I love watching The Oscars. Every year I always make awards predictions, tune in on that Sunday to watch the show and complain with my friends online about the winners. Going into Oscar night this year, the telecast of the Academy Awards had everything against it. With Kevin Hart stepping down as host, the Academy backtracking on not airing several categories and then scrapping a category for popular movies, this year’s hostless Oscars managed to pull off one of their best shows in recent years. And all they did was slate dynamic presenters and focus on what the Oscars are about: the films.
With historic wins for people of color, superhero films and Lady Gaga, it seems that the show hit a speed bump when it came to Best Picture. This year’s winner went to Green Book, and like a good number of viewers who watched the results live, we were left scratching our heads. Don’t get me wrong, “Green Book” is a fantastic film, with strong performances from both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. It’s just that the Academy has been down this road before, only recognizing stories about African-Americans dealing with racism. Just in the past decade, the only Best Picture nominees with black talent that follow this trope are “The Help,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Hidden Figures,” “Selma” and “Get Out.” All wonderfully done films that have an important message, and showcase activists of all races working together for the common good. In Wesley Morris’s New York Times article, “Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies?”, he points out that the only way that these “friendships” form in these films is through their place of work. In a lot of ways, Green Book is a callback to 1990’s Best Picture winner “Driving Miss Daisy.” Both films feature the main characters, of different races, bonding together on a business road trip in the 1960s Deep South. But like both films, none of the interracial friendships in these films happen naturally. They’re all circumstantial.
I am not saying that the filmmakers behind them shouldn’t be recognized for their work. I just want more of a variety of films to be recognized that tell Black stories. I want to see more films like the semi-fantasy “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” about a courageous black girl named Hushpuppy who defends her community against the evil forces of nature. Or “Moonlight,” a film about a black man coming to terms with his homosexuality, and breaking away from traditional masculinity. We’ve started to see this shift with last year’s “Black Panther;” a man ascending to the throne set in an Afro-Futuristic African country untouched by colonialism.
There is no doubt about it that the Academy has made significant progress addressing the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from years before by changing the rules of Academy membership in an effort to have more stories recognized from various ethnic backgrounds. But “Green Book’s” decisive win shows that the Academy voters themselves still have a long way to go before they showcase stories about African-Americans that are more than just “racism is bad.”