One has to wonder how long will African-Americans continue to look to an often hostile white community that has historically denigrated, yet also co-opted and profited from, their cultural expressions for approval. There appears to be an unadulterated desire by African-Americans to be lauded and celebrated by white institutions; such Blacks totally ignore the reality that whites and their institutions have repeatedly shunned their cultural and artistic contributions. Nonetheless, many within our community continue to look outside for some form of validation or self-worth in regards to their skills as actors, actresses, and directors.
The unquenchable thirst of Black America for white validation was once again displayed after the Oscar nominations were revealed. Just in case you missed it, Black Hollywood was particularly upset that Ava DuVernay’s Selma was shunned by this year’s Oscar nominating committee, only receiving nominations for best picture and best song. By their reaction to this purported snub, Black Hollywood, and a few Black leaders, are once again displaying a tendency to allow whites to bestow worth, or the lack thereof, upon Black cultural and artistic expressions. From their reaction, it appears that not even commercial success, meaning support from their indigenous community, carries as much weight in Black Hollywood as the acknowledgement of a few white film critics and Hollywood insiders.
Predictably, Al Sharpton did his Negro best, to guide Black America’s reaction to the aforementioned snub with a racially polarizing, yet mundane quip that “The movie industry is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher you get, the whiter it gets.” Sharpton, who has increasingly behaved as if he should be nominated for his repeated role of being the world’s best ambulance chaser of supposed racial slights, for some bizarre reason pledged to call an “emergency meeting” with undisclosed individuals to deal with this issue. The MSNBC host insinuated that he would personally take action against the awards show.
Apparently the decision to nominate only whites for the most prestigious awards (best actor, best actress, and best director) was an insult that Sharpton, and many others within Black Hollywood, could not tolerate. The former Presidential candidate pointed out “the lack of diversity in today’s Oscar nominations is appalling…it’s ironic that they nominated a story about the racial shutout around voting while there is a racial shutout around the Oscar nominations…We have less diversity in the nominations today than in recent history.”
Now I am not here to debate the worth of Selma, rather, to aim a very poignant question at Black America; that query being, why do you, the originators of much that we see on the big screen and even on local and cable television, allow the opinion’s and evaluations of white’s to serve as the definitive judgment in regards to cultural expressions, intellectual thought, politics, and social norms. It is in a word, foolish, to wait for kudos from a community that has rarely expressed anything other than comprehensive loathing and disdain for anything Black; that is, unless they are able to financially profit from it.
The white community has historically been hostile, yet opportunistically exploitative of Black cultural expressions. Black music, dance, acting, and theater have been consistently denounced by a largely hostile white community that hypocritically misappropriates, a big word for steal, these same cultural expressions for their own selfish, yet financially lucrative, purposes. Such matters remind me of the minstrel show era when white vaudeville performers “blackened up” and impersonated Black people before sold out audiences. Then it was Thomas Daddy Rice, today it is the Justin’s (Timberlake and Bieber) mimicking Black song and dance. Or the recently anointed King and Princess of Hip-Hop, Macklemore and Iggy Azalea.
So if provided an opportunity to say so, I would tell my people to stop looking to those who have historically oppressed you to celebrate or champion your cultural and artistic expressions. According to Spike Lee, such adulation occurs once a decade. According to Lee, “Anyone who thinks this year was gonna be like last year is retarded…It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year with Halle Berry, Denzel and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing back flips when it happens.”
Unfortunately, the Oscar snubs have left a bad taste in the mouth of many segments of Black Hollywood. Were I permitted, I would like to share the advice that Spike Lee offered to Ava DuVernay with the droves of Black actors/actresses that nervously wait for white Hollywood’s fleeting and inconsistent adulation that never arrives.
“Fuck ’em. You made a very good film, so feel good about that and start working on the next one.”
James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2015