Remember the year of the black movie? 12 Years a Slave, Mandela, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, 42? Everything was going to change. I was naive enough to think so.
Last season we had director Steve McQueen, and actors Lupita N’yongo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oprah Winfrey, and Barkhad Abdi. There were also high profile performances from Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, everyone from “The Butler” and “42.”
Six months after “12 Years a Slave” swept the Oscars, it’s all over. So far there are no black nominees this year for the Oscars. This year’s serious black movie was “Get on Up.” It got on down, and vanished after a short run. The chances of Chadwick Boseman getting a nod for his amazing performance as James Brown are slight but not out of the question.
The verdict is out also on “Belle,” directed by Amma Asante, which featured an Oscar worthy performance by the actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Because it was released early in the year, “Belle” may be forgotten, which would be a travesty.
The only film that could still produce nominees would be Ava Duvernay’s “Selma,” from Paramount, opening on Christmas Day for a qualifying run. David Oyelowo, so good in “The Butler,” plays Martin Luther King. Past Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lorraine Toussaint are also featured.
Otherwise the names in the Oscar mix this year are Cumberbatch, Redmayne, Keaton, Murray, Moore, Arquette, Knightley. There’s no Lupita, no Idris, no Chiwetel.
Some past black Oscar winners are around, of course. Denzel Washington is in “The Equalizer,” a commercial film not for awards. Octavia Spencer does nice work in “Black and White,” but the film may not be big enough. Anthony Mackie is hanging in there with “Captain America” and also “Black and White.”
Forest Whitaker? No films this year. Halle Berry? On TV in “Extant.” Viola Davis has also gone to TV for now in Shonda Rhimes’ new series.
Of course, good movies are being made– Tyler Perry, The Best Man series, Think Like a Man, and so on. But they’re segregated from the white movie establishment. But they aren’t Oscar fare, rather genial comedies. They’re not going to produce nominees.
There are also few black actors in white movies. Sometimes a black actor plays a guard or a distant friend or a comic book character (Jamie Foxx, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson). For example: Of the 16 main roles in the witty “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” not a single black actor was cast. It’s not like they were casting for historical characters. It was all fiction. In the upcoming “The Judge,” there is one — 1– black actor, and he has one scene.
This week at “The View,” I mentioned this situation to past Oscar Whoopi Goldberg. Her reponse? An arched eyebrow and: “Are you surprised?” She also said she’d be supporting Chadwick Boseman for “Get on Up.” She’s not alone.