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


Oct 26 2011

We’re a Culture, Not a Costume: Ohio University Students Teaching What NOT to Wear

Fed up with the annual parade of white folks in blackface, “Indian squaws,” and other culturally insensitive Halloween costumes on their campus, a group of students at Ohio University decided to do something about it.

Members of the campus club STARS (Students Teaching Against Racism) created a poster series with the theme “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume,” featuring Halloween revelers dressed in costumes STARS members consider sterotypical and offensive.

The group says the intention of the posters is to:

“Educate and facilitate discussion about racism and to promote racial harmony and to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings.”

The campaign has definitely incited dialogue, though some of what is being posted on the Internet is not fit to be printed here. Melissa, who blogged about the poster campaign at her website Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, had to disable her comments due to the volume of racist  remarks she received.

Arizona University student, Kristine Bui, wrote this about the posters in her school’s paper:

“It’s hard to explain exactly what is so wrong about being a geisha or a sheik for Halloween. It’s unsettling. It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to articulate — a discomfort that sort of just sits in the place between your heart and your stomach, quietly nagging. It’s a sense of being wronged without knowing exactly what was done to you.

“People who think racism is dead think so because they don’t see active discrimination. They think, ‘But minorities are allowed to do everything I’m allowed to do, so where’s the harm?’ STARS’ poster campaign calls attention to another problem: Minorities are often made into caricatures … As a minority, you’re a character, not a person. People dress up as you on Halloween. On TV, you’re the token black guy, easily replaced by some other black guy after one season.

“Racism is so much stealthier now. It doesn’t announce itself, and it’s complicated.”

 

STARS President ‘Sarah’ recently posted this update on her Tumbler page:

POSTER CAMPAIGN UPDATE:
Any questions about the posters can be sent to OHIOUSTARS@GMAIL.COM. We are so proud of all the support but it’s overwhelming; We have less than 10 members in our group. lol We ask that you do not personally email any of the exec’s or message their personal tumblrs. Thank you guys so much for the love! The purpose was to educate and create dialogue and it did :) We have a meeting with a lawyer on Monday so we can protect our posters and the posters will be all over Ohio University’s campus this week! Again, thanks for the support and have a happy Halloween!
Best, Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS) at Ohio University Executive board

 

Although I’ve never been one to wear ethnically stereotypical or disrespectful costumes, I am definitely thinking more deeply about this issue. These posters have inspired me  to take a mental inventory of my own Halloween costume choices over the years, and I don’t think a casual walk through the costume store will ever be the same.

Congratulations on all your hard work STARS. You’ve got people thinking, talking, and costume changing.


May 1 2011

Tyler Perry is Free

I have a vivid memory of a city bus ride I took with my father when I was eight years old. We were on our way to the science museum and there were some young Black kids in the back of the bus acting up–nothing outlandish–just a few unsupervised pubescents being loud. I could tell before he said anything that my daddy was not pleased with the way the kids were behaving, but he was never that “takes a village to raise a child” kind of Black man, so instead of providing any kind of parental conversation or guidance for the noisemakers, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, let out an irritated breath and muttered a barely audible, “Making us look bad.”

I didn’t ask him what he meant. I clearly understood that my father was ashamed of the backseat Black kids, but more than that, I got the impression that he was not one of them. I gleaned from my daddy’s demeanor–the way he sat up straighter and held his head higher–that somehow he believed he was other then them, better than them, and that he certainly didn’t deserve the negative opinions strangers on the bus might attribute to him (because he had the same skin color as those unruly hooligans).

At that young age I didn’t yet realize that the strangers on the bus whose opinions he feared were the White ones. I began to recognize that as I grew older. I learned that he cared very much what White people thought of him and he took their judgement of him quite seriously. Over the years I saw him project that same negative judgement he himself feared so much onto countless Black youngsters who could have benefited from loving correction instead of his silent damnation.

