Publicity still of Lena Horne

Lena Horne, who passed away last May, struggled to find acceptance for black actors in Hollywood. That struggle continues despite insistence to the contrary. Image via Wikipedia

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.

20 Responses to Oscars snub black actors and artisans

  1. A. says:

    Maybe all of the ideas presented glorified a culture borne of denied educational opportunities…and just consisted of people committing crimes, going to jail, and speaking improper English. Haven’t we seen enough of that? There ARE other demographics of AA folk, but maybe there wasn’t material that reflected that, or maybe people thought it wouldn’t “sell”…

  2. Megan Willis says:

    Your post recalls for me the greatest Academy Award snubbing of blackness in a single year, The Color Purple with 11 nominations, 0 wins. And the hosting this here, I can finally say there’s something I didn’t like James Franco in.

  3. Billy The Kidd says:

    What do you expect,Hollywood is run exclusively by L_I_B_E_R_A_L_S !!!!!

  4. peterb says:

    That minorities are under-represented in the movies is a fact. You have to keep in mind that motion pictures are a business and will always cater to the demographic that actually buys tickets.

    That demographic is predominantly and quite obviously, young, white and (relatively) affluent.

  5. Brad says:

    I think it’s a question of “Chicken or the egg” honestly… There seems to be a lack of black actors. Less black actors = less films, or vice versa. Other than Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman, Denzel, and Halle Berry… there seems to be less “serious” actors in the business. Everyone else works for Tyler Perry.

  6. Megan Willis says:

    Kevin Marshall – you are correct, sir!

  7. Eric says:

    I’m going to call shenanigans on Brad. SHENANIGANS!

    Your list leaves off James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, Forrest Whitaker, Lynn Whitfield, Djimon Hounsou, Cicely Tyson, Laurence Fishburne, Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Jeffrey Wright, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Taraji Henson, Sophie Okonedo, Terence Howard, Danny Glover, Louis Gossett Jr., Yaphet Kotto, Isaach De Bankolé….

    …And that’s only folks I thought of off the top of my head in the last five minutes or so.

  8. crabby old Emily says:

    How many blog posts are on the TU? How many are written by African Americans?
    Sorry, but Hollywood is no different from anywhere else in the country.
    Before judging your neighbors, make sure to check your own back yard!

  9. crabby old Emily says:

    I guess i don’t know all the technical terms “reader blogger” is new to me.
    But my point is that minorities are underrepresented in almost every aspect of life in America.
    What about actresses over the age of 50? What happens to them? Besides Helen Mirren, she is like a poster child for AARP.
    I have to agree with PeterB #4. Its a money business.

  10. Paper Street Soap Company says:

    Do you want to see a place with a lot of blacks posting? Try here:

    A good number of whites as well – but I’d say blacks are over-represented in this crowd.

    – ty

  11. Rob Madeo says:

    Yes, I can’t believe the Academy snubbed Lottery Ticket.

  12. Tony Barbaro says:

    Isn’t that why they are called minorities? about fat people in Hollywood….there are way more fat people in the regular world….it’s descrimination. When wil someone have a telethon for US?

  13. Mickey says:

    I am proud of having avoided the Academy Awards entirely. What a complete waste of time. Presenting a trip from boredom all the way to tedium and back as an art form doesn’t do a thing for me.

  14. Brad says:

    @Eric – Granted, I thought of a few more after I made that comment, but in an attempt to prove me wrong, you just proved my point. I’ve heard of half of those actors, so I feel like you’re stretching. What was Adewale Agbaje last famous for, other than being killed off in the second season of “LOST?” Because if you want to start naming off white actors and actresses, be my guest.

  15. Eric says:

    Yeah, by switching the argument, you kind of reinforce the original point that there are plenty of serious black actors, but they’re just not getting regular work (Also, perhaps making another point that we don’t really nominate the best actors, but the most noticeable ones. The late Pete Postlethwaite was award-less when he died).

    In addition, there’s a second part to your argument where it’s implied that “serious” actors can’t do…I’m not sure what’s represented by Tyler Perry. Comedy? Genre? Lowbrow?

    I don’t think it’s fair to paint only black actors with this broad brush. Academy Award winner Natalie Portman was in a date movie with Ashton Kutcher immediately following her winning performance in Black Swan. Academy Award winner Colin Firth counts among his filmography two Bridget Jones movies, and a film starring Amanda Bynes. Academy Award winner Christian Bale was the G-D Batman.

    For Pete’s sake, Jeremy Renner was nominated FOR The Town.

  16. Brad says:

    Ok then, thank you for whipping out Imdb Eric. I certainly agree with Kevin’s post and your point to some extent, and understand that Academy Award winners do other non serious work. I was making a joke pertaining to Tyler Perry that apparently wasn’t funny to you. But, like I said, my original question is “Are there not enough black actors? Or is it that there’s less roles for them in films, therefore making them under-represented?”

    It’s a catch 22 as long as the Jews are in charge of Hollywood! (That would be another joke.) Have a good day.

  17. Eric says:

    Psh. I am a walking IMDB in and of myself. I did have to look up how to spell Adewale Agbaje, Djimon Hounsou and Isaach De Bankolé. And I forgot Sophie Okonedo’s name, but remembered she was nominated for Hotel Rwanda.

    (Humor’s hard to read online sometimes. Sorry I missed it!)

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