Borrowing the Black Experience for Oscar

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Did you watch the Oscars last night? I didn’t. I wasn’t boycotting or anything, I just didn’t have any particular reason to watch. I’m not a fan of Seth MacFarlane. In fact, before the Oscars, I had never even heard of him. And of all of the Oscar nominated films, I’ve only seen two, Argo and Django Unchained. And, quiet as it’s kept, I don’t really care what Hollywood’s rich and richer wear to the ceremony. Even when I worked at Entertainment Weekly and covered Oscar fashion, I never understood why people care so much about the dresses on the red carpet. But that’s just me.

Some people thought the Oscar’s were devoid of color this year, meaning the Black experience, Black actors and Black filmmakers just weren’t visible enough in this year’s Oscar round-up. And those same people either silently or vocally boycotted the show. Not me, I just watched a movie and folded laundry like any other Sunday night. My dissatisfaction wasn’t public. But when I stopped to think about it, this year’s collection of Oscar contenders owes so much to the Black experience. I mean without Black people, would Lincoln be anything more than a film about a president who ruled during a time of war? Lincoln’s story is so compelling because of the Black people whose lives he forever changed by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln would just be the dude with the hat if he hadn’t (unwillingly) freed the slaves. It is their lives and their struggle that brings meaning and depth to Lincoln’s presidency and thus to the film.

And of course Django Unchained, like it or hate it, only exists because of the horror of slavery that Black people endured for over four hundred years in this country. Quentin Tarantino would have had to mine some other ethnic horror story for the plot of his latest revenge fantasy film if he didn’t have the Black experience for fodder. Make no mistake, I don’t hold it against him that he chose to tell Django Unchained. I liked the movie. I’m just saying, without the Black American experience, Tarantino would have written just another cowboy flick.

And then there is the adorable Quvenzhané Wallis. By being the youngest Best Actress Academy Award nominee, she gave everybody their feel good Oscar story for the season. She made magazine covers, visited talk shows and even scored a new movie deal.  Sure, the same could have happened with a little White kid, but she’s not White, and that matters because her experience has been different. And the role she played in Beasts of the Southern Wild, was no Disneyfied experience. A little White kid couldn’t have been Hushpuppy.

Now, I am totally not trying to start something –except maybe a conversation– but I think this borrowing from the Black experience trend should be examined. This is nothing new of course, non Black people telling Black stories, but it sure is wearisome in some kind of cultural appropriation/ ancestral stealing kind of way. Or maybe it’s not the borrowing of Black life that feels like betrayal, but rather the lack of opportunity for Black people to tell their own stories and be heard and celebrated by the rest of the world. I don’t know for sure.

All I do know is that I’d like to watch the Oscars next year and be excited by the diversity on the big screen and behind the scenes. And, not for nothing, I’d like to see that diversity extend beyond the Black experience and consider the Latino, Asian, and Native American experience as well. I mean our history in this country is nothing if not filled with amazing and colorful stories.

What do you think dear readers? Did you watch the Oscars last night? Why or why not? I’m listening with both ears.



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6 Thoughts to “Borrowing the Black Experience for Oscar”

  1. Susan:)

    By the way, you should really see Lincoln. It was very good!

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Lincoln is definitely on my TBW list, as is Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’m looking forward to seeing them both.

  2. Susan:)

    I watched because there were several movies and actresses I liked in the running. I generally enjoy parts of the oscars, but not all. I could care less what everyone’s wearing. And I usually fast forward through most of the acceptance speeches because they are boring. But I do enjoy when they do historical montages and homages to great films or people in films. And I like rooting for my favorites. This year, I had seen several of the nominated films, so I was interested in seeing how they did. Also I liked several of the best actresses, so I was interested in who would win. I loved Beasts of the Southern Wild, and I was interested in Quvenzhane. I enjoyed Lincoln, Les Miserables and Silver Linings Playbook, so I was curious which would win ( I didn’t see the other movies up for best picture). Seth Mcfarlane was not a good choice, very sexist and mean about certain people. They did get Michelle Obama to present the award for best picture though. Other than the handful of black actors present, I guess there wasn’t much diversity represented otherwise. I too wish Hollywood would be more diverse in it’s offerings, and have more opportunities for people of color to have great roles. As far as white people telling stories for and about black people, well I really don’t know what to do about that. Is it because there aren’t black people willing or able to pitch the stories, direct them or otherwise be in charge? Or is it because the studios don’t consider them? I don’t know how all that happens. But I’m guessing Hollywood is still mostly run by old white men, and it shows. I can only hope for better in the future.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      I can admit that I’m bummed I missed Michelle Obama. But thank goodness for YouTube!

  3. Wendy

    I think I would rather have my wisdom teeth removed without sedation than watch the Oscars. I never got the appeal of the telecast. Period. Not for the movies, not for the clothes, not for anything. I’m not sure WHY I should be vested in the telecast…or anyone that isn’t in Hollywood for that manner.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      I hear you. Almost right there with you.

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