Here’s a little ditty in a response to the New York Times article by filmmaker Nelson George:Too Bad, Too Good or Invisible
I agree with aspects of this article, though I haven’t seen Flight yet, but the tone of George’s analysis gets under my skin (regardless that it’s pasty white with freckles).
My agreeable self sides with lack of representation, but I become a vengeful ginger upon reading the lack of reporting.
I guess, depending on my mood, I can view this article as a triumph for acknowledging black actors and filmmakers or a convoluted backhanded compliment.
There is no mention how the youngest person nominated for an Oscar is an African-American girl. It’s completely obsolete to the massive historical construct of this article. This makes me want to have the author arrested for reckless endangerment of positive thought and ignorant to critical thinking. It’s such a mistake that the author did NOT discuss this I could probably end my criticism right there. Like, “you did not do your homework, at ALL. FAIL.”
But I’ll digress…
When an author writes, the majority of the time they are somehow casting themselves… Their mothers or their fathers… Their childhood issues… So there is a natural tendency to write envisioning, well, everything you. So a certain amount of white majority rule and heterosexual rule I can deal with. To a point. To a point.
So what’s my argument? Nelson George is proclaiming more visibility right? Well let’s examine a bit further…
There are cinematic trends in filmmaking; having all superheroes flawed and fucked up, close to manic depression is a current one. There are old standbys (does Tim Allen ever pick a movie of any depth? When’s the next Malibu teenager movie of a great adventure happening to people with blonde highlights?) But none of the above typically becomes an Oscar nominee. It’s Frosted Flakes. It’s jumbo drinks. It’s, whateva.
One could say the modern incarnation of Eddie Murphy is a more talented Tim Allen with more than a phoned in performance, but he’s still popcorn and candy these days. His heart is connected to the mega malls of America. But he makes money. That money isn’t Oscar. I think what this author is getting at who is the Academy watching, wanting, propelling.
So, the way Oscar typically rewards movies is those that are high drama, conflicted characters… Flawed… Humiliated… Most Oscar nominated performances are of characters too good or too bad, but nuanced. Sometimes the characters are the Norma Rae’s and champions of the people. Too good, Forrest Gump. Too bad, Hannibal Lector. Both winners. Both extremes of the spectrum. Do I see these characters as an extension of my whiteness? HELL NO! LOL.
Now if Denzel plays either spectrum this is what? How white men acceptably view black men? As druggies and inferiors? Yet if Bradly Cooper plays a barely reasonable realistic whack job (my opinion) with a so-called “bipolar” disorder this is somehow white progress or a reflection of white society? Playing historic figures usually hinges on extreme criticism but wasn’t Forrest Whitaker’s Oscar win for Uganda’s Idi Amin in King of Scotland a triumph that would probably beat Daniel Day Lewis’s Lincoln performance if the movies competed today? Monique snatched that trophy when her prior history was mainly comedy… One could argue she still needed to “prove” herself before the accolades were being handed out, like how Cher should have received for the movie Mask but instead received for “snap out of it” Moonstruck. But Monique got the Oscar for playing a character that most women, regardless of color, would be too scared to touch. Far too scared. Wait… Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy… Wait, Lee Daniels directed both. Wait, no mention of Lee Daniels in this article. No mention of the black characters in The Paperboy. None. Alas, Daniels’ film wasn’t nominated, but Nelson George’s criticism of Hollywood’s portrayal doesn’t confine itself to non-Oscar nominated films and characters.
Which leads me to David Oyelowo as Yardley Acheman in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy. Oyelowo got quite the analysis for his role in Lincoln, one which I agree with Nelson George’s analysis, but George completely disregards Oyelowo’s pseudo British reporter navigating through the bigoted South in Daniels’ sexually subversive flick. So is it because Daniels’ movie isn’t considered “traditional” Hollywood pandering that George has omitted this film?
The author describes Django’s “revisionist” history. And George Lucas revised space and made planes defy gravity in Star Wars. Lets not even talk about Hollywood’s take on Ancient Greek and Roman society and the various incarnations from 300 to Alexander the Great to Spartacus. God for bid the varying interpretations of the Bible! I think most critical thinkers can see that Django is closer to Indiana Jones than tv miniseries Roots.
The article references Will Smith and his space explorations, but fails to see the triumph that “space” and Sci-fi movies of the future have mainly been a “whites only” domain, as if to subtlety say “blacks don’t make it into the future.” To dismiss Sci-fi as frivolous is a major, major “no, no” in my book… But wait, when was an actor in a starship movie EVER nominated??? I’m sure there’s one, but Oscar accolades are always thrown to the Special Effects department… No one is gonna give an Oscar to whoever did Catherine Zeta-Jones’s tears in Traffic, because the SFX have GOT to be abundant AND over-the-top, and dare I say, realistic to an unrealistic world? Sorry, just had to rant about those Zeta tears.
