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Over 20 years ago, Halle Berry became the first Black woman ever to win the nomination for best actress, and we haven’t seen another one since.
With 2022 showcasing a number of Black women leading in powerful roles, we just knew at least one of them would land an acknowledgement for the top honor. But, nope.
These warriors and leaders wowed us in The Woman King, Till, and Black Panther:Wakanda Forever. However, Angela Bassett is the only one to come close to winning an Oscar, and that’s for best supporting actress. So here we are, again, with the same hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” trending as one of the most coveted titles, best actress, fails to feature a Black woman.
Are we surprised? Not necessarily. As Justin Kirkland noted in Esquire, “The Oscars being White isn’t much of a shock anymore, and as the years go by, it’s hard to ignore the White supremacy of the Academy’s voting record. Because a seven percent nomination rate and a zero percent win rate? It sure as hell isn’t happenstance.”
Justin is on point. But, we still have the right to be disgusted.
“Woman King” director blasts Oscars voters
Gina-Prince Bythewood, director of The Woman King, sounded all the way off when talking about Hollywood’s erasure of Black women a month after the nominees were announced.
“It’s a difficult thing to know, for every Black filmmaker and definitely every Black female filmmaker, that your work is not valued in the same way,” she added later, noting that this is certainly not unique to Hollywood. “This is a systemic American problem, which is why this felt so insidious and large. It’s tough to enter something that’s supposed to be judged on merit, but you know it’s not a meritocracy.”
And to add insult to injury, Prince-Bythewood revealed that throughout awards season, she’d heard whispers that some Academy Awards voters wouldn’t even see The Woman King.
Till actress Danielle Deadwyler echoed Prince-Bythewood’s sentiments.
Seen as an obvious choice for best actress for her portrayal as Mamie Till, Deadwyler said racism and misogynoir are definitely why she and Viola Davis were overlooked. Till director Chinonye Chukwu posted on Instagram, “We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women.”
Let’s build our own table
I won’t pretend to understand the obstacles these women face. I haven’t had to fight my way through the film industry without ever receiving much deserved props for my talent and creativity. But as a Black woman who’s had to navigate a world that doesn’t care about or respect us, I certainly understand their outrage. Nonetheless, I do wonder why we continue to fight to sit at tables that have never been welcoming.
In 1940, Hattie McDaniels was the first Black person to win an Academy Award for Gone With the Wind. When sis arrived at the banquet to receive her award for best supporting actress, she couldn’t even sit at the same table with her White co-stars.
In the 94 years of the Academy Awards’ existence, only 22 Black actors and actresses have been awarded Oscars. To me, this sounds more like affirmative action than true acknowledgement–as if the Academy sparingly hands out awards to Black people to fulfill a quota.
So considering the history and the present, I hope that one day we never have to see the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite again because we won’t want to be there. I hope that we continue to build our own tables by broadening efforts to host our own ceremonies that celebrate our stories and creatives, gifting them with the highest honors, a chocolate dipped “Oscar”.
But until then I hope – despite being undercut by White supremacy – these Black women (and men) know that they’re seen, appreciated and honored by their community. The mark they’ve left on us is way more valuable than an Academy Award.