Black Hollywood Progress

Black Hollywood Progress

Since 2002, African-Americans broke through to win Oscars from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Writer and Best Director awards. Bigger budgets were approved to make “A List” movies written, starring, directed and co-produced by people of African descent. We reached the mountaintop at the 2014 Academy Awards — a black director won the Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years A Slave.

Despite stalled progress at the 2015 and 2016 Academy Awards, there was more recognition of black artistic excellence by the AMPAS, Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes) and the major guilds (Screen Actor, Director, Writer, Producer). To fully appreciate that progress, take a short look back.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs & Whoopi Goldberg at 88th Academy Awards

Cheryl Boone Isaacs & Whoopi Goldberg at 88th Academy Awards

After Sidney Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1964, it was tough sledding for black dramatic actors for critical acclaim and box office success. Then Richard Pryor proved that African-American comedians could lead a blockbuster movie in the 1970s. But Oscars are rarely awarded for comedies or musicals. From 1986-92, Spike Lee kicked open doors for black dramatic stories and talent. Spike received a well-deserved 1990 nomination for Do The Right Thing. Then something changed. Given his penchant for making Hollywood insiders feel uncomfortable with racism, Spike’s apex film achievement, Malcolm X, was snubbed from a Best Picture Nomination in 1992. He was treated as a Hollywood outsider for many years afterwards.

For context, see Black Hollywood History.

The next step forward in black dramatic talent recognition took longer. Though Denzel Washington won a Golden Globe Best Actor for the Hurricane in 2000, it barely registered in Hollywood because the Golden Globes were perceived as less significant and few Americans watched the ceremony. The big break came in 2002, when the Screen Actors Guild presented Halle Berry the Best Actress award in early March 2002 for a drama movie. It was followed by Oscar awards for Best Actor to Denzel Washington, Best Actress to Halle Berry and Lifetime Achievement to Sidney Poitier in late March 2002.

From 2002 onwards, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx, Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker, Will Smith and Idris Elba headlined many “A List” movies. More drama movie projects featuring black writers and producers got financing. More African-Americans starred in popular Sci-Fi, Action and Musical movies and TV programs. Spike Lee, John Singleton, Antoine Fuqua, Steve McQueen, Tyler Perry, F Gary Gray, Ryan Coogler, Tim Story and Lee Daniels directed movies that grossed well over $100 million in box office, video and broadcast revenue, while costing a fraction of there gross revenue.

Though Angela Bassett, Viola Davis and Halle Berry struggle finding A List movie roles, like their middle age white female counterparts, they’ve landed Cable TV roles in between. Meanwhile, Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and Ava Duvernay have seen much success on TV.

Since 2002, Golden Globe and major guild voters have been more in line with movie critics and audiences, than the majority of AMPAS voters. In the latest two examples, note recognition of black talent at the 2015 and 2016 Golden Globe Nominations. Note the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Nominations.

Despite 2002-14 progress, why did AMPAS voters regress to the point of a “White-Out” at the 2015 and 2016 Academy Awards? How could AMPAS voters overlook Will Smith or Idris Elba for Best Actor nominations? How could AMPAS voters nominate Anglo-American writers of Straight Outta Compton for Best Screenplay, but not nominate the movie, even though only 8 of 10 available movies were nominated for Best Picture?

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant wins Oscar for Best Animated Short Film

The answer is simple. In 2012, The Los Angeles Times reported that AMPAS voters were 94% white and 77% male. Four years later, AMPAS voters are 91% white and 76% male.

Either AMPAS voters could not relate to excellent stories involving people of color or they used up their “White Guilt” votes on 12 Years A Slave and Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican native and Best Director Oscar winner for 2 straight years.

Nevertheless, the 2015 and 2016 regression by AMPAS voters was surprising since Cheryl Boone Isaacs became the first African-American President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and Paris Barclay became the first African-American to helm the Producers Guild of America in 2013.

In February 2016, Channing Dungey became the first African-American president of ABC Entertainment Group. Spike Lee was given an Honorary Oscar, presumably for Lifetime Achievement. For years, all four have influenced TV and movie studio execs to hire more women and people of color in 3-dimensional roles and in big budget projects.

Diversity population is growing way faster than the Anglo-American population. In a world were more Diverse Millennials have many reasons to not go to the cinema, more movie talent is needed to serve diversity markets starving to see their stories authentically represented with high production values.

More people of color are being attached to good TV and Movie studio projects. Viola Davis, Terence Howard, Angela Bassett, Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Hudson, Cuba Gooding Jr, Halle Berry, Octavia Spencer, Djimon Hounsou, Sanaa Lathan, Queen Latifah, Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Jeffrey Wright, Regina Hall, Regina King, Morris Chestnut, Carmen Ejogo, Taye Diggs, Gabrielle Union, Chadwick Boseman, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Meagan Good, Michael Ealy, Naomie Harris and others are appearing in fictional dramas, bio-pics and action-pics budgeted at $20-125M. Many of them rake in $60-$300M in box office revenue alone. We’ve seen more Black Hollywood Progress from more black writers, cinematographers, costume designers, sound editors, assistant directors and production assistants working movie & TV projects too.

That virtuous cycle has led to a larger pool of good movies produced, written, directed and acted by people of color and the probability of more Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. Though Black Panther is a result of this progress, its impact is important enough to merit separate article.

Since Cheryl Boone Isaacs took the wheel in 2013, more AMPAS women and people of color are becoming Oscar voters, quickening the pace of diversity. This is a multi-year initiative to double diversity voter numbers by 2020. “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

Despite declines in the 2016, the Academy Awards attracted 34 million viewers and Golden Globes attracted 19 million viewers. Given their promotional value, diverse AMPAS Nominations & Awards are important to the long term health of the movie industry.

