A Race Towards The Oscars


“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock” but “King Kong ain’t got sh** on me”. Those two lines when integrated, makes for great hyperbole when defining the dichotomy of two extremely different characters played by one phenomenal actor; Denzel Washington. Many proclaim that both roles were defining moments in his brilliant and illustrious career, as he would go on to receive Oscar nominations for his memorable performances in both Malcolm X and Training Day. Denzel would of course go on to win the Best Lead Actor Award for playing the part of the menacing narcotics detective, Alonzo Harris, in the film Training Day, leaving behind a trail of movie quotes that will forever dangle inside the hallowed halls of infamy. Denzel’s crowning achievement would not come without its share of blemishes, as many in the African-American community questioned the mindset of the Academy in choosing to award him for playing a menacing villain, yet seemingly snubbed him for his epic portrayal of a martyr in the film Malcolm X. I did have the pleasure of watching both movies and by far Malcolm X was a film for the ages and Denzel did clearly out-perform Al Pacino’s Oscar-winning performance in the movie The Scent Of A Woman, although I did enjoy that movie as well. So the question we must ask ourselves is whether or not African-Americans are receiving awards based on stereotypical depiction or is it based on the merit of an incredible performance? As we begin to revisit the list of Academy Award Winners that are non African-American, we will find that a recent strand of those winners have played less than favorable roles from an image perspective. Kevin Spacey won Best Actor for his role in American Beauty by playing a perverse father who was sexually obsessed with his teenage daughter’s best friend. Sean Penn won an Oscar playing an ex-con in the movie Mystic River. Nicholas Cage won his Oscar portraying a down and out alcoholic, who was hell-bent on drinking himself to death in the movie Leaving Las Vegas. With regards to female Oscar winners, we saw Hillary Swank win for her role as a lesbian masquerading as a trans-man in the movie Boys Don’t Cry. Both Charlize Theron (Monster) and Kathy Bates (Misery), won their respective Oscars for playing menacing, psychopathic women. Now are these roles conducive to the racial perception as it relates to the Caucasian community? Are all Caucasian men perverts, cons and alcoholics? Are all Caucasian women psychopathic, lesbians who break their favorite author’s ankles with a provocative sledge-hammer? The answer is of course not, but that is the basis of my point. Are African-American actors/actresses subject to a character typecast template that Caucasian actors/actresses are not subjected to or is this premise of type-casting more of a product derived from the lack of available movie roles for African-American actors/actresses to pool from? The longstanding belief is that we as African-Americans, only find ourselves being nominated for playing roles of degradation as opposed to playing roles of professional prominence. If we were to recount the Oscar winners for Best a Lead Actor as it stands from an African-American characterization point and occupation, it would reads as follows: Sidney Portier (Lilies Of The Field-handyman, Denzel Washington (Training Day)-narcotics detective, Jamie Foxx (Ray)-Musician Ray Charles and Forrest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)-dictator Idi Amin. In addition to that list of winners and roles that garnered them their prestigious awards, it would only be apropos that we revisit those who won for Best Supporting Actor as well. It reads as follows: Louis Gosset Jr. (A Soldier’s Story)-military Sargent, Denzel Washington (Glory)-soldier, Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry McGuire)-football player and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)-boxing trainer . As it pertains to female African-Americans in lead roles, the Academy Award list is extremely shallow with only Halle Berry winning for her portrayal of a struggling, single mother in Monsters Ball. The winners for Best Supporting Actress reads as follows: Hattie McDaniels (Gone With The Wind)-servant, Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost)-psychic median, Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)-singer, Mo’Nique (Precious)-abusive mother, Octavia Spencer (The Help)-maid and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)-slave. Outside of the African-American actresses having a gripe as it relates to obtaining more prominent roles, the supposed character assassination via typecast is less malicious and less pronounced as one would initially think. But what is great acting if it doesn’t conjure up certain emotions that make us pause and reflect on certain aspects of life, especially when the movie is insulated inside a certain time in history regarding its plot? We cannot rewrite a time of societal unrest and deplorable acts of degradation with the mindset of believing that because it’s translated into some form of entertainment or art that it’s pigeonholes us into a certain cookie cutter mould. If anything, it broadens the awareness for those who wish to become more knowledgeable about a group of people or a subject matter, thus opening up dialogue such as this so that we can delve deeper into the matter at hand. Those who have hatred or ignorance in their DNA are somewhat un-reachable to begin with, therefore there will always be those who will feel a certain way no matter what light is placed upon a dark situation. If anything should arise from this debate of typecast is the fact that the African-American community should encourage the Spike Lees and Tyler Perrys of the world to develop better scripts and movies showing us in other facets of life such as love, vulnerability, education, professionalism and mystery. We saw this great quality of work in the movie The Best Man’s Holiday, so why can we not get more movies like that versus Madea Goes To Band Camp? Great stories can lead to great movies, so as much as the Academy Awards committee has had a few questionable moments, the fact still remains that those who are empowered like the fore mentioned directors, could help by putting a better product out as well. I salute the accomplished actors and actresses for reaching the pinnacle of being nominated no matter what the role is. If there is anything that truly needs revamping it is our presence on reality television. We have un-accomplished and untrained buffoons receiving notoriety for being unimportant, while those who are trained in the arts are vilified for accepting a role that supposedly “typecast” us. This is where the true problem lies, people being famous for doing nothing while the accomplished receive ridicule. “The sh**s chess not checkers”. “You’ve been took, you’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, ran amuck”. #and the award goes to

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