By Makeen Yasar
The recent Oscars awarded many worthy films of merit the coveted Academy Award on Sunday, February 22nd. Birdman was awarded with Best Film of the Year, Lonely Island performed Everything is Awesome in a giant colorful spectacle, and Neil Patrick Harris successfully pulled off tighty whiteys as he monologued about the dignity of acting. Despite the frivolity of that moment, there were moments of serious retrospection.
Patricia Arquette’s Oscar victory speech called for equal pay for women in order to take steps in ending gender equality. Common and John Legend talked about racial justice and civic equality upon accepting their Best Song Academy Award. They were met with resounding cheers. Selma was also recognized with its unique perspective, promoting a talented director and a slew of African American actors. So my question is why aren’t there more African-American actors recognized in the Oscar’s?
African Americans in the entertainment industry helped to bring about a new age of music, film, and theater to American culture, yet the most equal standing in the entertainment industry seems to be for black musicians. Out of the total 2,809 Oscars awarded, only 31 African-Americans have been awarded an actual Academy Award.
Already there aren’t a large amount of African-Americans in the film industry, and for those black directors, screenwriters, and producers who have an original story to tell, oftentimes their films aren’t picked up or backed with by larger studios. The reluctance to show black narratives is upsetting, but for those who have won an award, they have shown nothing but the utmost professionalism and expertise in their craft. Here’s a list of some of the black actors who have won an Academy Award.
- 1939 Hattie McDaniel for Gone With the Wind: Best Supporting Actress
- 1963 Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field: Best Actor
- 1982 Louis Gossett, Jr. for An Officer and a Gentlemen: Best Supporting Actor
- 1989 Denzel Washington for Glory: Best Supporting Actor
- 1990 Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost: Best Supporting Actress
- 1996 Cuba Gooding, Jr. for Jerry Maguire: Best Supporting Actor
- 2001 Denzel Washington for Training Day: Best Actor
- 2001 Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball: Best Actress
- 2004 Jamie Foxx for Ray: Best Actor
- 2004 Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby: Best Supporting Actor
- 2006 Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland: Best Actor
- 2006 Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls: Best Supporting Actress
- 2009 Mo’Nique for Precious: Best Supporting Actress
- 2011 Octavia Spencer for The Help: Best Supporting Actress
- 2012 T.J. Martin for Undefeated: Best Director
- 2013 Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave: Best Supporting Actress
Notice how the majority of these are for supporting instead of lead roles. The other Oscars were awarded mostly for best song/ original song. Hollywood needs to diversify. The Academy should recognize the merit of multicultural stories, not just for blacks, but for all ethnicities. This year, the Academy didn’t. If a TV show like Lee Daniel’s Empire can increase in viewership every episode, then a movie with a black voice can sell well.