Why People of Colour Winning at the Oscars Matters
Let’s not deny the importance of the Academy Awards, even if they continue to do a disservice to us.
Images via YouTube.
So the Oscars came and went, and I have a confession to make.
When my clique of black critics grouped together and spotted Green Book grab best picture, one of us declared that the Oscars “didn’t even matter,” and I was annoyed. I'm talking about the same kind of back scratching annoyance I experience whenever I sense bullshit in my midst—color blindness, R.Kelly, take your pick. These statements always feel designed to be rebellious for the sake of being contrarian, but in the end, they always sound narrow to the point of being dangerous.
It’s an unfortunate reality that many of us non-whites peddle this pessimism for as long we’ve been disappointed by the Oscars. We sighed through news clippings about Driving Miss Daisy winning best picture to the neglect of Do The Right Thing in the 90s . We rage-tweeted through Denzel Washington’s best actor loss to Casey Affleck, who was in the middle of a sexual harassment scandal, in 2017. And last night, we went off on the pandering-ass Green Book for winning best picture.
When we’ve got the Asian, Image and BET Awards steadily alleviating our diversity woes, and a declining Oscar viewership in 2018 down by 19 percent ( 26.5 million); it becomes a mandate to lose ourselves in the “Oscars don’t matter” aroma, even when self-validation blinds us from a bigger picture.
Let’s first understand what the Academy is: the biggest and whitest stage built from a privilege. As of 2014, it was 94 percent white, and it’s at a still high (albeit better) 84 percent. To most mortals, it’s nothing more than a silly-ass pageant grouped by self-important artists; which is fair. But for POC like myself, it’s our Montgomery Bus, with the Oscars as the front seat. Forget easier rides (wealth), or white acknowledgement; the real power is in our inner Rosa Parks, and moving/achieving in places where white supremacy makes that difficult.
Last night, I got a taste of that power through the 20 of 24 wins won by POC. It started with Regina King’s best supporting actress win for Beale Street, who graced up that stage looking visibly vulnerable and tear-filled. This is an actress who spent 30 years in the business displaying warmth and intensity, and her hands around that gold figure was a sight that was infectious. Then came costume designer Ruth Carter, who spent her own set of years in film before grabbing her Oscar for Black Panther . And of course the tearful production designer in Hannah Beachler—who along with Carter represented the two out of three black woman who historically won a non-acting award (the other was Irene Cara, who won best original song for Flashdance in 1984).
Whether it was Spike Lee for adapted screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, or Alfonso Cuarón’s directoral nod for Roma, these looks were life-giving. There’s a power in sight that words can’t express. Much in the same way that Barack Obama took an oath of office and inspired millions. Black and POC wins are an affront to similiar status quos of alleged hate crime hoaxes, hate mongering, and the inbred morons that weaponize them to ignore issues of race. They’re an affront to the racial barriers designed to distort ideas around non-white excellence. And they’re affronts to a history of POC being inundated with segregated mentalities (if you can’t beat them, leave them). The image of POC winning on any white-owned stage is the reminder that one of us can do it regardless of the obstacles—listen to any acceptance speech, and you’ll find the recipes for that.
We can continue to hold award shows like the Oscars accountable, and protest if necessary. But this is what we need and will always need—the celebration and belief that we can win in any space. Our support in this should never be conditional based on “disappointment” metrics, because in the words of Hannah Bleacher from her Oscar speech, “I did my best, and my best is good enough.”
We need to continue to remind ourselves that our best is good enough.
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