Best Supporting Actress was the first award given out last night. I leaned toward the television set, my fingers crossed. Viola! Taraji! Come on!
(And I wasn’t rooting for either just because they were Black. I actually saw both films. And they were both great. And besides that, I saw Viola Davis in Antwone Fisher. THRILLING! And I’ve loved Taraji since Baby Boy: “I hate you Jody!”)
They both lost to Penelope Cruz.
I fell asleep thirty minutes later. So don’t look for an Oscar recap here.
(Though TH did wake me up once. And I saw Beyonce in a sparkly bodysuit singing snatches of musical numbers with Wolverine. What in the…?)
Anyway, I would have loved to see Viola or Taraji win. Just on general principle.
But both of their roles made me feel a little squirmy.
Viola’s role in Doubt was brief but powerful. She’s a brilliant actress. In her Big Scene, she was standing in front of Meryl Streep, steely and strong, tears streaming down her face.
And there was snot running down her nose right into her mouth. Like, into her mouth.
That snot bothered the hell out of me.
I think it was supposed to show us how resolute she was about her feelings: she couldn’t even bother to wipe her face. But I just didn’t like it. I feel like we’re always crying on the big screen. ALWAYS. If we are to be recognized by The Academy, we’d better be sobbing. This bothers me.
And as much as I love Taraji, some parts of her role as Brad Pitt’s mother in Benjamin Button made me cringe. She had the faux southern accent and the costuming to make her butt gargantuan. And she was the fawning mother of an abandoned white boy.
Viola and Taraji’s roles made me question how often Black Oscar-winners play roles that make me cringe.
There have been eleven Black actors who have won Academy Awards. Were all of the roles stereotypical? Where would they rate on my cringe-o-meter?
Hattie McDaniel- Best Supporting Actress, Gone with the Wind
Her name was Mammy. A solid ten on the cringe-0-meter. Case closed.
Sidney Poitier- Best Actor, Lilies of the Field
Ashamed to say I haven’t seen this film. But Sidney was always known for keeping it classy. I’m going out on a limb and giving this one a 1. Wait. I just read a summary of the film. He’s a handyman who builds a church for a group of German nuns for free. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll change that rating to a 3…
Louis Gossett Jr.- Best Supporting Actor, An Officer and a Gentleman
Okay. I’m realizing now how bad my movie knowledge is. I’ve never seen this film either! Was Lou Gossett Jr’s role cringe worthy? I have no idea.
Denzel Washington- Best Supporting Actor, Glory
Period films make me cringe automatically. (And any film, like this one, that includes a mute Black man gets an extra point on the cringe-o-meter). I do remember Denzel being a proud, defiant ex-slave in this film. But the Big Scene, in which Denzel lets drop a single tear while getting whipped…cringe-o-RAMA.
Whoopi Goldberg- Best Supporting Actress, Ghost (1990)
I’m still pissed off about this. She won for Ghost?! I dare anyone to tell me that this made sense. She didn’t win for The Color Purple? She won for Ghost!? Don’t get me wrong, her role in the Color Purple was off the charts on the cringe-o-meter. But still. She was an acting fool in that movie! In Ghost? Not so much. She was simply the comic foil to the GWM, (Good White Man).
Cuba Gooding Jr. Best Supporting Actor, Jerry Maguire
Loved Cuba in this film. LOVED Regina King as his wife. But it’s a five on the cringe-o-meter. He’s the loudmouth athlete with the catchphrase playing the comic foil to the GWM. I’m so conflicted by this stuff. I can’t hate on Cuba. (At least not in this film). But ugh, I’m SO tired of the Black man and the GWM as a film theme.
Halle Berry- Best Actress, Monster’s Ball
No Halle. No. No. No. I can’t. I just can’t. I wanted to crawl UNDER the theater when she started moaning “make me feel goooood” to Billy Bob. It wasn’t dark and edgy. It was just wrong. BUT. I have to say, when she won, she said this. And it gave me chills:
“Oh my God. I’m sorry. This moment is so much bigger than me.
“This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me – Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett and it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
Great speech. But that’s all I loved about that movie. (Though I did like Mos Def…)
Denzel Washington Training Day (2001)
Didn’t see this one. Can someone tell me if this was cringe-worthy? I remember people grumbling about how Denzel won for playing a bad guy. I don’t have a problem with that, necessarily. All I know is, he should have won for Malcolm X. Full stop. Wait. Let me see who else was nominated that year… Okay. I take that back. He lost to Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman. He was also up against Robert Downey Jr and Clint Eastwood. So maybe it was a tight race. Nope. I take all that back. Denzel should have won.
