One of the major critiques of this year's Academy Award nominations has been the lack of recognition for African American actors and actresses . There was an article by the New York Times that this was a trend. That article made me think about what this means black actors and actresses in general.
In the last few years even Denzel has not been landing the quality roles that he used to land. No that could be partly because of his getting older, but I have not see him in a good film since American Gangster and before that Training Day.
Hall Berry has had flop after flop since her Academy Award win; she has not landed a decent role nor has she starred in much. Her Academy Award win was historic and she was great in the film, but like with Hattie McDaniel her win has not helped her get better roles.
Will Smith is the biggest box office draw for black actors and actresses, but he has not not had a film released in over the last 3 years, and his Men in Black III project has been postponed because of cast changes.
Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury in all of the Marvel films. In the Marvel Universe Nick Fury has been both white and black, I give the studio credit for casting Jackson in this role. Jackson works consistently.
Morgan Freeman also has a lot of projects and does a lot of different films; he recently starred in Red, and was Nelson Mandela in Invictus. Freeman has the right balance between quality roles and the number of roles he takes on. Yet at this moment he is one of the only black actors who has this balance.
Quantity vs. Quality-What matters more? In my mind both of these matter, but depending on the audience there are different perceptions of what matters more. I would like to highlight a section of the New York Times article entitle Hollywood's Whiteout the author Darghis and Scott (2011) stated:
Tyler Perry has been highlighted as one of the hardest working black men in Hollywood; he has starred in, directed, and produced numerous films. Tyler Perry appears to control the Universe, (sarcasm noted) but he seems to be the hardest working black man in Hollywood. Perry has his champions and his critics. Some people praise him for bringing more stories about black people to the big screen (and television now) while others say he presents maligned stereotypical representations. Spike Lee another famous black director, actor, and producer has been one of his greatest critics and has cited his viewpoint as setting the black community back. Darghis and Scott (2011) stated:
"Mr. Lee has been among Mr. Perry’s critics. “We’ve got a black president, and we’re going back,” Mr. Lee said in 2009. “The image is troubling, and it hearkens back to Amos ’n’ Andy.” The philosopher Cornel West has been more charitable (“Brother Tyler can mature”) and last year he put a larger frame around the issue of race and the movies in America, noting that with “all the richness in black life right now,” that “the only thing Hollywood gives us is black pathology. Look at the Oscars. Even ‘Precious,’ with my dear sister Mo’Nique, what is it? Rape, violation, the marginalized. Or else you get white missionary attitudes toward black folk. ‘The Blind Side?’ Oh my God! In 2010? I respect Sandra Bullock’s work, but that is not art.”
So what matters most? The answer is quality and quantity both matter! (I am cheating with my answer of course). How do you find the balance, is Hollywood afraid to tell stories that are different in a bad economy? Hollywood is clinging to the predictable action genre to rake in all the money. Taking risks is not on their agenda and Perry makes Hollywood money, so he is their go to guy. Perry has done some great things with his films, but he does need to widen his lens in order to capture a deeper perspective. I think Spike Lee and Tyler Perry both have valuable points of view, but they also need to work towards improving their craft and work towards making stronger films.
What's on the Horizon? Does 2011 look Better?
This summer the film based on the best selling the novel The Help is being released (movie has the same title as the book). I am in the middle of the book right now, and the writing is decent and plot is alright, but I am not sold on this film. The book is told from three different perspectives, which is possible in a book, but the movie looks like it is being told from the perspective of lead white character played by Emma Stone (who is a talented actress). Creating a film from three different perspectives is difficult but it has been done.