And Christoph Waltz character, one could argue, lacks the same depth as Jamie Foxx’s, so why the criticism towards Foxx’s Django? Wasn’t part of the great draw into Foxx’s Django or Tarantino’s Django or however you want to interpret who represents Django, is that Django reveals his strengths as the movie progresses? It’s the difference between a singer belting out all the big notes at the start of a song or waiting until the sting of the finish.
Why omit Samuel L Jackson’s gruesomely vivid, twisted and sick portrayal of Steven the shady Uncle Tom, who easily, EASILY sits nicely with Scarface and Corelone family in The Godfather as one fantastic acting job of a corrupt, hateful mother fucker amongst a thriving cinema of mother fuckers?
Nelson George’s article very much reminds me of the 1991 documentary Color Adjustment. The documentary highlights the various cultural shifts and impact of African-American characters since the dawn of television. With every hurdled crossed, there were dozens of triumphs omitted. In particular, the film acknowledges the contribution of The Cosby show, but not the contributions of Bill Cosby and the spin off series. The African-American struggle gets compartmentalized into a convenient, stifled little box that makes me want to slap people. It’s as if someone is saying, “we’ll never be good enough.” It’s the backhanded compliment. Well, I despise Debbie Downers. Especially when they are making too many omissions to stylize their argument.
If the world was a different place, Whoopi Goldberg would be doing the types of movies Tom Hanks gets and Alfre Woodard would be turning out films like Meryl Streep… So the lack of representation is very real. But there were more highlights in 2013 that George fails to acknowledge.
To confine the black experience as one to be experienced through the movies is like saying I can find my whiteness in Twilight, Field of Dreams, Top Gun, or A Few Good Men… And I don’t. What I do find in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Basic Instinct, Carmen Jones, All About Eve and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the fantasy world of mythology that let’s my mind roam and those are a just few of my top films. Now if we’re talking my Oscar favs that are reflecting acting, it’s harder for me to come by because Oscar favorites typically aren’t my favorites because of what Oscar picks… Roles that were too good or too bad. Everything George laments.
The best references to any culture’s truer experiences are always going to be best seen through documentaries, not the fictional film.
Yes, there is a major reflection of white people all over American cinema and a lack of everyone else… But if you’re going to avoid the accomplishments that did happen in a year of scattered peaks and valleys of movies, then you’re not playing fair.
Is there a plethora lacking a variety of African-American characters – YES. We need more characters who’s race matters, who’s race doesn’t matter, who race colors the character, and or enhance, but above all meaningful, transcendent and juicy. Progress IS if more black men and women are playing POINTLESS characters AND, most importantly, STORY DRIVING characters. Main characters. Flawed characters. Righteous characters. Nasty characters.
To omit that the youngest Oscar nominee is an African-American girl named Quvenzhane Wallis WHO NEVER ACTED BEFORE and to omit deeper commentary to Samuel L Jackson’s role in Django, is being very, very, very, very, very, very… SELECTIVE. Or is George’s exclusion of Wallis his way of saying he doesn’t think Wallis should be nominated? Is he saying that nomination is to not be taken seriously? Or is his omission of her performance so he doesn’t ruin his narrative? Is it because Wallis is a child that George finds her contribution not relatable or an anomaly? Well, WELCOME TO THE ACADEMY AWARDS SELECTION PROCESS! LOL
Which leads me to ask… Exactly how much applause does the author want to give to the African-American experience of 2012?
Embrace it? Or smother it?
So, Think Like A Man starring Oscar nominee Taraji P Henson, Jennifer Lewis, Steve Harvey, and Morris Chesnutt was a romcom directed by an African-American (Tim Story) and a writing collaboration of two white men (Keith Merryman & David A. Newman) loosely based on Steve Harvey’s book. This black and white collaboration is omitted in George’s Hollywood dissection because it’s a comedy? Might I add a romcom that wasn’t produced by Tyler Perry. What about the omission of all three Tyler Perry 2012 releases (Good Deeds, Madea’s Witness Protection, and his turn as Alex Cross)?
What is Nelson George REALLY trying to say? What wound or scab is he wanting to agitate?
Like I said, if the argument is we need MORE representation, I fully, whole heartedly AGREE! We need more Oscar diversity, YES! But to shoo away that there are more and more non-whites nominated every year is dismissing progress. To demand a deeper embrace from the Academy when compared to the plethora of candy crap Hollywood produces is like finding a needle in a haystack. There’s a reason why most Oscar nominated films come out right before the Oscars… Hollywood makes a lot of crap. So, if one wanted too, they could make the argument: Hollywood produces a lot of crap, crap starring mainly white folks, this is a reflection that white folks are, well, crap. Lol.
I just despise those acknowledging monumental shifts with a shrug but guide you to the dog shit in the backyard they don’t want to clean up. Rather, just point at it.
They are detractors and cowards.
The Oscars have come a long way. Movie gems will always stand out because they defy the ubiquitous drones.
LOL… I should have ended the criticism with “but I digress…” But I couldn’t let it go.