What’s The One Thing That All Black Oscar Nominees Have In Common?

It’s no great secret that both Hollywood and the Academy awards have a severe diversity problem. Now, less than a week out from the Oscars, the New York Times’ Brandon Thorp sat down to watch all 28 of the films in Oscars history that have received a Best Actor and Best Actress nomination for black people, to figure out what they had in common. The results are disheartening to say the least.

 In the history of the Oscars, 10 black women have been nominated for best actress, and nine of them played characters who are homeless or might soon become so…No black woman has ever received a best-actress nomination for portraying an executive or even a character with a college degree.

This should surprise no one with eyes who has seen a movie in the past fifteen years. The performances by black actors and actresses that are lauded as the most “powerful” are always performances that center themselves around hardship. Thorp notes that every black actress nominee, from Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones to Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild has been nominated for their work because their characters endured great struggle.

 Seven of the 10 best-actress nominees played characters with absent or incarcerated husbands, boyfriends, or fathers. And six of the characters suffer physical abuse, with five of them being raped.

While the statistics for black women are harsh, it’s really no better for black men in film, either. Thorp notes that black men are overwhelmingly nominated for roles in which they are incarcerated or arrested. At least ten of these men nominated for Best Actor have a “white buddy or counterpart.” Think of Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy — his entire existence in the film is predicated on the fact that he has to literally drive Miss Daisy. His performance centers around her whiteness. A white character must always be present for the back character to thrive. If you center a film around more than one black person or person of color, the film is automatically pigeonholed as a movie intended solely for the audience whose ethnicity reflects the actors on the screen.

So, what’s the solution? Support filmmakers of color and support their desire to make movies that cast people that look like them in roles that aren’t oppressive. Don’t just talk about it. Be about it.

[The New York Times]