A dear friend of mine has an Oscar’s party every year. She invited me, I told her I wasn’t going, she understood. She posted something about the Oscars on her FB page… The comments of some of her friends in response inspired me to reply in the comments section. Here’s what I said:
The Academy awards are vital marketing and branding tools.
In the “business of show” these awards are used for promotion of future film, tv and theater projects.
Once an actor, director, costume designer, sound designer etc wins an Oscar they have up leveled their brand.
Example… As a black actor Lupita Nyong’o winning an Oscar on her first film allowed her access to audition for a big Hollywood action film Non Stop with Liam Neeson…she booked it. Now, her part was a supporting role,playing a flight attendant, was the same level as Michelle Dockery the actress who plays Lady Mary on Dowton Abbey. Dockery hasn’t won an Oscar… But she’s white, British and in a crossover costume drama.. Lupita has to have an Oscar to be on the same playing field as Dockery.
Lupita has booked Star Wars and the jungle book… In both these movies she is in CGI.. You can’t even see her … But she is making money.
Lupita also has Optioned the Film Rights to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Book Americanah….
Lupita is now starring in the play Eclipsed which has just moved to Broadway from the public theater …Eclipsed was written by Danai Gurira who plays Michonne on the walking dead.(Danai has written several award winning plays that feature black women and has guest starred on many TV shows including HBO’s Treme) Eclipsed was first produced at Yale when Lupita was there and two of the five black female actors who were in the original production with Lupita, Zanib Jah and Pascale Armond..actors who I have worked in the past with are now on Broadway.
Lupitas winning that Oscar helped Eclipsed to be sold out for its run at the public and move to Broadway. That Oscar got audiences in the door but the outstanding production spoke for itself.
By the way… Eclipsed employs a black writer, director and 5 black female actors. That show will be produced in theaters all over the world employing thousands of black women.
Does Oscar make a difference? Shit yes. People seem to forget that this is a BUSINESS and having an Oscar winner connected to a project opens doors and allows access in all facets of the entertainment industry.
Also on another level, telling compelling stories that include Black people (and I’m specifically speaking about black people because the subject is about Black people Yes I know other groups face injustice in the industry.. Don’t insult my intelligence by trying to “educate me” black folks are like the Marines of social justice…we go in first then all other groups benefit) are told… it humanizes us.
The more Oscar worthy stories with fantastic writing skilled acting excellent directing lifting sound etc with black folks are told… our segregated society becomes just a tiny bit more integrated and hopefully the white people who see these black people on film will develop some deeper levels of empathy, compassion and understanding through the powerful medium that film is.
I vote for the SAG-AFTRA awards and have been a professional working actor in EQUITY and SAG-AFTRA since I was 23. In the industry we know how it works but the majority of black actors have no power and we want to work to have health insurance a home with food and clothing and a pension so we can be ok when we are senior citizens and have possibly age out of the business. We don’t have time to speak out about this… We can’t risk speaking out about this…being perceived as difficult…We are too busy living it and dealing with it.
When Jada speaks out about this it has raised the conversation… And she speaks for thousands of working black actors like me who have no power or visibility or voice in the industry.
And hopefully this conversation will educate and inspire the black community to come together and support black artists.
We need to tell our own stories and get them funded and green lit and Oscars are a huge part of the equation. This isn’t about ego… This is about much more.
I will not be watching. #OscarsSoWhite”
You think an actor just wants an Oscar for the bragging rights? It’s about raising that Q rating. For a black actor, writer, director especially, an Oscar means providing access to the playing field of a multi billion dollar industry.
When I look at what Tyler Perry has done in terms of creating wealth it is brilliant. His production company in Atlanta employs hundreds of union workers on the soundstage and behind the camera. He partnered with Oprah to strengthen both of their brands and the OWN network is thriving because it offers content to the diverse African American community as well as content that crosses over race and class. I am not a fan of his content but can learn from his business strategy.
Another network that has been vital in creating wealth in the African American community is The Disney Corporation. ABC is the Disney corporation. Shondaland is on ABC. Just think about that…even better take a look at the TV shows on ABC. ABC has been on the front lines of humanizing people of all races for the past 15 years. They were the first network to specifically reach out and do diversity showcases, reaching out to actors of all races, sexual orientations ages and sizes to showcase new talent to the network executives. They allow access to the playing field and look how the content on this network just is phenomenal. Most of the work I’ve done on TV has been on ABC.
