We’re starting to sound like a broken record, but the Oscars still don’t know how to reward black talent. On January 24, the Academy announced the 2023 nominations, which included many first-time winners, story-makers, and overdue accolades. However, the most glaring flaw among the list of nominees was the complete exclusion of female directors (particularly black women) and black actors from the main categories – which continues to be a repeat of the Academy. Remember #OscarsSoWhite?
Every year, moviegoers hold their breath to see if the Oscars will put together a group of nominees that isn’t just made up of all-male, all-white, or otherwise non-inclusive nominees, but the sad reality is that this time of year always brings a some disappointment. There’s something to cheer about: The 2023 Oscar nominations turned out to be a great year for Asian American actors, according to 11 nods to ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (which includes Michelle’s nomination Yeoh for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the first Asian-identified actor in the category) and Best Supporting Actress for Hong Chau for “The Whale.” But despite these gains, black actors and directors have (still) had the small end of the stick.
Only two black actors have been nominated for the Oscars this year: Angela Bassett and Brian Tyree Henry. Bassett earned his second career nomination for ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ – a groundbreaking feat for Marvel – nearly 30 years after his iconic performance in 1993’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ (which won him the award). for Best Actress in 1994, although she ultimately lost to Holly Hunter for her performance in “The Piano”). Henry, meanwhile, picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his standout role in the Apple TV+ movie “Causeway.”
It’s worth noting that the black talent who worked behind the scenes in 2022’s biggest movies was also recognized — Ruth E. Carter earned another nomination for Best Costume Design for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and Rihanna and Tems landed a nod, their first-ever, for Best Original Song. But Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic ‘The Woman King’, Jordan Peele’s sci-fi horror ‘Nope’ and Chinonye Chukwu’s real-life drama ‘Till’ – all films directed by and centered on black people – were completely snubbed, even with all the resources at their disposal. It left many understandably confused, frustrated, and even angry in the weeks since the nominees were announced.
The Oscars have never created a level playing field for black actors and directors to get their well-deserved awards.
Hours after finding out her film had been snubbed by the Oscars, Chukwu wrote a candid message on Instagram in which she called on Hollywood and apparently the Academy to “support whiteness” and “perpetuate shameless misogyny towards black women.” . Meanwhile, Huffington Post senior culture reporter Candice Frederick criticized “The Woman King”‘s blatant snub in a Tweeter: “#TheWomanKing had everything the Oscars usually look for: it’s a period film, it has tons of battle scenes and enslaved characters. But it was co-produced by a black woman, stars black women, was directed by a black woman. So.”
A few weeks later, on February 7, The Hollywood Reporter published an open letter from Prince-Bythewood in which she broke her silence on the dismissal of “The Woman King” by the Academy, noting that the decision not to name the film was not a snub, but “a reflection of the position of the Academy and the constant chasm between excellence and recognition of black people”. The decorated director doubled down on March 8 at Icon Mann’s pre-Oscar dinner, telling People she’ll “never get over” the fact that her powerful film was ignored by the Academy.
“What happened was egregious and…it speaks to a much bigger issue in our industry,” she said. “But [it also speaks to] who I am, the people around me, these actors,” she added, referring to the film’s stars, including Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch. “We will never let go of the accelerator. We are ready to do something next. We’re ready to do something this big, we’re ready to do something together. So we always keep that energy no matter what.”
The truth is, the Oscars have never been a level playing field for black actors and directors to get their well-deserved awards. Only a fraction of those lucky enough to earn a nomination have won (only 46 trophies have been awarded to black talent in the Oscars’ 95-year history, per Essence). The Academy has made some small efforts to try to ensure diversity among nominees and winners (like the new membership guidelines that were unveiled in 2016, by Vox, and the inclusion standards for the top category of image coming into effect next year), but its failure to recognize the remarkable work of black artists – again – speaks volumes about its values.
Even if the Academy disregards work that we believe deserves praise, we should continue to applaud it because no one knows our worth like we do.
It’s hard not to boil over the Academy’s lack of respect for black talent. Year after year, it seems like black stories, actors, and filmmakers are continually pushed aside. At this point, although it’s expected, it’s still a hard pill to swallow and a frustration that just keeps piling up. However, it’s crucial to note that institutions like the Oscars shouldn’t be the end game in defining the value of Blackness. Even if the Academy disregards work that we believe deserves praise, we should continue to applaud it because no one knows our worth like we do.
Following “The Woman King” shutout, Essence paid tribute to the film’s cast and director on Instagram on Jan. 24, writing, “The crowns of Queens cannot be taken away by those unqualified to rule. .” Prince-Bythewood commented on the post: “These amazing words are needed at this time. Thank you for giving these amazing artists a rightful pedestal to stand on. To behold in all their beauty. To be respected in all they do. are. Be honored by their ESSENCE. ❤️”
It’s clear that if we only let the Academy judge our stories, there isn’t enough space for all of our distinct and beautiful identities to be celebrated and recognized at the same time. Black artists have too long borne the brunt of this unfortunate truth. We are tired of constantly telling the Academy that they were wrong. But will change ever come if we stop talking?