Black Actresses Are Still Not Very Valuable To The Hollywood Movie Machine
Last week marked the beginning of the awards season frenzy, as nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globes were announced. Yet, there was one important group that made a poor showing among the roster of talented nominees: black women.
While Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) both picked up supporting actress SAG nominations (and Nyong’o grabbed another from the Golden Globes), they are the lone black women on a list of lily-white female film nominees.
In fact, black women are entirely absent in the best actress, best director and best screenplay categories, begging a troubling question: Where are the black women in Hollywood?
“This is always such a tough question for me, because I’m really optimistic about my journey and I can’t really compare my journey to Cameron Diaz’s journey or Reese Witherspoon’s, because we’re not the same,” says Nia Long, whose romantic comedy The Best Man Holiday, which has taken in nearly $68 million at the box office so far. “We’re not considered for the same roles. We’re not paid the same. That’s just the truth.”
If you can’t respect that, ya whole perspective is wack.
Oscar nominee Viola Davis says black actresses are “in crisis mode,” with not enough roles to go around and a lack of opportunities for them to showcase their talents.
“We’re in deprivation mode, because listen: me, Alfre (Woodard) and Phylicia (Rashad) … we’re in the same category. Whereas if you take a Caucasian actress, you have the ones who are the teens, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and they’re all different,” Davis said during an episode of Winfrey’s Next Chapter.
“There’s roles for each of them, but when you only have two or three categories for black actresses — you want to work. It’s a natural instinct. If you throw a piece of cheese in a room full of rats, they’re going to claw at each other.”
The old “crabs in a barrel” syndrome rears it’s ugly head again.
There is some good news for black actresses, though. In addition to Winfrey, Nyong’o and Washington’s nominations, Zoe Saldana has A-list projects, including Avatar 2 and a just-announced role in the Miles Davis biopic opposite Don Cheadle.
On network television, Washington’s hosting gig earned SNL its highest ratings of the season and Scandal continues to be a hit for ABC. Plus, several black actresses have found work this season on new series, including American Horror Story: Coven’s Angela Bassett and Gabourey Sidibe and Sleepy Hollow’s Nicole Behari and Lyndie Greenwood. And, showrunner Mara Brock Akil will launch the new Gabrielle Union-led series Being Mary Jane Jan. 7 on BET.
Why is it so difficult to for black actress to get their just due? Consider this…
Being black in Hollywood has long been a challenge for women and men, and (Nia) Long says the reason lies, in part, in the difficult history African Americans have had in the USA.
“When you look at our journey historically, it’s always been a challenge, and I don’t think Hollywood is an exception,” she says. “We are required to be better, be stronger and we have a lot more losses than we have wins The truth is, we still live in a very segregated country, and when you look at material, the scripts and the stories that are being told, that segregation is still alive.”
Consider that the first black actor to win an Oscar — supporting-actress winner Hattie McDaniel — was forced to sit apart from her Gone With the Wind co-stars during the 1940 ceremony, which was held in a segregated theater.
It would be another 50 years before another black woman won an Oscar (Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost) and more than a decade after that for the first black best-actress winner (Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball). There hasn’t been another one since.
This conversation has been going on for FAR too long. African-American actresses have long-ago proved that they have the chops to tackle the most intricate and nuanced roles. It’s about damn time Hollywood started recognizing that and casting them accordingly!
Image via WENN