Sunday, March 12, 2006

Black Folks and the Oscars

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)


thespookwhosatbythedoor said...

First of all, let me start by saying that I've never really been into watching the Oscars. And I don't really understand what they look for when deciding who should be nominated. I've often watched Oscar-nominated movies and found myself wondering what the big deal was. That being said, I shouldn't have been surprised when "the academy" nominated Terrance Howard as best actor and "Its hard out there for a pimp" as best orignal song.

But as an African-American, I am always suspicious when white folks decide to nominate us for typical minstrel-type roles.

A good way of explaining my position is the following: Lets say your child recieves an "F" on his/her report card, so you scold him and put him on punishment. The next day, you receive a notice from the school saying that your child is going to receive an award for the "F" at the next school assembly. Now with few exceptions, the white kids in your child's class receive awards for having A's. But the black kids are seldom rewarded for anything, but when they do, its for getting Fs. As a parent you would be outraged because the unspoken assumption is that an F is the best your child can do.

Now its great that Hollywood has given us a few bones, and I guess I should shuffle and say "thanks ya massa. You been so good to us."

Not in this lifetime.

The movie was wack and the song was not original. It sounded like any other pimp-glorifying song that you hear on the radio. It was an "F" at best and I'll be damned if I'm going to be happy to see anyone get an award for bullsh%#t.

Curry said...

From a musical perspective, and I have an obvious bias, the 36 Mafia song is garbage, dated, material, & just plain stupid. It’s hard out there to be a pimp? A pimp? Are they serious?!! To glorify the lifestyle of cheap-azz males who pimp? And for ‘us’ to be rewarded with an accolade with the weight and prestige of an Oscar? A Grammy would have been MUCH easier to stomach, considering the relatively trendy avenue that it has taken in the last few years. I’m at a loss.

36 Mafia doesn’t deserve to be MENTIONED on the same list as Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Prince. There should be an entirely separate list for them titled “Oops! La Cienega traffic had us delirious.” These are all timeless artists & musicians that have devoted their very being to music & art. And I absolutely reject the argument that “at least some black folk won an Oscar”. Bullshyt! They’ve set a cultural bar now. I have no doubt that right now there are artists & rappers out there that are going to try to mimic this message, or a message of similar nonsense, thus perpetuating the defamation to our culture that similar music has already done in the last 15 years. At least when Denzel Washington won the Oscar for Training Day he already had a proven track record of being an A+ caliber actor with years & years of experience, having paid his dues, and earned that respect.

Don’t be mad at The Academy for “giving” them that award, be mad at the fact that they could be laughing and saying “Is the best that they can do?” “Is this what they’ve got to offer music?”

It’s a bit ironic that the black MUSICIANS that have received Oscars in the past are NOT just average, they’re not even above average. These artists created something where before there was nothing with gifs; not “beat machines” & Pro-Tools. Herbie Hancock played piano in Miles Davis’s original quartet & has thousands of compositions (notice I didn’t say “tracks”)! He can live rich off of the royalties generated by his samples alone. Stevie Wonder! Prince? There aren’t enough words that exist to describe these what these kats have done with their crafts.

The bar has DEFINITLEY been lowered. I don’t care what people say, don’t support this madness!

Ask yourself, would you want your children walking through the house singing this song?


You Hit A Nerve

Anonymous said...

They picked the wrong song. "Whoop That Trick" should have won.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree with ya completely, Asina. With the exception of Sidney Poitier, Lou Gossett, Jr.,Jamie Foxx, and Morgan Freeman, blacks are winning Oscars for doing what they think we do best, I.E.=
Denzel's first= unruly, runaway slave
Whoopi= Yeah she helped Demi and Patrick reconnect, but what was she... a con-artist.
Cuba= Brash athlete
Denzel's second= crooked cop.
Denzel's case irks me in particular. I could stomach his other two if justice had been done for his perfomances in Malcolm X and Philadelphia. Lets celebrate, but recognize the celebration is somewhat bittersweet.
-T. Tharpe

shanabean said...

I have to jump on the bangwagon with this one. Im not impressed and Im not grateful. It reminds me of when slaves would argue over who had the better "Massa". Sure, maybe one was less abusive than the other, but the bottom line is they were all still slaves.

I also dont think we can't compare black and white roles that have won won in the past. I mean they can afford to throw in a few bad roles as they have so many others that are not. We on the other hand have seen amazing actors/actresses in amazing roles NOT win when we all know they should have. Take the "Color Purple" for instance.

For me it is just insulting for them to even think that the best of the best for us is 3 6 mafia.

Latrodectus Mactans said...


It's been almost six months now since the Oscars.

Where is 36Mafia now?