That experience with my daddy is why I love and admire Tyler Perry so much, and why I appreciate Perry’s willingness to shine his own loving light on the “bad behavior” of people who share his skin color. Perry is not silenced, nor is his spine stiffened by what others think of him or his art — and yes, I do think it is the essence of art whenever we humans are shown our strengths and our flaws in a way that elicits strong emotion. Perry takes his art to another level by getting us to laugh about our pain as he educates and admonishes us NOT to pass our destructive flaws on to successive generations.

No one will ever complain that a violent, potty-mouthed buffoon in an Adam Sandler movie makes all white-skinned people look bad. I am an Adam Sandler fan, but the critics have HATED his movies for their “buffoonery.” I don’t go to see a Sandler movie expecting subtle themes, classic motifs and social responsibility. I go to laugh, and he makes me do that, so I pay for it. One of the privileges White film makers have (and likely never even think about) is that no matter what the subject matter of the film they want to make, their finished product will not be accused of reflecting (positively or poorly) on all White people.White filmmakers have the freedom to tell any story, any time, in any way they please.

Tyler Perry is choosing to claim that freedom for himself, and I applaud him for it:

“There are so many people who walk around saying ‘It’s stereotypical,’ and this is where the whole Spike Lee thing comes from, the negativity, that this is Stepin’ Fetchit, this is coonery, this is buffoonery, and they try to get people to get on this bandwagon with them, to get this mob mentality to come against what I’m doing…It’s always black people, and this is something that I cannot undo…I am sick of it. It comes from us. We don’t have to worry about anyone else trying to destroy us or take shots, because we do it to ourselves.”

Tyler Perry is making films for an audience that is buying tickets. Period. If he were to make a different kind of movie, he would likely be bringing in different numbers (as evidenced by Colored Girls, which grossed in total less than a Madea film makes in one weekend).

And, while it is true that Tyler is making googobs of money with his films, he does it while delivering messages of transformation, spirituality and personal growth. His films lecture deadbeat dads about their responsibility to support  their kids, warn youngsters about the repercussions of unprotected sex, and uplift women who have been abused.

Name a social ill impacting the Black community and you can bet one of Perry’s films has touched on it. It’s not like he’s making movies that glorify sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and crime, so why is there so much vitriol against him?

If you are old enough to remember, you know that the Cosby show got much criticism back in the 80s for what many Black people at the time called an unrealistic portrayal of the Black family that few could relate to. Cosby’s upper middle class family headed by an obstetrician and an attorney who were happily married and raising their children together was  hugely controversial, as evidenced by an exhibit from the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

“Some observers described the show as a 1980’s version of Father Knows Best, the Huxtables as a white family in blackface…One audience study suggests that the show “strikes a deal” with white viewers, that it absolves them of responsibility for racial inequality in the United States in exchange for inviting the Huxtables into their living room.” (-Darnell M. Hunt)

The attack on Tyler Perry and his right to portray what he chooses in his films is not a new phenomenon, it is just coming from a different side of the argument. Perry haters are complaining that his films reinforce negative stereotypes, but Cosby haters said just the opposite. Back then, Bill Cosby’s response to the controversy was swift and succinct, and it applies just as appropriately to Perry’s work today as it did to Cosby’s nearly thirty years ago:

“You . . . pretend that our existence is one whole shell of sameness. I tell the people who complain they don’t know people like the Huxtables, ‘You ought to get out more often.’ “

I don’t know about you, but I can name a real-life person for every one of Tyler Perry’s fictional characters–including Madea. These are people in my life whom I know and love, and though I might not always agree with or feel proud of their choices, I will always root for them to succeed at facing and eradicating their flaws — and, if some Black people are worried that the “strangers on the bus” will judge all Black people by the actions of  a few characters in an obviously comedic film, whose problem is that…really?

“I am ashamed for the black poet who says: ‘I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,’ as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world…An artist must be free to choose what he does, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand…We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame…We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

-Langston Hughes