Jamie Foxx- Best Actor, Ray (2004)
No cringing here. We all knew Jamie would kill this role and win this award before they even held the wrap party for this joint. Am I the only person who thinks it’s kind of funny that he won an Oscar for Best Actor in 2004 and now he’s singing Blame it On the Alcohol with T-Pain?
Morgan Freeman- Best Supporting Actor, Million Dollar Baby
Didn’t see it. Need a rating for the cringe-0-meter from my dear readers. He was the trainer, yes? Helping out the GWW? Morgan Freeman automatically garners at least a two on the meter just for existing. He’s the patron saint of cringe-inducing films. I love him to death. But if I see him on the movie poster, I know there’s a good chance I’ll be cringing at some point in the film. TH keeps telling me I need to see The Shawshank Redemption. I took one look at the movie poster and I said oh hell no. Never.
Forest Whitaker- Best Actor, The Last King of Scotland
I didn’t see this film either! I am so whack. I’ve heard nothing but good things about his performance. But once again, if memory serves, his portrayal of Idi Amin is not a stand alone biography. The story is filtered through the eyes of a GWM. Am I right? That automatically takes it up a few notches on the meter.
Jennifer Hudson- Best Supporting Actress, Dreamgirls
Sigh. I didn’t get this movie. I wanted to love it. I really did. And there was a scene in the very beginning, when Jennifer Hudson challenges a promoter, that showed me what she was capable of. But for the rest of the film, I was completely underwhelmed. When Jamie Foxx broke out into song in an alleyway, I was done. Of course, Jennifer killed The Song. But honestly, I didn’t see an Oscar-winning performance here. But there was no cringing. (Except at the poorly written script).
When I think of films that don’t make me cringe, they have something in common. They were written and/or directed by Black folks.
This was a rich, nuanced love story. I sat up straight and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. I fantasized about Lorenz Tate for a few years after the credits rolled. Have watched this film a million times since. Still holds up.
There were some weak plot points here. (Get out of here Tyra Banks!) And I felt like Omar Epps’ character was unforgivable. And I was always bothered that Sanaa took him back. (Girl, he’s only coming back to you because he’s injured!!). But I still loved this film. Alfre Woodard was stellar. And finding out later that Sanaa and Omar were actually a couple at the time they filmed, (and the director didn’t even know when they auditioned!), gives me chills to this day.
I’m not sure if these films hold up today. I think Jada might make me cringe in a few scenes if I saw Menace again. But overall, these were honest portrayals of Black life that were wholly unfamiliar to me. And both times, I left the theater changed forever.
School Daze, Mo Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Crooklyn.
If I ever divorce my husband, the paperwork will contain complaints like: “puts dirty clothes in pile next to bed instead of in hamper” and “has never cleaned the bathroom.” It will also say,”does not revere Spike Lee.”
I love how Spike Lee makes my people look on screen. At his best, I see myself. (Crooklyn!!) I’ve grown up with his work so I may be biased towards films like School Daze, which I saw on opening night at the Wellmont in Montclair. (There were mice in that joint. And the floor was so grimy that my feet were stuck to the floor. And I had my first real kiss with a boy who was way too old for me during the boring parts when the administration was talking about how to raise more money. Or something.)
I haven’t seen the film since. No idea how it holds up.
But in general, Spike Lee loves Black people. And it shows in his work. (Crooklyn!!)
I could go on and on.
The Five Heartbeats, Friday, Juice, (Tupac could have scored an Oscar nom. Seriously). Rosewood, Hollywood Shuffle.
I’m not going to say that we are always cringe-worthy when performing in films written or directed by others. There are many good, solid films about the Black experience, (Claudine, What’s Love Got To Do With It, Life, Coming To America), that are not directed or written by Black folks.
But I am going to say that if we want to be recognized by The Academy, (do we? Does that even matter?), it seems as if we have to be willing to play a role written by others with us, (crying, fighting, f*cking, cursing, laughing or fetching), in mind.
Dear readers, what do you think? Does it matter if Black folks win Oscars or not? Do you think that Black roles are stereotypical when it comes to Oscar-winning stuff?
I’d love to hear from you…
P.S. An interesting quote from Viola Davis, in an interview with American Theater magazine back in 2004.
When I graduated from Julliard, I remember thinking that there was no difference between me and any other student in the school; I wanted to do what they were doing. I want to do what Meryl Streep is doing….[W]hen you see black movies, they’re always urban and funny, with pretty much the same actors, which is not a bad thing. The travesty is when you’re not that: I don’t speak Ebonics. I’m too old to be a homegirl. I’m not funny like that—sitcom,WB-UPN funny. So if I’m not that, then sometimes to the acting community you can be considered nothing, as opposed to being a wide range of things.