African-American filmmaker accuses Hollywood of racism and sexism following Oscar snub
Cinema is a rare art form that transcends all boundaries and brings people together.
Nowhere else does a diverse group of people sit together to experience similar emotions simultaneously. Audiences are enthralled together, they laugh together, they cheer together, they jeer together, they cry together, and if the work is admirable, they applaud together.
Art should solely be judged on its merit, and cinema is an art that is not at all different. The sole criterion should be how well the story was told. The origins or ethnicity of the storyteller is immaterial.
However, in recent years, that has changed.
When award nominations are announced, many in the media study the demographic groups of the nominees instead of the quality of their work.
A few days back, the same Hollywood that sanctimoniously brands a large section of the public as bigots, was accused of bigotry for snubbing some critically acclaimed films by and about Black people.
The film at the center of this controversy is Till.
Till was released last year and is based on the true story of the mother who pursued justice following the murder of her son Emmett Till in 1955.
Till received resounding approval from critics. On the review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, 98% of film critics approved.
Quite often there is a chasm of difference between the choice of pretentious critics and the public. But 97% of audiences gave Till a nod of approval.
The film received numerous nominations from various film critics' associations, the NAACP Image Awards, the Black Reel Awards, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
The film's star, Danielle Deadwyler, received most of the nominations for her portrayal of Mamie Till-Mobley. Deadwyler also received nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards and BAFTA.
All this made Deadwyler a formidable contender at the Oscars. However, when the nominations were announced on Tuesday, Deadwyler's name was conspicuous by its absence.
The film's writer and director, Chinonye Chukwu, was also regarded among the leading contenders for the Best Director category at the Oscars. Alas, she was snubbed.
Chukwu accused Hollywood of racism and sexism: "we live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating unabashed misogyny towards Black women."
"I am forever in gratitude for the greatest lesson of my life — regardless of any challenges or obstacles, I will always have the power to cultivate my own joy, and it is this joy that will continue to be one of my greatest forms of resistance."
Some were outraged that African-American actress Viola Davis didn't clinch a Best Actress nomination for her role in The Woman King.
It wasn’t all bad news for African-American performers.
Angela Bassett is the only black actress to be nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Supporting Actress category for her performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Black actor Bryan Tyree Henry was nominated for his role as an amputee who bonds with a soldier recovering from a traumatic brain injury in Causeway.
Another year: Halle Berry is still the only Black woman who’s won Best Actress. SELMA is still the only film directed by a Black woman to be nominated for Best Picture. A Black Director has never won Best Director; a and a Black woman has never been nominated. #Oscars2023— Robert Daniels (@812filmreviews) January 24, 2023
What about other minority groups?
Asians did well this year.
Everything Everywhere All At Once, about a Chinese woman who hops through the multiverse as different versions of herself, received 11 nominations, including nods for stars of ethnic Chinese origin — Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, and Ke Huy Quan, who once starred alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The Indian film, RRR, was nominated for its song "Naatu Naatu" in the Best Song category.
This isn't the first time that African-Americans claimed they were overlooked by the Oscars.
The failure to nominate black or minority actors in 2016 caused a furious backlash, with some black stars boycotting the ceremony and the growth of the #OscarsSoWhite movement.
Twenty sixteen is the very year that various self-righteous Hollywood stars teamed up to almost order voters to support Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump was deemed a racist.
The #OscarsSoWhite movement led to a promise from the Academy to double its female and black and ethnic minority members, a target it said it met in 2020.
It wasn't just African-Americans who were snubbed. Some complained that there were no women nominated for best director.
Last year, Jane Campion, a female director, won the Oscar.
So were they driven by racism and misogyny?
Before we decide that, we must remember that auteurs such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar for directing. Harrison Ford hasn't won an Oscar so far despite myriad sterling performances. Al Pacino didn't win for the first two Godfather pictures or for Serpico, or for Dog Day Afternoon.
Peter O'Toole didn't win for Becket, The Lion in the Winter, Lawrence of Arabia, or any of his other masterly performances. Ultimately, in 2003, O'Toole received an honorary Oscar. During his acceptance speech, he quipped: "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, my foot."
Citizen Kane, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Graduate, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, E.T., Goodfellas, Saving Private Ryan, The Shawshank Redemption, There Will Be Blood, and numerous other films that are considered classics were nominated for Best Picture but never won the Oscar.
Robert Redford never won an Oscar for any of his memorable acting performances. He eventually got one for Best Director.
So how are films nominated?
Nominees for each category are selected by votes from members of these specific branches. For example, actors get to select nominees for the acting categories, and directors get to select the nominees for Best Director. However, everyone gets to vote when it comes to the Best Picture category.
When submitting a list of preferred nominees, Academy members rank them according to preference. The nomination ballots are initially sorted based on the voters' first-place ranking. If a selection reaches enough first-place votes — sometimes called the "magic number" — it becomes a nominee.
How votes are drawn is largely dependent on awareness, for which what's known as "buzz" has to be created by the studio and the agency for the individual. It is quite similar to a politician campaigning.
One of the big surprises was the Best Actress nomination for British actress Andrea Riseborough for To Leslie. Many of Hollywood's top actresses hosted screenings for Riseborough's film and praised her performance. This created the buzz that enabled her the nomination.
The snub for Till may hence not necessarily be driven by racism or misogyny, but perhaps due to a lack of awareness about the film.
But this was bound to happen.
For decades, Hollywood has used its power not to entertain, but to peddle propaganda. Hollywood denizens scoff at and demonize a section of the population merely for their voting choices and baselessly call them bigots.
It was inevitable that this monster would eventually turn on its creator. It will be amusing to see how they get out of this pit.
Image: Screen shot from MGM video via shareable YouTube.