achievements of people who have made it their life’s work to make him not appear insufferable) triumphing over entertainment.
Regardless, if there’s one thing to take out of this year’s Academy Awards, it’s not the terrible jokes or the lousy presentation or even some questionable choices of attire. It is, instead, that a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism and achievements in the area of civil rights has an entertainment industry that, both at home and abroad, only exports the white experience.
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