Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Oscars: Can Black Men Ever Really Win in Hollywood?

March 12, 2023 by  
Filed under BM, Ent., News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Welp! It’s the Oscars slapiversary this week. And, as promised, there is a sequel to the blockbuster hit starring Will Smith and Chris Rock.

This time Rock’s revenge is exactly what you hoped it would be. A LIVE streaming comedy special. Thanks, Hollywood.

We also got a supplemental reading piece presented by Marlon Wayans, which was a nice compliment to the swirling gossip, resurrected by the upcoming Academy Awards.

Scene 1: Will

Will Smith did almost exactly what he should’ve done this entire time. As a leading man, one of the last true movie stars, and an Oscar winner, his apology tour was so cliché, it almost felt like a new Apple+ TV show pilot.

The brief but anticipatory absence from the public eye, the not-so-random apology to the Rock family… and then a complete resurgence with Oscar-worthy fare.

It was amazing to watch Smith’s performance in “Emancipation” and watch the powers that be scramble to come up with the right PR slant to explain why he isn’t allowed at the Oscars for a decade, even though he’s making better films than anyone in his league. The whole diversity/inclusion/representation speech was tailor-made for times like this.

The one thing Smith didn’t do right, was do what Black men do. Where was the private personal talk with Chris Rock?

These things happen in other ways in Hollywood, predominately with rap and comedy. Folks rub each other wrong way when bravado is the name of the game and ego is the fuel. It is not uncommon to hear some rapper talking about squashing beef with some other rapper. Everyone from 50 Cent to Kodak Black has made some public apologies and private reconciliation whilst being famous. Will Smith being a hip-hop icon, would fall under this category of grievance correction, but strangely, he didn’t do that. Your Black man card can get pulled for less, but everyone loves Will, so, I guess there’s a hall pass for that — or is there?

Why I bring that up is that Will Smith, who I do love, was publicly berated by white Hollywood. In March 2020, celebrities were calling for his head. Even some Black ones got down — I guess trying to get some clout, and Will kinda just agreed.

But that persona he cultivated for so long, that image that was accepted by all four quadrants of the audience, that character of Will Smith is no more. He was just another Black man acting violently instead of communicating effectively, and it shocked people.

He repeatedly mentioned that he deserved what he got, he’s sorry, ashamed, etc., yadda yadda… but, nothing for the other Black men who also got slapped.

Will Parker, Black man, producer of the Oscars, who knows what that dumb moment did for his production career. Black comedians who won’t get their shot, sad but true, probably saw that stage blow up right after Will’s hand connected.  Add to that a dash of Kevin Hart being canceled at the Oscars, and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for no Black hosts ever again.

This is the world the persona of Will Smith thrives and succeeds in, being the Black movie star, while no one else can have a presence.

The thing that every feminist blogger, black excellence enthusiast, and movie industry fanboy pounced on is that wasn’t WILL SMITH. That was Willard Smith peeking out through the curtain.

Don’t mind the man behind the veil, he’s not actually the real person, Will Smith is the guy we all love… he’ll be back. And apparently, Hollywood was right. That quick examination of Will Smith was dynamic, in my opinion.

Within a couple of days, his book had been reviewed, his life story reviewed, his psyche on full display, and everyone was saying the same thing. A combination of years of public ridicule, the deep dive into the character of Richard Williams brought up the abuse and emotion of his own father and childhood, and his internalized sense of protection of the women in his family stemming from his own abusive relationship with his father, all culminated in a violent outburst aimed at a comedian, who he knows, on the most important night of his career. And just like that, Will Smith is a sympathetic movie star who can come back and play as long as he doesn’t hit anyone again. He was just another Black man, just like that.

If I’m honest, it was a little bit of a relief to know I’m not crazy watching liberal Hollywood elites, Black Hollywood actors, and other completely turn on Will Smith after having so much time in the Black Lives Matter, let’s love and heal blah blah space.

Black Community - The Oscars - Black Men in Hollywood.

Scene 2: Chris

Chris Rock has had a year. A year of silence. Chris Rock is from Brooklyn, and folks from BK live by certain rules: don’t talk to police, keep your mouth shut, take what you ain’t had given to you. It’s a real world out there.

SO in this year, Chris did what he was supposed to do. He stayed silent — you don’t speak on business with folks who ain’t in your business. But we all knew what was coming, and folks like me couldn’t wait. As soon as Will’s palm left his cheek, I was hoping for a Netflix special. And Chris did not disappoint.

Chris Rock is a master comedian. Regardless if you like him or his style, in Netflix’s “Selective Outrage,” his mastery of the craft is on display full throttle. Chris is a real comedian; nothing he says on that stage is by accident or without purpose. He utilizes the oratory techniques of southern preachers, inflections of a college professor, and the pause-speak-pause-speak techniques of motivational speakers to engage the audience in a show they don’t even realize is interactive.

We all know why we’re here, too. It ain’t for the social commentary this time. We want to hear Chris roast Will Smith — however, not without some foundation.

Chris set us up for the set throughout the entire special. He kept calling back, “I don’t want no problems with no more rapper…” just teasing the audience for what was to come. He sprinkled in little hints that it was coming, while still keeping his set relevant and current. And then, it came… Like the slap itself, Chris unleashed a tirade of poignant, referential, and hilarious punchlines, each one more impactful than the last.

