“Or, That Was Better Than My Original Title” By S.R. Torris
There’s an old saying – it’s been around town for those who are in the know: “Niggas ain’t never satisfied”.
I thought about it as I was watching “The Help” last night. I laughed at parts that were even funnier than when I first saw the movie. You ever do that, come back to something a second or third time and realize what you missed the first time? Isn’t it great when it’s something funny?
I tell you what isn’t funny; the same old argument that comes up each time a movie like “The Help” is presented at the Academy. I have a blog about my dislike for award season and what I failed to mention was THIS part of it all – a certain clique of Black folks coming around pooh-poohing the work of Black artists who struggle to give their all. It happened with “The Color Purple”, it happened with “Training Day”, it happened with “Precious” and it’s happening now.
I watched an interview Tavis Smiley had with actors Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who played the main characters (Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson) and were given the coveted Oscar™ “nod”. He did say how much he wanted them to win but was “ambivalent” about what they were winning for – depicting a maid some how-many-decades after Hattie McDaniel won for her portrayal as, you guessed it, a maid. I’m sure on the surface, Hattie McDaniel’s “Mammy” looks the same as Viola’s “Aibileen” but the subtleties of difference are a lot less subtle when you’re not looking at the movie to torpedo the actors in it.
Viola Davis responded to Tavis Smiley’s backhanded compliment (my opinion) by saying, “That very mindset that you have, and that a lot of African-Americans have, is absolutely destroying the Black artist.” Tavis, of course, was miffed by her response taking the tone of a High School Principal chastising a boisterous teenager, commenting that what she said was a “strong indictment” and allowing her, in his own giving way to sit with the indictment she’d just made.
I don’t have to sit with a damn thing. Viola’s “indictment” right.
By his own admission Tavis Smiley said that he’s had the same conversation with Denzel Washington: Why do Black folks only get awarded for playing servants and deplorable characters? Denzel told him to get over it and I echo Denzel’s sentiment.
Christoph Waltz. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t either until I decided to watch a little movie called “Inglourious Basterds” where he played a Nazi Colonel named Hans Landa. Oh yeah, he won an Oscar™ for Best Supporting Actor. Deplorable character and all – go figure. And I’m sure you remember Hillary Swank? You don’t? Sure you do, Oscar™ for Best Actress in “Million Dollar Baby” as a chick boxer and then there was the memorable “Boys Don’t Cry”, where she played a chick posing as a dude – she won the Best Actress Oscar™ for that too. But I know, it’s not a maid…
There’s a great coming of age story called “Pariah”, in theatres now, which involves a young African-American woman discovering her sexuality. Oh yes, they DO exist, Virginia! Lesbianus Africanus is not the mythical creature one barely reads about in magazines or rarely sees on your most Liberal of TV programs. And I even heard the ever-grumpy Hobbit of a man, Spike Lee, is an Executive Producer of this movie, yet there’s hardly been a peep from him about it. If Tyler Perry, who seems like the only filmmaker who appreciates Black actresses, made “Pariah” Spike would be spreading his vitriol all throughout the Shire and beyond – on any show in any paper that would listen! Just as the noise for criticisms of “The Help” are loud and numerous, the silence for “Pariah” is as blatant.
And getting back to High School Principal Smiley, why dump this on African-American actors? Tavis Smiley’s show is national; he’s had people like Harvey Weinstein (co-founder of Miramax and co-chair of The Weinstein Company) on his show, people who can green light films; he’s had on a variety of British, Australian, and American A-List actors and I haven’t heard him raise the issue to any one of them – except Denzel…
Then there’s you – the people. Hollywood is a business comprised of greedy elitists trying to distract you from the fact that they are elitists so you’ll continue to bring them your money. However, their greed is the key. If comic book movies do well, you’ll see more comic book movies. If Tyler Perry movies do well you’ll see more movies of that genre. But don’t scare them because they aren’t the bravest bunch. When the NAACP decided it would voice its disgust over “The Color Purple” and its derogatory depiction of African-American men (because you know, rappers, basketball players, football players, and Detroit politicians are doing such an exemplary job of showing the positives) it was rumored Whoopi Goldberg said she and other African-American actors couldn’t find work years after. Coincidentally, out of its 11 Oscar™ nominations, “The Color Purple” won a whopping goose egg.
The elitists like what they like and will reward it. If you don’t take action, if you don’t let them know they must expand their field of vision, nothing will change for the better. But they are counting on your predictable hot-air shenanigans because you get mad and criticize the artists trying to develop their craft instead of the drivers of the machine. All the letters and articles written about “The Help” by a bunch of angry Negroes tired of seeing a Black woman portrayed as a maid, and what do you do? Touchstone Pictures distributed “The Help”. Touchstone is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Corporation. How many of you insulted African-Americans, bruised-feelings Black folks are planning a trip to Disney, are taking your kids to Disney, or are at Disneyland right now?
I just finished reading “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”, the last book of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” trilogy. Steig Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander is a compelling character – Rooney Mara got lucky to grab such a roll. I shudder to think if Lisbeth Salander was Black and the tornado force shitstorm that an African-American actress would have to make her way through in order to do what she loves – share her art. Her sacrifice, just to have peace within her own community, must be to forever portray the noble monolith sage who does nothing to make her “race look bad”.
I heard another old saying, how does it go? The more things change…