Finally, let’s take a quick look at the Oscars.
We might be aware by now of the lack of representation in the Oscars. Here’s a list of black people that have won Oscars in the last century. Have you noticed a theme of black people winning or being nominated for roles about the black struggle, roles of servitude, or stereotypical roles of some sort? These roles are valuable and I think they are a part of a spectrum of our experiences but can you pick out a few that don’t fit into that category? In your opinion did other black actors and movies deserve to win Oscars or did their movies always fall flat against other Hollywood nominees?
How many Oscar-worthy performances have you witnessed by people of color? How many Oscar-worthy movies have you seen with regular roles for black people that weren’t centered around black experiences? How many black Hollywood movies can you name? If you’re wondering where you can have a brief overview of the black movies that have been created over the last century I highly recommend “They gotta have us” on Netflix.
Last week I wrote about the types of positive black images that seem to get more social media traction. These are often images that show black people in roles of service. I also wrote about the unnecessary pressure people can feel at times to be a positive representation of their race. I want to end this series by looking at a statement from Hattie Mcdaniel who was the first black person to ever win an Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Gone With The Wind. She played the feisty slave/maid called Mammy- also the name of an archetype from slavery times. In her acceptance speech, she said that she hoped she would always be a credit to her race and to the motion picture industry. The part that stood out to me was that she said a “credit to her race” it makes sense that she would say that.
At that time in 1940, as a black woman, she wasn’t even technically allowed in the segregated building where she received her award. I have a lot of respect for Hattie Mcdaniel and I can’t imagine the tremendous weight that was on her to represent racial progress and be a spokesperson for black people, while simultaneously being criticized for taking the roles in which she was eventually type-casted. Imagine receiving this award and feeling it necessary to mention being a credit to your race. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at first. I understand what she meant and she said it about the motion picture industry too. But as I pondered it, I again felt that it stemmed from that need to show others that she was and would be the “good” kind of black person. The kind that never does anything wrong or makes people uncomfortable- the kind that would ease the conscience of white people because she was proof that black people were moving ahead and away from the oppression that was still so blatant.
What are some action steps as we consider the need and the issues surrounding positive black images? First off- continue to share images that are uplifting and helpful, especially for each other and the younger generation. Next, be mindful of the kind of images that you share. Think about what the message is. Is it helpful or is it reinforcing a stereotype? Is it balanced? If you feel that it will encourage someone or challenge a long-held negative belief in someone you know- then keep sharing those powerful images!