It’s that time of year again. The 83rd Academy Awards will be airing on Sunday, with all of the usual pomp and circumstance surrounding the event and the nominees. This time around, there has been much ado about the lack of African Americans nominated in front of or behind the camera.
Last decade, we had groundbreaking nominations and wins: Halle Berry and Denzel Washington winning best actress and best actor awards in 2002 for Monster’s Ball and Training Day respectively; Jamie Foxx’s 2005 best actor win for his stunning performance in Ray; Forest Whitaker’s best actor win for The Last King of Scotland in 2006; and Jennifer Hudson’s best supporting actress win in 2007 for Dreamgirls. It seemed that Oscar had finally found a consistent place in its heart for black actors.
Last year the winning streak continued with Oscars for Mo’Nique’s best supporting actress role in Precious and for that movie’s screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher, who made history when he became the first African American to win in the best adapted screenplay category. Then there was Roger Ross Williams’ win in the short documentary category for Music by Prudence.
But the winning streak came to an abrupt halt this year. No African Americans were nominated for Academy Awards, even though there were some solid performances. If The Social Network can get nominated, which is one step up from a movie of the week, then why not Tanya Hamilton’s Night Catches Us, which was quite excellent?
Contrary to popular belief, there were strong films starring black actors and actresses this year. The best were made outside of the Hollywood system, which may be why they were overlooked for nominations at most of the awards shows, including the Oscars. If it weren’t for the Independent Spirit Awards and festival circuit, they would get very little love in the film world.
Obviously, there were some fantastic performances overall in Hollywood this year, and we’re not naive enough to believe that African-American actors should be nominated just to give the awards some diversity. We’re merely stating that some excellent performances by black actors were overlooked this year. Maybe there weren’t enough slots available, or maybe it was a complete rejection of black film? The only thing sadder than a Hollywood blackout is when there doesn’t have to be one.
Overlooked at the Oscars this year:
In Night Catches Us, Washington plays former Black Panther Pattie, a single black mother-lawyer trying to save her community while building a loving relationship in the years following the Black Panther era. As Pattie, Washington, who’s been putting in hard work in Hollywood for over a decade, is conflicted, anxious, tough, loving, loyal and hardheaded. If Oscar never notices, just know that we do.
The Academy Award-winning film The Hurt Locker showcased Mackie’s ability to hold his own, playing a stressed-out soldier in an ensemble cast that includes white-hot actor Jeremy Renner and celebrated thespians Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes. In Night Catches Us, the Juilliard grad delivers a multilayered, intense performance as a former Black Panther who mysteriously returns to his old stomping grounds, hiding a big secret. The on-screen chemistry between Washington and Mackie is reminiscent of that between Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in A Star Is Born. Oscar may have snubbed him, but we won’t.