Posted on January 26, 2011

Don’t Blame Oscars for Lack of Black Nominees

Javier E. David, The Grio, January 25, 2011


{snip} The Academy Award nominations for 2010 were just announced, and as expected, they did not contain a single black nominee in any of the major categories–the first time this has happened in roughly a decade, and certainly since Halle Berry and Denzel Washington simultaneously won the top honors in 2002. This is a curious development, considering that the movie industry relentlessly promotes its cultural sensitivity and political correctness.


No doubt the Oscars’ overlooking of black industry players this year will come in for sharp criticism, accompanied by hand-wringing and amorphous pledges to do better. Yet the ensuing platitudes are likely to omit a very important detail: with a few notable exceptions, 2010 was a figurative wasteland for black cinema.

By no means should this imply that quality black films do not exist–plenty do, and the industry is replete with examples of excellent movies with black actors and directors at the helm. {snip} Suffice to say, most well-made black movies are hard-pressed to find financial success and mainstream accolades.

It’s not difficult to fathom why. A thoughtful 2009 New York Times article accurately detailed the state of contemporary black cinema and what continues to hamper its development. {snip} Hollywood continues to view black moviegoers through a woefully circumscribed prism. To them, black movies are less mainstream products than they are niche. And let’s be frank: the overwhelming majority of black consumers give them ample reason for doing so.

Alas, much like the eternal debate over mainstream music, movies are a function of stark economics and financial viability. Ultimately, what gets green-lighted is a reflection of the public’s willingness to pay. While Tyler Perry’s movies have received more than their fair share of criticism, black audiences clearly respond to his brand of (urban) humor. Regardless of Hollywood’s oft exaggerated insistence on creativity and its art house pretensions, movie making is a business. As such, industry participants expect to receive a sizable return on their investment in a film. Given how expensive movies are to make nowadays, that’s not an unreasonable expectation.

Advocates for black film will likely fault the Academy for their perceived snub of black artists. Truthfully, however, the Oscars are notorious for a clubby, culturally highbrow worldview that bestows its imprimatur on unknown vanity pieces (The Hurt Locker, anyone?). More often than not, they tend to shun movies, black or white, that hew to mainstream tastes.

{snip} This year’s omission of black actors should be a wake-up call to moviegoers: start patronizing better movies, and Hollywood will be forced to take notice.