Friday, February 23, 2007

Essay 1755

From nationwide news sources…


Oscars Spark Renewed Questions of Race

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES — Is racial bias still keeping black artists from being recognized when Hollywood hands out its annual Academy Awards?

On the one hand, the musical “Dreamgirls,” which features an ensemble of black actors in the story of an African-American singing group, failed to earn an expected best film Oscar nomination this year, and some Hollywood watchers wondered if racism played a role.

But on the other, black actors received a record five of the 20 nominations in acting categories for 2006. And three — Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson — are favored to win when the Oscars are handed out on February 25.

If they do not, the question of racism among the nearly 6,000 Academy Award voters almost certainly will be raised again. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been notoriously stingy to black artists at Oscar time, with blacks having won only 10 acting Oscars since the first awards in 1929, excluding honorary awards.

No black person has ever been named best director.

Race bias will affect Oscar politics as long as it plays a role in U.S. culture, Oscar watchers said. “Race will go away from the Academy when race goes away from America,” said David Poland of

Poland is one of many observers who said he did not believe race played a part in “Dreamgirls” failing to land in the best film category despite gaining eight nominations overall, more than any other movie.

Since the January 23 nominations, several theories have outweighed racial bias when it came to the “Dreamgirls” snub, according to Oscar pundits, film historians and critics.

Musicals are a hard sell to Oscar voters, they noted. “Dreamgirls” was also touted early on as the best-film frontrunner, and Academy Award voters did not want to be told which film was best before casting votes, some said.


But the simplest explanation is the movie was not among 2006’s five best. “Having seen all the other films … they are better films, pure and simple,” said Gil Robertson, syndicated columnist and president of the African American Film Critics Association.

The five best picture nominees are: road comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” crime thriller “The Departed,” cultural drama “Babel,” Japanese war saga “Letters from Iwo Jima,” and “The Queen,” about Britain’s royal family in a period of crisis.

Hattie McDaniel was the first black to win an acting Oscar — for supporting actress in 1939’s “Gone with the Wind.” The second was not until Sidney Poitier received the best actor nod for 1963’s “Lilies of the Field,” and the third took almost another two decades — Louis Gossett Jr.’s supporting actor nod for 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

Just a handful of supporting actor and actress nods followed, until 2002, when Hollywood thought that the Academy had put the race issue behind it. That year, Denzel Washington won best actor for “Training Day” and Halle Berry was named best actress for “Monster’s Ball.”

It was the first time black Americans won the top two acting awards in the same year. Three years after Washington’s and Berry’s dual wins, Jamie Foxx scored a best actor victory for his role as soul singer Ray Charles in 2004’s “Ray,” and last year the drama “Crash,” which explores race in America, was named best film.

“I think the color barrier is coming down, but it takes a generation or two to die off. It’s a slow process,” said Robert Osborne, Oscar historian and author of a series of books subtitled “The Official History of the Academy Awards.”

What many Hollywood watchers are wondering now is whether younger voters will cast enough votes for Whitaker as the brutal dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” and Murphy and Hudson playing soulful singers in “Dreamgirls.”

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