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 Vulture.com 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