2013 was trumpeted as “the year of the Black film” but nobody told the Academy Awards that. 12 Years A Slave received nine nominations including Best Picture, Director and Actor, but The Butler, Mandela, 42 and most glaringly, Fruitvale Station, were overlooked. This is not a surprise, but it is a disgrace.
In horror flicks, it is an accepted cliche where if there’s two Black characters one of them is guaranteed to bite it before the end. This apparently holds true for Academy Awards and explains the snub of Fruitvale Station. Just how many Black movies do you expect these good little liberals are supposed to honor anyway? You got your one in 12 Years so shut up and be happy.
I don’t really sweat the Academy Awards. When Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won in 2001 that was the last time I watched more than a minute of this three-hour self-congratulatory circle jerk. Let’s be blunt: The Academy Awards are a reflection of they White men who make up the majority of members and they can and will choose whomever they like. They play by their own rules for their own game.
It is a given Frutivale Station deserves to be considered for Best Picture of the Year. Why not? There were nine films nominated this year and in the past there have been as many as ten. But if they didn’t want to add one, I’d drop the crusty old folks flicks Philomena or Nebraska. No, I didn’t see them but then most audiences didn’t see Fruitvale Station and 12 Years A Slave, so we’re even. I absolutely would have given Michael B. Jordan a Best Actor nod for his portrayal of Oscar Grant and the last night of his life.
I try not to let the Academy Awards get in my head. I already know Frutivale Station is one of the best movies of the year and Michael B. Jordan gave a sterling performance. I don’t need the imprimatur of the overwhelming old, White and affluent Academy voters to confirm for me what I already know. The omission of the 2013 best picture winner of the Sundance Film Festival merely confirms my belief that hoping the Oscars will validate your own good taste is a pointless waste of time.
There is a straight line that can be drawn from Solomon Northrup to Oscar Grant. Both were Black men doomed to cruel fates for no crime other than the color of their skin. But I’m not surprised the Academy can only focus on one and not the other. According to a Los Angeles Times story, the profile of the average Academy voter is White, male and over 62 years old.
This is not the target demographic for a Fruitvale Station, but it provides a clue as to why Jonah Hill and Bad Grandpa are Oscar nominees and a film about a young Black man shot in the back by a White transit cop isn’t even a blip on their radar.
“I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for,” said Frank Pierson, a former academy president still on the board of governors. “We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”
Pierson’s blase “let them watch The People Choice Awards” attitude is countered by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington radical suggestion to open up the academy to people of color in representative numbers. “If the country is 12% black, make the academy 12% black,” Washington said. “If the nation is 15% Hispanic, make the academy 15% Hispanic. Why not?”
The stories behind Fruitvale and 12 Years are human stories of people suffering horrible acts of racism and injustice. That is a stinging reminder that as much progress that has been made since the lynchings, whippings, and tortures endured by millions of Black men, women and children just like Solomon Northrup we haven’t progressed enough that a Black man minding his own business can’t find his world turned upside down on the whim of an overseer or an officer. None of this bodes well for 12 Years winning Best Picture over Gravity or American Hustle.
There’s a place for serious movies that prompt serious thinking. But don’t go looking for it this year on Oscar night. I don’t think you’ll find it there.