By Norman ‘Otis’ Richmond
Hollywood has never been kind to Africans in the United States or anywhere else on this small planet we call earth. Donald Bogle captured it beautifully in his 1973 work, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films.
Fast forward 42 years and very little has changed. The 2015 Oscars, the 87th Academy Awards nominations, have been announced. Black directors and actors were blanked out. Selma was only Black film that garnered a nomination or two. The film was named in two categories, for Best Motion Picture and John Legend and Common got a nod for the song Glory.
Black people in the U.S. have flipped out over the snub of directors, actors and others in the Oscars.
Academy Award winner Lou Gossett, who stars in the Canadian television CBC series The Book of Negroes, spoke out forcefully against the whiteout. Even the corporate press including the Washington Post questioned the shutout of Black films in this year’s Oscar nominations.
Said the Post: “The most obvious snub was Selma, Ava DuVernay’s moving biopic about Martin Luther King Jr. Despite a nod for best picture and best original song (for the recent Golden Globe-winning Glory), the film’s director and actors were shut out in their respective categories.
“David Oyelowo missed out on a Best Actor nomination, but more surprisingly, Ava DuVernay was not acknowledged in the Best Director category, a nomination that would have been the first for an African American woman.”
Hollywood is notorious for portraying Africans in America as butlers, the help and slaves who are too frightened to resist their oppression.
Danny Glover has been attempting to make a film about the Haitian revolution for years. The vast majority of people in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia would welcome a film where Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe wreak havoc on the French and other imperialist of the day. Only Hollywood executives would have a problem with such a film.
Why would I make such a claim? A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the movie-going public and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% caucasian and 77% male. The Times found Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than that.
Dr. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. He appeared on Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth on KPFK-FM and discussed Selma. He maintains that one of the reasons Hollywood has rejected Selma is because it shows Africans in the U.S. leading their own struggle.
Walter Rodney used to say that Africans in the United States can sing, dance, run and jump but have no control over their lives. Dick Griffey, the owner of Solar Records, always talked about Black people buying tickets to concerts that are not promoted by people who look like them.
Max Roach, the great drummer, made an appearance in the classic film Carmen Jones. Roach was always upset at the way the ruling circles always made Black people appear as buffoons on TV and in film. One of the last things I remember him telling me that we as a people can also THINK!
Norman ‘Otis’ Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, and grew up in Los Angeles. He left L.A. after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the U.S. were colonial subjects.