He was hitting Will Smith back in a way a slap could not achieve. He was playing the game Hollywood doesn’t like: the truth game. Chris didn’t give all his ire to Will, of course, Jada got some, too. Needless to say, there is history here, and I think what the Black members of the audience should recognize is that this so-called Black Hollywood is more like the Black Student Union at a PWI.

Will crossed a line we as civilians aren’t really aware of. He struck another Black male STAR in front of their peers, and the peers sided with Will. Chris wanted his lick back, and he got it by claiming the Black audience as his, and leaving what’s left to the Smiths.

Like winning a rap battle against Drake, Will lost — but just in the eyes of the Blacks. Which in Hollywood ain’t a real loss anyway. However, this particular Black duo was different.

It’s Will Smith, America’s sweetheart fresh prince. He doesn’t act like, dare I say, a negro. But Chris knows he hit hard, effectively, and strategically, because in this season of Hollywood self-praise, the work Will has done to improve his standing with the powers that be, has just been re-established as “unsettled” — which will cause Will some issues (obviously not too much, cuz he’s friggin’ Will Smith).

But that persona he cultivated for so long, that image that was accepted by all four quadrants of the audience, that character of Will Smith is no more. He was just another Black man acting violently instead of communicating effectively, and it shocked people.

Scene 3: Marlon

What we didn’t know we needed in this long text thread was the opinion of Marlon Wayans. I have to admit when I saw the promo for his new HBO special, “God Loves Me,”

I was like, “OK, Marlon’s out here.” But the actual trailer seemed interesting. He obviously would talk about the slap, but it seemed like a LOT of his jokes were gonna be about that. I thought that was weird, but after hearing a friend say watch the Chris special then the Marlon, I was like, sure, why not. I like Marlon, let’s see what he’s saying.

Shockingly, I thought this was the most important part of this story thus far. Marlon, a lifelong Hollywood figure, from an industry family, had a take. A GOOD take.

I’m not even sure if it was funny, to be honest, it was just so truthful. For those who haven’t seen it, Marlon basically starts with a foundation of God loves him because all of the things he believes were taken from him in his career, and sometimes in his personal life, were returned with the slap of Chris Rock by Will Smith.

In the world of mainstream media, Black men are typically, if not always, seen as a threat.

Marlon weaves a story of a young boy bullied by an up-and-coming comedian, who his own family sees as a star over him, and the lost love of a young beautiful Hollywood starlet seized from him by a handsome and charismatic movie star, only to be passed over, over and over again by both men along the course of his career and maturation. Deep, right?

He pivots towards the end, and SPOILER ALERT: He recognizes that God loves him because although he didn’t allow him the paths of the other two men, God put them in his life to motivate him to be the man he is today. (Jada is in there, too btw).

In this self-examination, Marlon gives real game to the audience. How the industry really only allows for a limited number (usually one) Black person to be in the high circles at a time. How persona can become a person’s livelihood, and that causes stress and depression and envy. That the corporate media can present an idea or situation, and lead the audience to its conclusions based on what it decides the image of *insert person here* should be. And most importantly, diversity is only based on the comfort of a predominately white audience.

Scene 4: Thoughts

In the world of mainstream media, Black men are typically, if not always, seen as a threat. The criminal, the pimp, the thief, or just the plain ol’ degenerate. A lot of Black men in the industry put on a W.E.B. DuBois-like persona to counteract it. Some Shakespearian-trained, Ivy League grad who’s been playing “Crip Number 3” on some show for four years, will be escorted out with the SAT words flowing in every interview.

They know, that they have no control over how they are seen in life or on screen, so they create that persona. Sell it, leverage it, and hope to God nothing disrupts it, because if it is disturbed, chipped away, exposed, or revealed that you are a Black person… welp.

I’m gonna take a huge leap here. This fiasco over the past year is really a good outline of what it is to be Black in Hollywood, and, more so, what it is to be a Black man in America. I mean, one could suggest that the so-called Oscar snubs for Black films and filmmakers could have something to do with the trepidation of showrunners to repeat the past, As if we all are inherently volatile, maybe. Or to feed the narrative of the unhinged patriarchal nature of all men, but of course, especially of Black men, maybe.

Not one of those would seem a valid argument for the average movie person to contemplate a year ago. But now, I don’t know. It doesn’t take much to validate the biases and bigotry of an entire group, especially one already poised to be exclusionary.

There have been five Black Best Actor winners in the nearly 100-year run of the Oscars for the top acting honor. (There are 22 total wins by Black people for acting in the past 95 years, just FYI, and the type of person and career that can actually make it is so rare, that it’s not even worth the energy hoping or expecting it.)

Not only that, but while running that race, NEVER make ANY mistakes, say ANYTHING wrong, or all that work is gone. It’s a crazy thing.

And folks want it so bad. Black people are always fixated on the nominations and wins when there are Black people involved — only to be disappointed or crying “snub,” or #OscarSoWhite, or whatever. The reality is, it’s still the same game it was in 1928 when the Oscars started. It’s just in color.

Scene 5: Conclusion

This is one of the first times in a long time I think I might want to watch the Oscars. It’s become a show of “what might happen” as opposed to “what will happen.” And I know what won’t happen is Black men on that stage interacting with each other… too dangerous, apparently. I’m here for the “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” sweep I’m expecting. Angela might win, too.

Written by Patrick Washington


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