The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Shortly after the nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced, writer Todd Spence shared an eerily relevant clip of Eddie Murphy presenting the Best Picture award at the 60th Academy Awards in 1988.
As Murphy stood on the stage, he recalled what led him to this moment, noting he first thought “No, I ain’t goin’” when he was approached to present the award.
Mocking his incredulous and extra white manager asking “Why?!” Murphy said he responded with, “They haven’t recognized black people in the motion picture industry.”
When his manager shot back with, “What are you talking about?! Black people win Oscars!” Murphy began to count the black actors who had won in 60 years on one hand, naming Hattie McDaniel (Best Supporting Actress, Gone With the Wind), Sydney Poitier (Best Actor, Lillies of the Field) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Best Supporting Actor, An Officer and a Gentleman).
“I’ll probably never win an Oscar for saying this, but what the hey, I gotta say it,” Murphy quipped. “Actually I may not get in trouble because the way it’s been going, every 20 years, so we’re not due for another until about 2004, so… by that time this will have all blown over.”
Unfortunately, 2004 wasn’t any better as the nominee list looked similar to today’s—one black nominee (Djimon Hounsou for In America) and a dash of a little bit more color in an otherwise bland and unseasoned clear soup. In 2007, Murphy received his first and only Oscar nomination for his work in Dreamgirls.
“I just feel that we have to be recognized as a people,” Murphy added in the 1988 presentation. “I just want you to know that I’m going to give this award, but black people will not ride the caboose of society and we will not bring up the rear anymore and I want you to recognize us!”
Message! The powerfully disheartening thing about his statement is that 32 years later, we’re still having this conversation, and some of that conversation involves Murphy himself. In what is considered to be one of the most heralded performances of his career, Dolemite Is My Name hasn’t been receiving the love and appreciation it deserves.
It was a Boomerang effect if you will. Even if you throw a white boomerang into a field of color, it’ll return to you white, just as you threw it. Perhaps Murphy will receive an honorary Oscar in years to come. That’ll fix everything, right? Right?!