It has been 30 years since many black actors have been honored at the Academy Awards for best actor or actress in one setting. In 1972, Diana Ross (“Lady Sings the Blues”) and Cicely Tyson (“Sounder”) were nominated for best actress; Paul Winfield was nominated for best actor and “Sounder” was nominated for best film. Although, none of them won, never had so many black actors been nominated in the same year.
Now, three black actors are nominated in the lead categories for this year’s 74th Annual Academy Awards. Will Smith and Denzel Washington are in the running for best actor for their performances in “Ali” and “Training Day,” while Halle Berry is nominated for best actress for her performance in “Monster’s Ball.”
Although the nominations of Smith, Washington, and Berry have made this a historic Oscar season, it still has been too long for a number of blacks to have the opportunity to compete in lead categories. The problem is blacks are underrepresented at the Academy Awards.
There is definitely a racial formula for actors to receive an Oscar. And the racial formula for many years has equaled “being a white actor.”
Although Hollywood has been slow to honor blacks and other minority actors, it does not mean that blacks are less talented than white actors. It just goes to show that the Academy Awards still has far to go in diversifying their award recipients.
Frank Smith Jr., acting board president of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, said, “Of 278 acting Oscars awarded since 1929, only 6-2.2 percent-were won by blacks.”
In three of the last four years, no blacks were nominated in the four acting categories. And out of the total 20 nominees in the running for this year’s acting categories, only three blacks are in the running. According to The L.A. Times, more than 19 percent of the Screen Actors Guild membership and nearly 8 percent of the Directors Guild of America is African American, Latino or Asian.
Most members of the club are invited to join by specific academy divisions such as the acting, directing or writing branches. Bruce Davis, academy executive director, said, “The academy does not gather specific demographic information on its members, but the percentage of blacks and other minority members is less than their ratio in the general population.”
That may be the reason why great actors such as Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, and Samuel L. Jackson have not received numerous nominations, yet alone Oscars, for their past performances.
The solution to black underrepresentation is for blacks to create their own pathway to recognition. Although we have the NAACP Image Award and the Essence Award shows, blacks need to continue awarding each other for their performances and talents.
Being nominated for or receiving an Oscar does not mean Berry, Smith, and Washington have reached the pinnacle of their acting career. Black people should know they have been long qualified for outstanding awards before the “Academy Club” ever thought to nominate them.
Wakisha Douglas is a senior newspaper journalism student from Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at Wakisha@hotmail.com