May 31 2012

Michelle Rodriguez: “You Have to Be Trashy and Black to Get Nominated” for an Oscar

Director Lee Daniels (Precious) is receiving strong criticism for his latest film, “The Paperboy,” which was mostly panned at the Cannes Film Festival this year and called “outrageous,” “unintentionally funny” and “campy.”

However, at least one fan of the film thought its leading lady, Nicole Kidman, kicked some thespian a-double-s in her raw portrayal of a “white trash slut.”

Michelle Rodriguez told that she believes Kidman should be nominated for an Oscar for her work in The Paperboy, but likely won’t because she’s white. Speaking about a specific scene in the film where Kidman urinates on Zac Efron and orgasms, the “Lost” actress said:

“I f—g loved it. One of my friends said, ‘She’s going to get nominated for an Oscar for that.’ I was like, ‘Nah, man. She’s not black!’ I laugh, but it’s also very sad. It makes me want to cry. But I really believe. You have to be trashy and black to get nominated. You can’t just be trashy.”

You have to be trashy and black to get an Oscar nomination?

This is bothering me on so many levels. Not because a non-black actor doesn’t have the right to her view on how Oscar decisions are made or her opinions about how black actors get noticed by the Academy…

I’m bothered because despite the certainty with which she proclaimed her belief,” she’s wrong…

Off the top of my head I can think of several “white trash” roles that have garnered Academy nominations, among them, Charlize Theron for “Monster” (2003), Melissa Leo for “Frozen River” (2008), Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter’s Bone” (2010), and Rooney Mara for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011). With a little research I found Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Shue, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Kathy Bates, Anjelica Huston… the list goes on and on of white Oscar nominees who’ve played whores, alcoholics, stalkers, abused girlfriends, etc.. And, that list doesn’t even include the best supporting nominees or the countless white men who’ve acted lowdown, dirty, and/or freaky on the big screen.

Given the reality that the Academy actually has no problem including white people in “trashy” roles on their list to receive what is widely recognized as the highest thespian award on earth, I’m wondering if what Michelle was alluding to is the widely-held perception that black actors are more likely to be honored for work in which they play a “trashy” character.

Also not correct.

I’ll admit that back in 2001 I was among those who hated the fact that Denzel and Halle both won Oscars playing characters who scraped the bottom of the morality barrel. But, as much as I have little confidence in the Academy’s ability to recognize the “best” onscreen performances (of any ethnicity), regarding this particular issue of “required trashiness” for black actors, it should be noted that historically, the ratio of black nominees in “trashy” roles to those playing heroes (or just regular folks) is actually quite low.

Prior to the year 2000, of the 16 Academy nominations for lead actor and actress, only Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of abusive husband Ike Turner in the film “What’s Love Got To Do With It” could be categorized as “trashy.”

Here is a list of the best (black) actor/actress in a leading role nominations for the last ten years:

2011 Viola Davis The Help Maid
2009 Morgan Freeman Invictus President of South Africa
2009 Gabourey Sidibe Precious Abused Teen
2006 Forest Whitaker The Last King of Scotland Brutal Dictator *WON OSCAR*
2006 Will Smith The Pursuit of Happyness Self-Made Millionaire
2005 Terrence Howard Hustle & Flow Pimp / Rapper
2004 Don Cheadle Hotel Rwanda Hero
2004 Jamie Foxx Ray Music Legend *WON OSCAR*
2001 Halle Berry Monster’s Ball Executed Prisoner’s Widow *WON OSCAR*
2001 Will Smith Ali Boxing Legend
2001 Denzel Washington Training Day Corrupt Cop *WON OSCAR*

Here are the supporting actor/actress nominees:

2011 Octavia Spencer The Help Maid *WON OSCAR*
2009 Mo’Nique Precious Abusive Parent  *WON OSCAR*
2007 Ruby Dee American Gangster Gangster’s Mother
2006 Jennifer Hudson Dreamgirls Singer *WON OSCAR*
2006 Eddie Murphy Dreamgirls Singer
2004 Jamie Foxx Collateral Hostage Cab Driver
2004 Morgan Freeman Million Dollar Baby Former Boxer  *WON OSCAR*
2004 Sophie Okonedo Hotel Rwanda Hero’s Wife
2003 Djimon Honsou In America Neighbor w/ AIDS
2002 Queen Latifah Chicago Corrupt Jail Matron

I’m DEFINITELY not suggesting that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has been generous, fair or impartial to black actors over the years, but numerically speaking, Oscar nominations for “anti-hero” roles do not outnumber morally neutral or heroic roles.

