During the week after Three 6 Mafia's history making Best Original Song Oscar win for "It's Hard Out There For A Pimp," I spoke to several people who took issue with Hollywood's acceptance and acknowledgment of that song -- which they felt glorified pimp life -- as Oscar-worthy. Those conversations led to conversations about how Hollywood has acknowledged (or failed to acknowledge) African-Americans in the movie industry in the past.
Many black folks nationwide, not just my friends, expressed embarrassment, anger, surprise, and a whole litany of other sentiments over Hollywood's "limited" acceptance of African-Americans. "Limited" in the sense that they believe that Hollywood only acknowledges the work of black folks when they play crooked cops (Denzel in Training Day), sex-craved widows who sleep with the white men who pulled the trigger on their husband's electric chair (Halle in Monster's Ball), and chauffeurs to old, cranky white ladies (Morgan in Driving Miss Daisy). However, I had to disagree with many of those comments, simply because black folks have won Oscars for good roles also (i.e., Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field; Louis Gossett, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman; and Jamie Foxx in Ray).
Although I completely understand where these folks are coming from, I have to caution us from being SOOOOOO critical of the Oscars. We have to keep in mind that not all white folks who have won Oscars were playing the good guy-type roles. (Consider Sean Penn in Mystic River [where he played a thug], and Charlize Theron in Monster [where she played a serial killer]). So we can't expect that all black folks who win Oscars are going to be playing "desirable" roles. I think we have to take it for what it is, which is another honor for a black actor (or black songwriter), and another barrier broken. However, I will agree that black actors are not given opportunities to perform in Oscar winning-type roles; which of course contributes to the low numbers of African-American Oscar winners. (Let's be real, we know we're not winning any Oscars for Soul Plane or Booty Call!!!)
I included the list of African-American Oscar winners below for your reference. As for Three 6 Mafia, I agree, it probably is hard out there for a pimp. It's hard out there for all of us. I could write a song about how hard it is out there for a lawyer, but it probably wouldn't get much air play, let alone an Oscar nod. So I salute Three 6 Mafia for writing the first rap song to break the Oscar barrier.
African-American Oscar Winners:
- Hattie McDaniel, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Gone With the Wind (1939).
- James Baskett, Honorary Award "for his able and heart-warming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and story teller to the children of the world in Walt Disney's Song of the South" (1946). [awarded at the 1948 Academy Awards Ceremony]
- Sidney Poitier, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Lilies of the Field (1963).
- Isaac Hayes, Best Music, Original Song for "Theme from Shaft" from Shaft (1971).
- Louis Gossett, Jr., Best Actor in a Supporting Role for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982).
- Irene Cara, Best Music, Original Song for "Flashdance...What a Feeling" from Flashdance (1983).
- Prince, Best Music, Original Song Score for Purple Rain (1984).
- Stevie Wonder, Best Music, Original Song for "I Just Called to Say I Loved You" from The Woman in Red (1984).
- Lionel Richie, Best Music, Original Song for "Say You, Say Me" from White Nights (1985).
- Herbie Hancock, Best Music, Original Score for 'Round Midnight (1986).
- Denzel Washington, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Glory (1989).
- Whoopi Goldberg, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Ghost (1990).
- Cuba Gooding, Jr., Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Jerry Maguire (1996).
- Halle Berry, Best Actress in a Leading Role for Monster's Ball (2001).
- Denzel Washington, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Training Day (2001).
- Sidney Poitier, Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award "for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence." [awarded at the 2001 Academy Awards Ceremony]
- Jamie Foxx, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Ray (2004).
- Morgan Freeman, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Million Dollar Baby (2004)