Movie studio executives should take a clue from TV executives to solve this award nomination problem. If AMPAS members help Cheryl achieve her goal by 2020, Oscar nominations will grow proportionately closer to diversity markets without sacrificing the AMPAS reputation for excellence. People of color want just nominations and awards, not numerical tokens.

In 2017, Barry Jenkins directed the Best Picture, Moonlight. Marharshala Ali won Best Supporting Actor and Viola Davis won Best Suporting Actress Oscar. Hidden Figures, Loving and Fences were also nominated for Best Picture. Unfortunately, Denzel Washington got robbed again, despite an Oscar-deserving performance in Fences.

Manchester By The Sea was heavily promoted since its January 2016 release at Sundance Film Festival, while Fences was not marketed until November for its December 15, 2016 release date. By November, most Academy (and Golden Globe) voters had already decided without viewing Fences, giving Casey Affleck the nod.

Tony Award and Screen Actor Guild voters are more diverse and younger, while AMPAS voters are overwhelmingly older white males. Though many of Screen Actor Guild’s 2500 voters overlap with AMPAS 6000+ voters, most AMPAS voters are not actors.

Fences

Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in Fences

In 2018, it was nice to see Get Out nominated for Best Picture, Jordan Peele win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out and Kobe Bryant win for Best Animated Short Film. There was some bad news too.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs will no longer serve at the Academy. Also, the struggle for just critical recognition continues. Ask Denzel, who hasn’t received the number of AMPAS Oscars and Nominations he deserves:

Denzel Washington Oscar, Nominations & Snubs for AMPAS Best Actor

1. 2016 Fences – Troy Maxson; Denzel Washington checked all the boxes to anticipate a second Oscar for Best Actor. He won his first Best Actor Award from the Screen Actors Guild. The movie he directed, Fences, was nominated for Best Picture. He won a Tony Award for the Troy Maxon role on Broadway. The movie earned 2 1/2 times its $24 million budget in box office for $64 worldwide box office, which is good for a theatre-for-cinema movie. It was well known in Hollywood that Denzel has been snubbed for multiple prior acting performances. Six other actors have won 3 or 4 Oscars for Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor. In a character study comparable to A Streetcar Named Desire, the Tony Award acting duo of Denzel and Viola gave insanely great dramatic performances that coaches will use to teach advanced acting for years to come. Shame on Paramount for under-marketing Fences and releasing the movie on 26 December 2016, after many AMPAS voters had already chosen. Shame on AMPAS voters who fell for better Lionsgate marketing of Manchester By The Sea and Casey Affleck, whose acting range in the role paled in comparison to Denzel’s role in Fences.

2. 1992 Malcolm X; A nearly 80% white male AMPAS membership would not award Best Actor for portrayal of a controversial black icon. Compounding the snub, many AMPAS voters hated Malcolm X Director Spike Lee for calling out Hollywood racism. Those two issues made it convenient for AMPAS voters to use the “Al Pacino was due on his 7th Academy Nomination” cover story. Denzel was robbed and Al Pacino knows it, because he too was robbed from the same award as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II.

3. 2001 Training Day – Alonzo; Based on repeat viewing of both exceptional performances many years later, the nod still goes to Denzel for Best Actor over Russell Crowe’s performance in A Beautiful Mind.

4. 1999 The Hurricane – Rubin Carter; Despite this being a well-directed bio-pic by Hollywood insider Norman Jewison, a less diverse AMPAS could not relate to Denzel’s memorable portrayal of a black boxer set-up by a dirty white cop and wrongly sentenced to jail for 19 years. White male AMPAS voters found was easier for to relate to Kevin Spacey’s character as a grown man’s sexual fantasy with his daughter’s high school friend in American Beauty. Though robbed for Malcolm X (1992) and snubbed from acting nominations in Philadelphia (1994) and Crimson Tide (1995), this one had to hurt Denzel. Nevertheless, bravo to Denzel for saluting Kevin Spacey’s win.

5. 2012 Flight – Whip Whitaker; This was another fine performance that earned an AMPAS Best Actor Nomination.

6. 2017 Roman J. Israel, Esq.; Only a masterful portrayal of an unusual character by Denzel could earn an AMPAS Best Actor Nomination in such a weakly written movie. Bravo to Denzel for saluting Gary Oldman’s earned win for Best Actor in Darkest Hour.

7. 1995 Crimson Tide – Hunter; The dynamic-duo of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman got snubbed in a character-driven war movie that critics and viewers still love. Since both actors should have received an AMPAS Best Actor Nomination in the movie, they probably spilt nomination votes.

Denzel Washington Oscar, Nominations & Snubs for AMPAS Best Supporting Actor

1. 1989 Glory – Private Trip; One-tear Denzel deserved & received Best Supporting Actor.

2. 1993 Philadelphia – Joe Miller; Without multiple scene-stealing Denzel, whose character was complimentary to Best Actor winner Tom Hanks, this movie would not have been nominated for Best Screenplay. It is a permanent stain on Hollywood that Denzel was NOT nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

3. 1987 Cry Freedom – Steve Biko; Denzel steals every scene to earn a Best Supporting Actor Nomination. Even if Denzel were white, he’d have to chalk this one up to paying dues in Hollywood.

Even if one believes that Al Pacino was long overdue in 1992, instead of 1 Oscar for Best Actor, 1 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and 8 Acting Nominations, Denzel should have 3 Oscars for Best Actor, 1 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and 10 Acting Nominations from AMPAS.

Black Oscar Winners & Nominees

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Cheryl Boone Isaacs launched fundraising for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures slated to open in late 2018.

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