I’ve heard people say that specifically, African Americans are like crabs in a barrel crawling over one another just to individually survive. The #Black Lives Matter movement dashes that idea into bits. We can come together and support one another while working through our differences to achieve a higher purpose…building wealth in our communities.
In order for a society based on institutional racism to work, there has to be a deeply rooted lower class, and in America, the face of poverty belongs to African Americans. Seeing stories about down and out black folks on film helps to build the ego of every immigrant and white person who chose to come to this country rather than being brought here in chains.Black people need to create multi level ways of busting that myth not only to be seen as human by society, but to recognize our power. This is our country just as much as anyone else who immigrated here. Black slaves literally built this country from the time our ancestors were brought over in slave ships in the 1700’s. It’s time for us to fucking bust that myth. Black skin does not mean lower class.
It serves “the system” to believe that only special magical black people are able to shine on this planet. The entertainment industry has happily used black bodies as tools to support institutional racism and it is killing us.
If you are watching an action film or tv show, notice if there is a black person in the show, how quickly they are killed and how violently it is shown.
Know your networks.
On the FOX network show Gotham…you see a black person being beaten or killed in the first 20 minutes in almost all of the episodes. On the Mindy Project (which was originally on FOX) you see the sassy Black nurse’s assistant. On the FOX show The New Girl, you see emasculated black men, on the FOX show Brooklyn 911 you see stereotypical black male bafoonery, and on the FOX show Empire you see brilliant actors playing former inmates and drug dealers…written by a Black guy. It’s complicated because on Empire, the black male gay issues are addressed skillfully while at the same time the show reinforces colorism and classism among the light and dark skinned women on the show and of course, the black folks are singing and dancing and built their Empire selling drugs. “Black Dynasty” please.
It serves the system to reward a few “special black people” and endow them with wealth and just enough power and keep these “special black folks” apart from the general black population as “the good ones”. Well, look at the mind numbingly famous black stars who seemed to “transcend race” in the 80’s, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Bill Cosby…look how high their stars rose and how far those stars fell. Two are dead.
Back to the business part. Black people have buying power. Corporations make BILLIONS off of the collective spending of Black people. These corporations want us to believe that white is more beautiful in order to get us to buy the products to make us feel better about being black. See that weave Cookie has? Girl… I WANT that Weave to be beautiful!! See that bit natural hair do that Tracee Ellis Ross is rockin? What product can I buy to make my hair natural like that…never mind she is bi-racial and there is no way my hair can do that… what product can I buy… and as soon as I can buy that product…there is another black female actor rocking another unattainable hairstyle that black women spend their time and money getting. These corporations do not want us to realize how powerful we are. So?
All right…it’s call to action time. So you are hearing all of this talk about boycotting the Oscars..and that’s cool. Go deeper. If you really want to see better stories out there… become a producer. It’s easy. Go to Kickstarter.com search African American Films and if there is a project that looks good…donate $5.00 and post it on social media and get others to support the project.
If there is a Black Film Festival in your city, GO to the festival! Don’t try to get in free, pay to see the films and let your friends know about the festivals on social media.
Invest in going to see regional theater. So many people say oh I don’t go to the theater, it’s not accessible…bullshit. Regional theater is filled with artists of color who are amazing and also work in TV and Film and the ticket prices are in the $20-$35 range. Think of how much you spend going to a football or basketball game. Tickets, parking, food, shirts you are shelling out over $100 for each sporting event you go to EASY.
It’s a two way street. When Artists of color begin to gain financial wealth and freedom, it’s important to stay connected to the African American community. Become a producer and support the work of writers, actors and directors you see who have potential. Jay Z, Jada and Will produced the Broadway play FELA! FELA is still running in regional theater and every time someone wants to produce that play, the cast will be black and the production team will be paid.
On a personal level…work on developing your individual financial wealth adds to the collective. This last weeks episode of Black’ish “Keeping up with the Johnsons” was brilliant. Buying things is a temporary fix to dealing with living with racism.
These are simple ways you can begin to help create wealth in African American communities.
Artists of color NEED you to get our stories told. What are you gonna do?