Like many other Blacks watching Sunday’s Golden Globes, I grimaced as award after award went to one white actor after another until the very end — when 12 Years A Slave would go on to collect honors for Best Motion Picture, Drama. It was as if the Hollywood Foreign Press told director Steve McQueen and his brilliant cast, “You can’t have any sides or the biscuit, but here’s the big piece of chicken.” Nonetheless, I was happy because a movie of that magnitude and all those apart of it deserved to be recognized.
Yet, I noticed this sentiment was met with the assertion that somehow such a feeling is rooted in the yearning of white validation. It’s a similar little theory now being peddled in the wake of disappointment over Fruitvale Station securing virtually no recognition in this year’s awards season. Some of this is an easily understood defense mechanism. Many of us are well aware that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences isn’t exactly known for rewarding people of color and their contributions to film, and when they do, it’s for reprising familiar tropes.
Though 12 Years A Slave may be hard to watch for people Black and white alike, for many whites, they view the film with a sense of redemption. As in, “Look how far we’ve come.” However, Fruitvale Station is a reminder that the hatred of Black people is not something that ought to be discussed in past tense. We are no longer in literal shackles, but we suffer from other societal ills (by design), and when we do try to improve our situations, we can easily be taken out in an act of state-sponsored violence.
Director Ryan Coogler and the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan, offer a more nuanced view of the caricatures of Black manhood we’re often presented and it serves as a reminder that America collectively maintains very little reward for Black life. That’s a harder pill to swallow for the Academy and others. Even so, one could argue that the fault of Fruitvale Station’s snub lies with the Weinstein Co. who made several strategic errors – the film’s way too early release date and seemingly little effort to maintain the buzz in the wake of a highly contested awards season, etc. The Oscar snub sadly seemed like a forgone conclusion and little was done to thwart that.
Nevertheless, my disappointment in Fruitvale Station not getting any Oscar nominations should not be denigrated by some ridiculous idea that I’m groveling for a white co-sign. I’m very much an outspoken advocate about the temperature of the white man’s ice not being any cooler than anyone else’s. I don’t believe mainstream equates better, but I do feel if an award show purports to be inclusive it should reflect that. And just because it has yet to meet that standard does not mean I should stop trying to hold them to it. The same goes for others who share this opinion.
Thus, when I say it would’ve be nice to see Coolger nominated for Best Original Screenplay or Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress or Michael B. Jordan for Best Actor, I mean just that. It would’ve been nice. Not “needed” and not life altering, but nice. For no other reason than good artistry ought to be recognized – particularly by a prestigious and purportedly all encompassing organization. If you find that groveling for white approval, I feel sorry for you. I also hope someone gets you the gift of nuance for your birthday.