The challenges aspiring black Hollywood actors still face in the film industry today
In recent times, Hollywood has become somewhat of a haven for negativity, receiving relentless attacks from media critics – often in the form of hashtag-headed campaigns that span from Twitter on the news in a few days. Perhaps it was notorious sex offender Harvey Weinstein who drove the first nail in the coffin. With a string of sexual abuse allegations surfacing in 2017, Hollywood’s ugly face has been shamefully exposed.
Following the lively controversy around the #Me too movement, came dozens of Hollywood scandals. These include comedian Kevin Hart’s decision to step down as host of the Oscars in 2019, after overhauling various old homophobic tweets. In addition, there is the #OscarsSoWhite scandal, calling for more diversity in the Oscars and more recognition for people of color and marginalized groups. In short, Hollywood’s reputation is now completely tarnished – the Walk of Fame has turned into a disappointing, starless film.Walk of shame ‘.
The 2020 Oscars ceremony was marred by a racial controversy that has become too familiar to viewers and attendees
It’s a February afternoon in 1940s America, and actress Hattie McDaniel just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Blown away by the wind (1940). Incidentally, she is also the first African American to win the coveted film award. Celebrating her victory and having undeniably left an indelible mark in more than just film history, the sense of jubilation will have been suddenly shattered by the realization that she would be sitting apart from everyone else at what was essentially a “Whites only ” Academy Awards. It was an event defined more by segregation than celebration.
Eighty years later, the film industry still suffers from some sort of routine discrimination, despite an increase in diversity over the years. The 2020 Oscars ceremony was marred by a racial controversy that has become too familiar to viewers and attendees, with major rebuffs including Lupita Nyong’o in 2019 We. Producing a chilling horror performance while playing two completely contrasting roles, many believe she made Jordan Peele’s thriller what it is – a box office success totaling over $ 255 million. Perhaps N’yong’o’s versatility was what immediately caught the public’s attention (but clearly not the eyes of Oscar voters).
However, it’s worth mentioning that perhaps this versatility should never have been questioned. Glancing at her film career over the past decade, the Kenyan-Mexican actress put on an incredible performance in the heartbreaking 12 years of slavery (2014), for which she actually received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. When it looked like such a successful performance would be hard to surpass in the future, she went on to perform in 2018. wonder superhero movie Black Panther, which was revered for its astronomical commercial success as much as for its importance in the world of cinema and in society in general.
For many, Black Panther burst onto movie screens at the perfect time, amid the ongoing tensions surrounding the under-representation of blacks in the world of cinema. With a cast of predominantly black actors and actresses, director Ryan Coogler puts each of their unique talents in the spotlight.
If we are to push for greater equality in the film industry and beyond, we must be the change we want to see on the big screen
Much of the action blockbuster’s success will be the result of the natural chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and the late Chadwick Boseman, known around the world for his impact on the film industry and Marvel Cinematic Universe, a testament to his wonderful capacity as an actor.
As for Michael B. Jordan, the African-American actor born in California is no stranger to great films, having played in television series. Thread (2002-2008), both Creed I and Creed II (2015 and 2018) and, more recently, the moving but painfully relevant Just mercy (2019), which was considered another major Oscar snub.
Bringing the true story of Walter McMillian (played by the phenomenal Jamie Foxx) to life, a black man on death row despite his innocence – Jordan’s incarnation of lawyer Bryan Stevenson is so poignant it resonates deeply with the viewers on a level. The indifference shown by the Academy towards not only Just mercy, but a whole slew of other films that are perhaps less commercially appealing show just how commonplace such repression and silence has become. Whether or not Jordan’s performance deserved to win the Best Actor award, it is indisputable that the performance deserved more than a mere 84% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
You don’t have to look far to find equally talented black actors and actresses much closer to home. Britain has cultivated a whole host of black and ethnic minority actors who are now enjoying considerable success across the pond in the world of Hollywood. However, the same issues of under-representation of award discounts seem to resurface.
When black actors are forced into stereotypical roles that provide filmmakers with diversity and ethnic representation in their films, their roles take on a minor and totally symbolic aspect.
The past few years have seen the remarkable rise of London-born Daniel Kaluuya, whose career took off on a popular TV show. Skins (2007). After landing the role of Chris in Peele’s first directorial success Get out (2017) – a hard-hitting, satirical social commentary on race issues masquerading as your everyday horror flick – Kaluuya has seen his career soar to new heights. Despite his success, the English actor confessed that he in no way wanted to be “the racing guy“ nor be called back to fill typecast roles.
However, a major challenge for black and minority ethnic actors is sometimes having to accept the superficial purpose and fulfilling the quotas of their roles. When black actors are forced into stereotypical roles that provide filmmakers with the diversity and ethnic representation of their films, their roles take on a minor and totally symbolic dimension.
Also among the ranks of Britain’s best black acting talent is John Boyega, who in addition to playing a heroic Jedi in the new Star wars films, is an avid offscreen race activist. Playing Finn in what is a legendary sci-fi movie saga, Boyega’s experience was apparently very disappointing. Besides the less than ideal reception of some films by disgruntled superfans, his experience was marred by having been “marketed as being much more important than him, then put aside”. Again, this quota-making tactic is doing young black actors and actresses no favor.
In truth, black and minority actors should be treated as more than box fillers and, instead, people with immense talent to offer the industry. In this regard, Kaluuya and Boyega experienced a common reality very well, which is sadly the reality of so many young black actors today.
This year’s Oscar victories justified the rise of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, by the blatant under-representation of minority groups as previously discussed. However, the success of Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite (2019) – arguably the biggest winner of the night – could mark a shift in award trends. Perhaps it will spark recognition for a wider range of talent, breaking the whitewashed mold that so many viewers, as well as actors, have become accustomed to.
Looking back on Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar victory in the 1940s all those years ago, and the segregation it suffered at the hands of the Academy, it’s clear we’ve come a long way, but can -be not enough. If we are to push for greater equality in the film industry and beyond, we has to be the change we want to see on the big screen.
In the video article courtesy of Photos of Warner Bros. via YouTube.
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