So Katheleen Newman-Brebang, a senior editor for Refinery29 wrote an op-ed about the Oscars and it’s treatment of Black actors, especially at this years ceremony. In “It’s Time We Start Refusing To Meet The Oscars In The Middle”, Newman-Brebang references Tyler Perry’s speech for his Humanitarian Award when he says “stand in the middle because that’s where healing happens… that’s where change happens” regarding the racial climate in America in light of police brutality and community protests. She argues that change indeed doesn’t happen on middle ground, but by going where its uncomfortable to expose racism. Specifically she calls out the Academy for changing the order of this years Oscars, leaving the Best Actor Award last to play off the importance of Chadwick Boseman’s pivotal performance and expected win posthumously.
I agree. The middle sits between supremacy and freedom, racism and revolution, hate and love. We have sat in the middle for too long. I also will take it a step further, we have to start either rejecting these institutions that use our talent but don’t award it or calling them out, out loud, to their face. Hell, let’s do both. I’ll start.
I read a comment on social media that Anthony Hopkins performance and Frances McDormand’s, which are both well acted, but generally not as dynamic or complex or difficult as the roles played by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in The fim adaption of the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” by August Wilson. Correct!
August Wilson’s plays were studies of authentic Black life. The Marcel waves, full bosom, hands on the hip, cocky demeanor, language, colorful clothes on richly melanated skin, the finessed use of curse words, dance steps. The way Viola Davis’s Ma Rainey drank that Coca-Cola, sweaty, hair plastered on her forehead starting to “go back”. Chadwick’s Levee playing the trumpet, tapping his feet, and later talking about the importance of keeping his shoe game tight. The need to have the music just right. God. The growl in Ma Rainey’s voice. Images that authentic need personalities and depth to match. That is what you get in an August Wilson play. Chadwick and Viola delivered.
These performances, taking nothing away from Hopkins and McDormand, started with characters as different as Southern Baked Macaroni and Cheese and the Kraft boxed pasta and cheese sauce concoction. There is no middle, its almost not even the same thing, to compare it. The raw and emotional performances Chadwick Baseman snd Viola Davis delivered were rich, full of heavy cream, rich cheese, the right amounts of salt and pepper, melted together for 94 minutes until they came together and were ready to serve hot. There is no downtime. The acting starts at 0:00 and it don’t stop. That’s typical of an August Wilson character, snd that’s what they both gave… while still being authentically Black like your favorite aunt who gives you money out of her bosom and your wild cousin who drives too fast, takes you to all the coolest places, and buys you a pair of fly sneakers before he drops you back off at home.
The folks in the Academy, likely overwhelmingly White, just don’t understand that world, those characters, and the brilliance of August Wilson. So when they have to compare performances, of course they are more geared toward these typical American stories. An elderly father dealing with memory loss and a widow who becomes a transient nomad after losing her job just seem more like Oscar winning performances than a fiery jazz singer’s day in the studio having to assert herself artistically with white record executives and her wild and overly ambitious trumpeter maddened by rejection. Two are stories about life, the other two are character studies of Blackness and humanity. These people should be educated about the subject they are voting on, and be able to effectively compare these very brilliantly acted but complicated and nuanced performances verses performances by brilliant actors. If we are really rewarding the BEST, that’s not hard to tell.
The death of Chadwick Boseman was a huge blow to the Black community… he was Black Panther, our very own superhero. He was James Brown and Jackie Robinson. To find out he had been suffering from cancer during all of these pivotal performances, unknown to the public, was heartbreaking. It was an equally large blow to Hollywood. This being his last performance, its critical acclaim, and his posthumous wins in pre-Oscar award shows made this a huge moment for the show. To think the Academy used that moment to bring more viewers in this odd restructuring of the show, only to not select him is telling and maddening. There is no middle ground to respect, you either respect his legendary status and artistry or you don’t, and this feels like a don’t. To use his pivotal and brilliant performance to further your agenda, but then not even award the brilliance of his performance is the middle that we have to reject. You won’t keep using us until you use us up!
I don’t have all the answers, but I’m militant. I say don’t show up, whether you are nominated or not, boycott Oscar and his crew. Reject them giving us an award every five years or so, just to ignore our really great performances. Don’t appease us with Alonzo Harris because you didn’t give Malcolm X his due. And be clear, Tyler Perry is an incredible humanitarian. He is an amazing human being. But he does not speak for us with that passive, be easy, middle talk. Fuck the middle. Everybody knows that the best art and the best activism happens outside the lines, in the uncomfortable spaces. Oscar you are a wild boy… get your shot together and do better. August and Chadwick deserve more than what you gave them!
“A-one, a-two, you know what to do!”