Why Awards Like The Oscars Matter To Black Artists, Explained

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Who is Janet Hubert?

Janet Hubert is a veteran actress best known for her role as Vivian Banks on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." In season four of the show, Hubert was replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid; an act that upset so many Black people that an professed affinity for the "First Aunt Viv" has become some sort of authenticity totem.


Why is she in the news this week?

Last week, as a response to no Black actors or actresses receiving a nomination for an Oscar this year, Jada Pinkett Smith announced she was going to boycott the awards show, stating "Maybe it is time that we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities and our programs and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called 'mainstream' ones."

Hubert replied to Pinkett Smith's annoucement, basically stating that the only reason she's boycotting is because her husband, Will Smith, was left out of the nominations.

Was Hubert right?

Definitely! While I'm sure Pinkett Smith does believe the academy needs to be more diverse, the impetus behind this announcement now is the lack of recognition received by her husband for his performance in Concussion.

Well, does Pinkett Smith have a point? Should he have received a nomination?

Heavens no. Concussion was a lukewarm and tepid movie that received lukewarm and tepid reviews and was received lukewarmly and tepidly by moviegoers. And, as far as Smith's performance, let's just say it's not a good look when your Nigerian accent is roundly mocked by actual Nigerians before the movie is even released.


(I don't even get this jollof rice reference, and it's still hilarious.)

Unfortunately, while Will Smith is an unfathomably talented and successful actor and human being, he's not exactly churning out Oscar-worthy performances. Ironically, if Smith did get nominated this year, it would have only been because he's Black and the Academy placed him there for diversity's sake.


I see. Well, did Hubert say anything else in her rant?

Of course! She also called the Smiths hypocrites, brought up her decades-old beef with Will, and chided them for even caring about the Oscars while more important things are going on.


Which was no surprise because Hubert has had a vendetta against Will Smith — and, apparently, the entire Smith family — ever since she was replaced on "The Fresh Prince." Seriously, if you saw Janet Hubert out somewhere today and asked her about the weather, she'd probably say "It's cold…but it aint as cold as Will Smith's heart will be when I see him in Hell!"

Hmm. Don't you think Hubert has a bit of a point there, though? Every year, when the nominees for the three major awards — the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Emmys (the Tonys are the 4th member of the EGOT, but they don't seem to be as stressed over and talked about in the media as the other three) — are released, we complain about how they neglect to include Black artists. Why do we even care at this point? Why still beg to be included for an honor that has proven, time and time again, to not be inclusive?


Well, there's two ways to answer that, so I'll start with the most obvious answer first. They're valuable. And not valuable in a theoretical sense, but they provide literal monetary value. Having Emmy or Oscar or Grammy nominee or winner attached to your resume can give an artist more name recognition, more creative credibility and freedom, more opportunities, and more leeway to negotiate when receiving those opportunities. It can be the difference between making two million per picture and 10. They also have a retroactive monetary value, because a movie or an album or a show receiving one of these nominations and/or awards has the tendency to drive more people to see/rent/buy it.

But also, you can't dismiss the pure psychic value of being recognized by your peers for your work.


See, that's the part that gets me. I understand the monetary benefit, but that recognition part just feels thirsty to me. A person like Will Smith already has trillions of dollars. Why would he even care about this damn trophy?

Because it feels good. I know that answer seems incomplete, but there's really no other way to put it. If you are a person who performs any type of creative endeavor — writing, acting, singing, sculpting, etc — and you've put in years worth of effort to refine and perfect said craft, it feels good to be acknowledged as one of the best in your field. And yes, money is great. Money is excellent. Money is the shit. But a recognition that your work isn't just popular, but technically, creatively, and historically outstanding, is great too. It's the same reason young football players dream of winning the Heisman, and young basketball players dream of winning an NBA MVP.


This recognition existing also benefits the consumer, the fans, because it drives artists to create transcendent work. I know it's romantic to think of artists, true artists, as people content to work without recognition as long as the work is done well. And maybe that's how you'd feel. But that's a moot point, because that's not you. If you were the type of person who decided to make the creation of art your career, you'd also be the type of person who desired that acknowledgment. Asking why an artist would want an award is like asking why a bear would want salmon.

So why not create our own awards? Why give awards like the Oscars so much power?

Okay, let's say you and one of you co-workers is up for some award for some project you completed together. And you — and everyone else — assumes you're a shoo-in because you did the bulk of the work and crafted the vision and the plan of the project. But then your co-worker wins. You'd be pissed, right?


Of course.

Now, what if, after hearing about what happened at work, your wife went out to the trophy store and bought you one, with "You'll always be my worker of the year" inscribed on it. How would you feel?


Great, actually.

Of course you would! You'd feel great you have such a thoughtful wife…for like 15 minutes. And then you'd go back to being pissed about work, right?


I guess so. What's your point?

My point is that, while all recognition matters, some recognition matters a bit more than the rest. The Oscars matter to actors because it's been established, historically, as the pinnacle of success within their industry. Other awards are nice. But an Oscar is the nicest.


And, for Black artists, it's not about being accepted by "White" people. While the Academy is predominately White, the award itself is a race neutral standard. Well, it's supposed to be at least, and a boycott of them is a reflection of that ideal.



"Oscar or Grammy nominee or winner attached to your resume gives an artist more name recognition, more creative credibility and freedom, more opportunities, and more leeway to negotiate when receiving those opportunities. "

This is a point that is up for debate. Taraji, Viola, Octavia, and even Halle have all said that after they won/and or were nominated the phone didn't ring more it rang less and their salaries unchanged. But I will say what others have, it's a systemic problem. The fact is that there need to be more Creators of Color across all fields. Because Black people are going to be the ones interested in telling Black stories, Hiring Black writers, etc.