We're beginning to sound like a broken record, but the Oscars still can't figure out how to reward Black talent. On Tuesday, the Academy announced this year's nominations, which included plenty of first-time honourees, history-makers, and overdue accolades. However, the most glaring flaw among the nominee list was the complete shut out of women directors (specifically Black women) and Black actors in lead categories — which continues to be a repeat offence from the Academy. Remember #OscarsSoWhite?
The Oscars has never created an even playing field for Black actors and directors to get their well-deserved awards.
Every year, film enthusiasts hold their breath to see if the Oscars will put together a nominee pool that isn't solely made up of all-male, all-white, or otherwise non-inclusive contenders, but the sad reality is that this time of year always brings some disappointment. There is reason to celebrate: the 2023 Oscar nominations have proved to be a great year for Asian American actors, as per "Everything Everywhere All at Once"'s 11 nods (which includes Michelle Yeoh's nomination for best actress in a leading role, the first Asian-identifying actor in the category) and Hong Chau's best supporting actress nom for "The Whale." But despite these gains, Black actors and directors got the short end of the stick (again).
Only two Black actors earned Oscars nods this year: Angela Bassett and Brian Tyree Henry. Bassett secured her second career nomination for "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" — a groundbreaking feat for Marvel — nearly 30 years after her iconic performance in 1993's "What's Love Got to Do With It" (which earned her a best actress nod in 1994, though she ultimately lost to Holly Hunter for her performance in "The Piano"). Henry, meanwhile, snagged a best supporting actor nomination for his standout role in Apple TV+ film "Causeway."
It's worth noting that Black talent who worked behind the scenes on 2022's biggest films were also recognised — Ruth E. Carter earned another best costume design nomination for "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," and Rihanna and Tems snagged a nod, their first-ever, for best original song. But Gina Prince-Bythewood's historical epic, "The Woman King," Jordan Peele's sci-fi horror flick, "Nope," and Chinonye Chukwu's true-life inspired drama, "Till" — all movies led by and centring Black people — were completely snubbed, even with all the resources at their disposal. It's left many understandably confused, frustrated, and even angry. Hours after finding out her film was snubbed by the Oscars, Chukwu penned a frank message on Instagram in which she called out Hollywood, and seemingly the Academy, for "upholding whiteness" and "perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women." Meanwhile, Huffington Post senior culture reporter Candice Frederick critiqued the egregious snub of "The Woman King" in a tweet: "#TheWomanKing had everything the oscars generally go for: it's a period film, has tons of battle scenes and enslaved characters. But it was co-produced by a black woman, stars black women, was directed by a black woman. So."
The truth is, the Oscars has never created an even playing field for Black actors and directors to get their well-deserved awards. A fraction of those lucky enough to snag a nomination have actually gone on to take home a win (only 46 trophies have been awarded to Black talent in the Oscars' 95-year history, according to Essence). The Academy has made some small efforts to try to ensure diversity amongst nominees and winners (like the new membership guidelines that were unveiled in 2016, as per Vox, and the inclusion standards for the best picture category going into effect next year), but its failure to acknowledge the remarkable work of Black artists — yet again — says a lot about where its values lie.
Even if the Academy disregards work we think deserves praise, we should continue to applaud it because no one knows our value like us.
It's hard not to seethe over the Academy's disrespect of Black talent: an annual letdown when Black stories, actors, and filmmakers are continuously cast aside. At this point, although it's expected, it's still a tough pill to swallow, a frustration that keeps building. However, it's crucial to note that institutions like the Oscars should not be the end-all in defining Blackness's worth. Even if the Academy disregards work we think deserves praise, we should continue to applaud it because no one knows our value like us.
Following "The Woman King"'s snub, Essence shared a tribute to the film's cast and director on Instagram, writing, "The crowns of Queens cannot be removed by those who are unqualified to rule." Prince-Bythewood commented on the post, "These incredible words are necessary in this moment. Thank you for giving these extraordinary artists a rightful pedestal to stand on. To be looked upon in all their beauty. To be respected in all that they are. To be honoured by their ESSENCE. ❤️"
It's clear that if we only let the Academy judge our stories, there's not enough space for all our distinct and beautiful identities to be celebrated and recognised at the same time. Black artists, for too long, have bore the brunt of that unfortunate truth. We're tired of constantly telling the Academy they got it wrong. But will a change ever come if we stop speaking up?