Considering the Oscars: Blacks underrepresented in Hollywood


Hattie McDaniel (right) performs as “Mammy” in “Gone with the Wind” alongside Vivien Leigh in 1939.

Trae Williams, Staff writer

On Feb. 28, 2016, at 8:30 p.m., the 88th Academy Awards commenced and I was certainly not tuned in.

I was not one of the many blacks boycotting the event because of lack of representation. I just quite frankly had better things to do. I’m going to get straight to the point: Blacks are poorly represented in Hollywood. Can people really argue this? Keep reading and we shall see.

The presence of blacks in major roles has been a conversation since Mammy, thehouse servant in “Gone with the Wind,” to Octavia Spencer in “The Help.”

People, how many times are blacks going to be limited to playing servants or the token black guy who says a funny line here or there? Many of the roles for blacks are demeaning, but they are so determined to make a name for themselves and represent their community they did what they had to do. Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel paved the way for other black actors and actresses. At this point most people 20 and under are like, “who is Sidney Poitier and who the hell is Hattie McDaniel?” This is a good time to use Google then continue reading this article. You’re almost done, you silly fellow Millennials.

Yes, the representation is messed up, but what’s up with the lack of nominations at the Oscars you ask…It’s the voters. Voters for Oscars tend to be old white guys…that wasn’t a joke. I’m serious. It’s called The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, which basically is a group of 7,000 plus accomplished filmmakers and previous winners/nominees. