The last time I was asked numerous times for my opinion on a major news item was the election of President Obama. Maybe it was because people thought I had a great insight into the American political system or perhaps they believed I had an inside scoop on whether Hillary Clinton would be given a prominent position in his cabinet. Primarily, it was because I was black.
People were surprised when I didn’t break into tears of joy or start spouting historic quotes from black figures (it would have been Ezekiel 25:17). This was because I don’t speak on behalf of all black people (just my local chapter) and although obviously the best person got the job, I was wary of what he’d achieve – or be allowed to achieve – in the system. No matter how hard you work, how many glass ceilings you break or statistics you defy, you still have to work in a rigged system. Sometimes you aren’t part of the group a system is rigged against so you don’t acknowledge it, and in some cases, actively criticise those who speak up about it.
I was once again asked this week my opinion on a ‘major’ news story by a lot of friends: #OscarsSoWhite. To me, this wasn’t news, as it’s been an ongoing thing that I’ve just gotten used to. What’s been interesting is the backlash for it being pointed out: “It should be about talent, though”. Yeah! You’re right – but the best actor/actress awards have been won almost as many times by Merseysiders as black people (three to five), therefore Scousers must be slightly less talented than black people, right?
Everything is subjective and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the 1989 Spike Lee film, ‘Do The Right Thing’ (deemed to be “culturally significant” by the US Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry), was beaten to four Oscars by ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, which probably resonated with the academy panel who – being primarily old, rich and white – seem continuously drawn to those good old days of black people playing the help and being the ‘magical negro’ that Morgan Freeman usually plays (except in ‘Hard Rain’). “But all films, actors and actresses matter,” is something else I’ve read and heard recently. Again, you’re right, and to quote Martin Luther King (he of the film ‘Selma’, which was probably under-represented at the Oscars): “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… ” There’s a problem with representation of minorities, there’s a problem with gender pay gaps and there’s a problem with access for those from working class backgrounds. Here’s the rub: they are not all exclusive, they don’t have to vie against one another for attention and you don’t have to solve one before you can sort the next.
As of 2014, the academy was 94% white, 77% male and the average age was 64… I think it is also safe to say none of them have a second job as a labourer. Of the 51 board of governor members, 17 are women and all but two are white. Of these it took a black female president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (covering two bases), and 89 years to start to resolve some of these issues. Maybe we should have waited – like Michael Caine said: “Be patient… it took me years to get an Oscar.” I mean, look at how far we’ve progressed since the 1977 awards, when a black comedian hosted the Oscars, commented on the lack of black nominees and there were two black panel members. Sound familiar? True, Sylvester Stallone was in the audience in 1977, up for best actor, but at least this year he’s only up for best supporting actor.
Look, this isn’t a ‘kill whitey’ thing, a ‘man hate’ thing or a ‘jealous of the rich’ thing. It’s a parity of opportunity thing and benefits everyone if it means new and interesting stories are told rather than Michael Bay annually rehashing ‘Transformers’. The door is being closed for a lot of people and the people holding the door are telling us it’s our own fault or to blame other under-represented groups, as many a person in power says: “But what can I do? It’s not like I have any power to change things!”
Maybe they want change to come through a little more Hollywood Magic (Negro).