Michelle Rodriguez really needs to check her stereotypes and her facts before she stands on the backs of black actors to defend a white actress’s “right” to be nominated by the Academy for a “trashy” role.

On “The Island,” physics and facts may have been easily contorted and controlled, but this ain’t “Lost,” Michelle, and in the real world “really believing” something that has no basis in fact doesn’t make it true

Mar 22 2005

One on One with Jamie Foxx: He’s Swinging at All the Right Pitches (ARCHIVE)

I picture Jamie Foxx’s soul thirty-eight years ago floating around in the spirit world preparing for his ordained time here on Earth. An angel is pointing out the lines souls can wait in to get what they need to do good work as human beings.

Foxx is paying extra close attention as the angel explains, “This line is for exceptional musical prowess; that one is the comedic creativity line; to your left 

is the queue for vocal talent, and the lines for courage and humility are right next to each other on the other side of kindness and loyalty. Oh, and don’t forget the one for acting skills—it’s way down there near intelligence and athletic ability. The angel tells Foxx he only has time to stand in four or five of the lengthy queues before leaving for Earth, but he pretends he doesn’t understand the directions and cuts to the front of every one of the lines quite a few times.

Farfetched? Of course. But what other explanation can there be for one man being so d#@ned blessed in so many areas?

For those of us who have been paying attention to Foxx’s career over the years, the fact that the man can play the piano, sing his heart out, and act his behind off is not breaking news. Okay, maybe we didn’t know he had Ray in him, but we watched in awe as he showed what he could do in Redemption, a role that earned him a 2005 Independent Spirit Award nomination for best actor. Then there was Collateral, the blockbuster film co-starring Tom Cruise that earned Foxx the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. And, last year when he crooned alongside Kanye West on that “Slow Jamz” hit, we all suspected that we might only be scratching the surface of all that this talented brother has to offer.

The lingering question on everyone’s mind, now that the Oscar dust has settled and Foxx has officially joined that exclusive alliance of Academy Award winners, is: What could possibly be next?

I recently asked Foxx that question, and he answered in his characteristically humble way, referring to himself and his soaring career in the third person and refusing to use the word “I” to boast about future goals:

“When you do something and it changes the culture—that’s what we have to do as black folks. When ‘In Living Color’ came along it changed the culture. Denzel and Sidney Poitier, they changed the culture. So, this is one of those opportunities where we see the culture changing.”

Foxx is a little teary-eyed when he adds, “Sidney Poitier said to me, ‘What I’m going to give you is responsibility,’ and to have things like that told to you—it means more than awards. It means more than all of this. It means you have been given a torch to carry.”

The torch of artistic responsibility is one Foxx can definitely handle. In recent years he has been patiently biding his time—rejecting offers that didn’t feel right. “There are a lot of things we could’ve swung at and it would’ve come out bad,” Foxx explains, referring to the decisions he and his management team made to wait for projects that would further his career goals. “Luckily we were able to do like a great baseball player and wait on our pitch; and the pitch was Collateral. The pitch was Ray Charles. The pitch was a record with Kanye West. So when you get a chance to get the right things thrown at you, you stay ready. You know you’re not only here to do the right things, but now people are going to accept it.”

Foxx used another sports metaphor to compare his artistic responsibility to his experience as a high school sophomore playing football on a varsity championship team. “We lost the big game. I saw the seniors crying, and I was like, ‘What are they crying about?’ ‘cause I had more games to play. But my junior and my senior year we never got that far. I call that ‘younging it away.’ We can’t young this away. If we young it away and do not respect those people who laid the path for us, maybe something goes awry and it doesn’t happen the way we want it to happen. That’s why it’s so important to be respectful and let [the elders] know that you’re going to do the right thing.”

Asked what the right thing is, Foxx replied, “You can do whatever you want as long as it’s real, it’s respectful and it’s good. You can never be mediocre. Whatever you do, it has to be great.”