The Eye on Black Awards honor the contributions of African Americans to television and film during a Hollywood's traditonal awards season. At the third annual event Friday night, Debbie Allen, Chris Robinson, Martin Lawrence and Haile Gerima were honored. We talked to some of the attendees and honorees about the state of black Hollywood and more.
Are you excited that black actors are being acknowledged by the Academy? I've got to say, these are great times. These are phenomenal actresses who have been around who have earned their position and who are deserving of being recognized. I'm not just saying because they're black women that I am rooting for them — but I am saying that!
Are there enough substantial role for black actors? What I would like to see as much as possible is us not trying to separate ourselves and make it our own films — just making films in general, and making it a collaborative process. I feel like separating ourselves stops us of from having what we need to get out of [it] what we want. [We need to keep] making great films, and not just making films to make films.
Who inspires you as an actress? Debbie Allen. I had the pleasure of working with her on Fame. She is the epitome of an artist who understands how to progress, and teach others and give back. She inspires me so much.
Affirmative action is back in the news. Are the numbers of people of color seeking higher education where they should be? As much as we are making progress, it's not that long in the scheme of time that the Civil War ended, that we abolished slavery, that the civil rights movement tore this country apart … That just doesn't go away overnight. We have some brilliant young people and great young minds that need to be nurtured and developed, and they need the opportunity. America has to stand up for all of its children.
Is The Help an accurate representation of the best in black films this year? I've heard a lot of different points about that, but, you know, it's a great movie — no matter how you slice it. I think sometimes people get like "Why do we have to win for these kind of stories?" But it's a part of America. We can't turn our back on it. People say we're in a postracial society, but we're not.
What film or actor do you want to win big at the Oscars? Octavia Spencer [and] The Help. I just saw her and she's living her moment. She's walking into her greatness, which, as her friend, we always knew that was in her. She's finally getting that chance and the whole world is starting to see what we always knew, so it's wonderful.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an actress? I was late — it took me until I was about 14. It was because my high school did a musical; that was the first thing I did. The rest is history!
Has being on reality TV changed your relationship with your husband? Not really. We are the exact same people when the [Braxton Family Values] cameras are rolling. I think in that aspect, when you're not doing the fakery, you can kind of keep your relationship the same because he already knows how I am.
What impact do you feel you had on the new generation of black actors in Hollywood? Those of us have come along and we've had any kind of success, I think that's an indication of something moving forward. I would imagine hopefully I guess I contributed to a lot of young folk. Every little step makes a difference.
What did you think of Whitney Houston's funeral? It was a beautiful home-going. It was from the heart, it was genuine. A lot of times, the media tend to look at the bad parts of a person's life instead of how she changed music, period. I kind of get mad a little bit when I see people go back to her downfalls. She was a human being; everybody makes mistakes.
How does it feel to host an awards show, and why is it important that we celebrate black actors? I'm excited — my first award show I ever hosted. We have a lot of African-American talents who killed the game in our time. It's one of those things you have to have fun with.
How do you challenge yourself when putting together new music? I'm a singer-songwriter so I feel like the music kind of reflects where I'm at, and I'm just trying to keep growing. As an artist it always feels like what you're doing isn't good enough. I just try to rise to the occasion!