Neo-Blaxploitation

Hollywood commodifies Black suffering

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The majority of Black films nominated for awards focus on struggle, oppression, slavery or all of the above. This is unacceptable — Black struggle should not be exploited for clout.

Manne Green

Hollywood is white, and it is only slowly recognizing a need for diversity. It is notable to see more representation in recent films such as “BlacKkKlansman” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Their box office sales and ratings are remarkable. But the Academy has yet to reflect the progressive public opinion and it continues to ignore Black artists and performances. While people have begun to note lack of diversity in casting, subtler instances of whiteness embedded in the world of film have gone  unchecked.

In the 2016 Oscars, not one Black actor was considered for an award — after many notable performances that year by Black actors like Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan, all 20 nominations in the acting categories were given to white people. 

Discrimination against actors isn’t the only issue.

“BlacKkKlansman” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” are about societal and legal struggles Black people face in America. Award-winning film “Selma” is about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s journey fighting for equal voting rights while facing violence and discrimination from white mobs. Both “12 Years a Slave” and “Django Unchained” are films about slavery. Black suffering should not be the sole way for Black creators or actors to win awards. Films cannot be considered adequately diverse until they present a nuanced selection of experiences, stories and perspectives.

Movies made by or about Black people, such as “Beast of No Nation” or “Creed,” are as complex as acclaimed films about white people, even surpassing them in cultural relevance by highlighting untold stories and diversifying representation. But sensational stories of poverty, slavery, and desperation prevail. When the Academy chooses to exclusively award stories of oppression and slavery, it tells the Black community it is only relevant in respect to white supremacy. This is ludicrous. 

Creators should never have to factor in this tendency of white Academy voters to increase their chance of accolades. It’s time for Academy voters to recognize quality of work created by and for the Black community, not just films created to be palatable for white  people.

The lack of representation in awards extends to other communities of color as well. Within the 90 years of the Academy Awards, no Asian American woman has won best actress and no Asian American man has won best actor. Approximately 3 percent of Latinx roles were speaking roles in Hollywood film within the last decade. Hollywood is an institution that has defined American culture for decades, and it disseminates a national image overseas. We must hold studios responsible for presenting an accurate picture of American diversity.

In recent years, we have seen progressive steps taken toward a more diverse Hollywood. “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” were huge, record-breaking movies in 2018. “Black Panther” holds the most successful opening weekend not directed by a white man and “Crazy Rich Asians” holds the title as the highest grossing romantic-comedy of the decade. Hollywood is improving, but it’s not quite there yet, which shows when it comes to the Academy.

As media consumers, we can support movies that feature people of color and pressure the Academy to give awards with equal and honest intent. Good acting and filmmaking comes from all races, and awards should reflect that. Awards must be given based on performance and production — not on race or if an actor played a struggling Black character.

Centering Black suffering in films only serves to appease white guilt for the nation’s horrifically  racist past and need not continue in 2019. Black artists direct, write and star in films of every genre and topic. These are the films that should be awarded — the films that Black people create for themselves, not for white people.