Once again this year, millions of Americans will watch the movie industry's annual tribute to nepotism, cronyism, elitism, racism, and sexism known as the "Academy Awards," where overhyped celebrities from the world of make-believe, wearing suits and gowns that cost more money than many Americans make in a year, strut ostentatiously before groveling sycophants and idolaters.
This year's charade, however, was made even more farcical after the world learned that, on the date of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's eighty-sixth birthday, all the nominees for best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, and best supporting actress are white.
Since this announcement, social media has been abuzz with outrage and consternation over how critically acclaimed performances in movies like Selma, such as David Oyelowo's portrayal of Dr. King, were somehow not deserving of nominations.
Some commentators have attributed these snubs to the fact that the "Academy" is overwhelmingly white. But I believe the best explanation was provided by film critic Gene Seymour on CNN's website: "Movie history has many films with black slaves and black victims. It's much harder to think of a Hollywood movie in which African Americans are depicted as the active agents of their own salvation. 'Selma' is one of those movies. And its relative dearth of worthy nominations is viewed, fairly or not, as a collective snub of not just a movie, but of African Americans' vision of their own empowerment."
After reading this statement, I decided to do some research, and did indeed discover that, aside from a few films made by African American directors, Hollywood does indeed seem terrified to permit racial and ethnic minorities to be anything other than background in movies that deal with the civil rights struggle and/or racial injustice, opting instead for white actors to be depicted as the "heroes."
Although a discussion of all these movies is too lengthy for a brief article, the ten films listed below clearly prove Seymour's point:
Invictus, a film directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses more on Matt Damon's portrayal of Francois Pienaar, the white captain of South Africa's rugby team, than it does on Morgan Freeman's portrayal of Nelson Mandela.
The majority of the film Cry Freedom, directed by Richard Attenborough, shows more concern for white journalist Donald Woods and his family, and their efforts to escape from South Africa, than it does for the murder of his friend-anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
Glory, directed by Edward Zwick, uses a white commanding officer, played by Matthew Broderick, to tell the story of an African American regiment fighting for the Union Army during the civil war.
Glory Road, directed by James Gartner, emphasizes a white college basketball coach's decision to use all African American players during the 1966 championship game, and how his white players supported this decision.
Colors, directed by Dennis Hopper, devotes most of its screen time to Robert Duvall and Sean Penn's roles as two white cops patrolling neighborhoods controlled by two African American gangs-the Crips and the Bloods.
Mississippi Burning, directed by Alan Parker, quickly kills off the actors portraying slain civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner so it can focus on the "heroics" of two white FBI agents, played by Gene Hackman and Willem Defoe.
Ghosts of Mississippi, directed by Rob Reiner, reduces assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers to an afterthought, choosing instead to concentrate on white prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter's efforts to bring Evers' murderer to justice, and the tensions these efforts cause in his family.
Heart of Dixie, directed by Martin Davidson, uses the civil rights movement as background to underscore the "courageous crusade" of Ally Sheedy's character-a white, Alabama college student siding with civil rights activists in her school newspaper.
Thunderheart, directed by Michael Apted, follows Mississippi Burning's formula by choosing to focus on an FBI agent's "awakening" to the suffering of Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation instead of on the tragic events and injustices that occurred there.
And finally there is Windtalkers, directed by John Yoo, where the Navajo characters who use their Native language in military radio transmissions to confuse the enemy during World War II are secondary to characters played by white actors like Nicolas Cage.
So this year do yourself and the world a favor. Don't waste any of your precious time watching the overhyped, overrated, and all too irrelevant Academy Awards. The world needs to celebrate the courage and sacrifice of its real heroes, not its make-believe ones.
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