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The Color-Changing Landscape of the Oscars

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The Color-Changing Landscape of the Oscars

The 2019 Academy Awards have given more than 30 nominations to films featuring people of color. (COURTESY OF DISNEY/ABC TELEVISION GROUP)

The 2019 Academy Awards have given more than 30 nominations to films featuring people of color. (COURTESY OF DISNEY/ABC TELEVISION GROUP)

The 2019 Academy Awards have given more than 30 nominations to films featuring people of color. (COURTESY OF DISNEY/ABC TELEVISION GROUP)

The 2019 Academy Awards have given more than 30 nominations to films featuring people of color. (COURTESY OF DISNEY/ABC TELEVISION GROUP)

By CHELSEA ASHLEY, Contributing Writer

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The Academy has come a long way since the #OscarsSoWhite catastrophe in 2016. Three years ago, the dominant conversation was about the lack of representation in the nominations. Since the announcement of the 2019 Oscar nominations on Jan. 22, the buzz has taken a positive spin.

This year, films featuring and exploring the lives of people of color garnered more than 30 nominations. Twenty-two of these nominations are held by movies that illustrate the lives of African-American, African and Afro-Latino characters, ranging from a boy from Brooklyn who develops spider-like abilities to a black police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan.

We can applaud the Academy for finally nominating films that show black people as something other than slaves, but it’s still necessary to understand the position these films play outside of just being nominated “black movies.”

Deemed as the “controversial contender” by critics and film lovers, “Green Book” tells the true story of Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class black pianist and his tour of the Deep South in 1962 alongside his initially racist driver and bodyguard, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). The film follows the two as they grow closer while navigating the roads and racism of the South.

Ali and Mortensen were nominated for Actor in a Supporting Role and Actor in a Leading Role, respectively. The film also garnered a Best Picture nomination, but its likelihood of receiving that award is slim due to the controversy surrounding the socially conscious feel-good film.

According to Shirley’s family, the film’s depiction of him and his relationship with Lip is inaccurate. Shirley never wanted a film about his life, which is why his family refused when initially approached by Lip’s nephew, Nick Vallelonga. Vallelonga continued to write the film, garnering him a nomination for Writing (Original Screenplay).

The film does a great job depicting a successful African American but diminishes the story by making it seem as if Shirley was out of touch with his own community. If the film wasn’t widely received by critics and viewers, it could potentially be cast off as the life of a successful black man being squeezed into one story of his learning from and teaching a white man, filmed through the lens of another white man. But the film’s five nominations prove otherwise.

“BlacKkKlansman” depicts the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black detective of the Colorado Springs police department. And the first black member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The film explores the consequences of being an African American through Stallworth’s eyes, and of being an ally to the African American community through Stallworth’s partner in the undercover investigation, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).

Driver’s performance gained him a nomination for Actor in a Supporting Role, alongside Spike Lee’s first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Director. The phrase “better late than never” can be attributed to Lee’s nomination, as he has been a revolutionary leader for the black film community for years with films like “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X” and “School Daze.”

The nominations for Director and Best Picture can be attributed to the universality of the film. The duality of Stallworth and Zimmerman allowed not only the black community to feel connected to the film, but also those who understand their role as allies. If viewers didn’t see themselves in either group, they must have been shaken by the ending credits, which featured footage from the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The footage brings Stallworth’s struggle of the ’70s to 2018, reminding viewers that the fight is never truly over. “BlacKkKlansman” is up for six nominations.

“Black Panther” made waves in the hearts of young black children and the minds of the Academy. Its initial release was met with admiration for its strong depiction of black people, both male and female.

After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home to take the crown of the African nation Wakanda, but he is met with conflict when his distant cousin Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) decides it’s finally time to take what he deems to be his rightful place in the nation. T’Challa must use what his father taught him as a leader and as the Black Panther, along with the resources of his country, to secure his title and his people.

The forces of Ryan Coogler and Kendrick Lamar came together to make an inspirational and compelling film that can’t be put into the box of a “superhero film,” even though it is the first-ever superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.

Those who haven’t seen “Black Panther” might be curious as to why this particular superhero film has gotten this type of acclaim, it’s simple: when you give black people the resources and space to create art that allows them to see powerful and exciting versions of themselves on-screen, there’s no way the creation won’t be nominated for seven Oscars. “Black Panther” expanded the story of a superhero prince-turned-king into a story of the Black Diaspora, a conundrum African Americans and Africans have been dealing with for decades.

No one can be sure if “Black Panther” will win any awards, but we can be sure it has changed the way black people see themselves and the way the world sees black people as creators and undercover superheroes.

Overall, the Oscars have come a long way since Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar, had to accept her award in a segregated hotel. These films, along with the other “black films” nominated can be seen as the dreams of Hattie and many other black filmmakers and viewers. However, just as “BlacKkKlansman” showed us, the work is never over. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate these amazing films and how far we have come.

1 Comment

One Response to “The Color-Changing Landscape of the Oscars”

  1. Ronald G. Ashley on February 7th, 2019 5:19 pm

    Chelsea, you presented a very good commentary, it was very well thought-out, it’s methodical, detailed and very well-written. A statement you made really touched me: “the Black Panther story was expanded into diaspora, a conundrum African Americans and Africans has been dealing with for decades”. I say to you, not only for decades but, for “centuries”. The fight is “never over” and as long as I’m alive I will be in that fight. The universal struggle of “good vs evil” is perpetual and it will continue until the end of “this time”(here and now). I am to walk upright and with integrity before the Lord and not be anyone’s “doormat”, to stand toe to toe with any man, realizing that God’s not looking at any man walking upon the earth in a more “favorable light” than He does me, He’s not doing it and neither will I. You’re doing such a great job, continue to do so. I love you. Uncle Ronald.

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