Oscar History Pt. II: Black and Female

Last night, the screen went black when I turned to ABC7. That’s because ABC and Cablevision were bangin’ over airwaves, or pixels–yes I was among the near 3 million tri-state area viewers caught in the cable beef. By 8:20 the ticker was saying they were trying to work things out, but by then I’d made plans to watch it with friends who bought a digital antenna. 

My first tweet wondered why Doogie Hauser, MD (he’ll always be that character for me, sorry) was on stage singing when Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were the hosts. “They shoulda let Lenny Kravitz open. He woulda KILLED with those showgirls!” 

With the opening number behind us, Steve and Alec come out, their banter ranging from hysterical to off-color. What was with tying Meryl Streep to Hitler memorabilia? Were they inferring that having all those statuettes at home made her evil? I couldn’t help but feel like the Old Boys were unconsciously expressing something–resentment, frustration, wonder-at how a woman could be the most Oscar(r) decorated actor in history. As my friend, screenwriter Sam Jean @sjean70  noted via Twitter, “I’m tired of them making Meryl Streep the sacrificial lamb.” Amen. She’s earned everything she’s got. 

Streep: Diva is anutha version of a hustla...

And: she looked fabulously relaxed in her plunging ivory gown. I mean the woman is ringside at the Oscars every year and I love her for it! 

But Meryl would not extend her historic winning lead on this night; it was about first-time women nominees breaking ground. Gabourey Sidibe’s tour-de-force performance in ‘Precious’ earned her a nomination alongside the veteran Streep though she had never acted before. Oprah’s acknowledgment of her had Gabby in tears. Gabby had actually won just by being there; by bringing Precious Jones to life. 

Mo’Nique made her sweep complete as she accepted her Best Supporting Actress Oscar(r), invoking the name of Hattie McDaniel, who accepted the same honor in 1939, a first for any Black actor. Usually I bristle at the Academy’s penchant (if we can call it that’ given Black actors so seldom win) for awarding Oscars to African Americans who deliver monstrous or stereotypical portrayals. 

 

But knowing that Lee Daniels directed Mo’Nique, knowing that she channeled her own experience as a survivor of abuse, knowing that Mary Jones was just as much a victim as a perpetrator and also deserving of compassion–all helped me to distinguish “the performance from the politics” as Mo’Nique so eloquently put it at the podium. (I wait patiently for a Black actor to win in a role that uplifts him or herself or his/her people. I will not, however, hold my breath). 

Another historic win happened as Geoffrey Fletcher won for Best Adapted Screenplay for his searing and tender adaptation of Sapphire’s PUSH. He was so humbled an overwhelmed, Oprah gave him a do-over on her after-Oscars show. His victory was particularly inspiring to me as an author and screenwriter-in-progress. A beautiful testament to how powerful it is when Black people write and drive their own narratives. 

Which brings me to the Kanye moment of the evening: Best Documentary. The Award went to Music by Prudence, directed by a brother, Roger Ross Williams. He’s making his speech, and then up jumps this matronly redhead, interrupting. 

Turnabout: Roger Ross Williams Kanye'd by Elinor Burkett

It was revealed today that the two are now on opposing sides of a lawsuit related to the film. But nonetheless, he was gracious, turning the world’s attention to Prudence, who look mortified for them both from the nosebleed section. Nice to see a Black male director win something, even if it wasn’t Lee Daniels, who I had the pleasure of meeting through ‘Precious’ executive producer and Put Your Dreams First interviewee Lisa Cortes. 

Cortes watching her baby at a screening

Even Sandra Bullock’s moment was a historical one; she has taken the Blind Side to over $250 million in box office receipts as a lead actress–and there were no android or alien co-stars. Her heartfelt speech about her mother’s impact on her life and the equality of all people no matter their background made me want to see her in the movie and judge the story for myself. 

You earned it AND wore them down! Go girl!

I was not mad that she won at all. I enjoyed her immensely in Crash though she only had a few scenes. She’s been working on her craft, and it paid off. No shots, but from the poster it seemed very ‘benevolent white woman saves Black manchild’. I really dug how she dedicated her Best Actress Oscar to “the mommas who take care of the babies no matter where they come from.” I’ll report back on Twitter. 

But the ultimate? The ULTIMATE was Kathryn Bigelow’s combination knockout, winning Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker in a stunning upset. 

Bigelow: Fly, composed, and loving life after James. See gun show.

I for one love the back story on this. Her wins prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that 2010 is the Year of the Woman in Entertainment. She not only swept both categories, a first for any woman, but she did so in competition with her ex-husband, James Cameron, creator/writer/director of the 3-D juggernaut so big The Last Airbender couldn’t even keep its full name: Avatar. Keep in mind that The Hurt Locker was ‘The Little Iraq War Movie That Could’ until she won the DGA Award (another female first). Then the rumblings began: could the ex-wife beat the ‘king of the world’ come Oscar Night? I was cheering for her on the strength of being able to come out from his shadow and direct her own film. But then, I saw it. And Kathryn’s movie won because at the end of the day it was substance over style, story over simulation. While Avatar was great filmmaking, The Hurt Locker was a great film. And for Barbra Streisand to present the award with “the time has come” was phenomenal. We may never know how hard Streisand has fought to go from talent to creator in this game and stay at the top, but last night, she was glad for some company up there. 

Mo’Nique has been a shero of mine since she bared her soul about the business in my book in 2007. But she was endeared to me forever when, after a promo shoot I co-produced, she taped a birthday message for my mother who was her biggest fan. We shot in May. Mom’s birthday was September 1. I was going to surprise her with it then–until she was diagnosed with cancer in July. I gave her the DVD early to lift her spirits. She watched it and laughed every day until her last, October 11, 2007. 

Mo'mentum, Suga!

So I cheered extra loud when Mo’ won, because I felt like I had; because I was cheering for me and mom too. 

But last night, I found a new shero in Kathryn Bigelow, who one could argue is now Queen of the World–or at least the film world. 

Thank you, history makers. Thank you for giving us non-white, non males tangible proof that our dreams are within reach, whether they include Oscars or not.

Me & Oscar. It's all about visualization.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. Honorable mention goes to Jeff Bridges, who is truly a brilliant actor and finally got his props for his role in Crazy Heart. And I have to give it up for the b-boys and girls during that interpretive dance number. Between that and the John Hughes tribute, this child of the ’80s went to bed extra happy!

What did you think of the Oscars? Do you think we’ll see more balanced representation in the recipients going forward? Comment below and let me know.

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6 Responses to “Oscar History Pt. II: Black and Female”

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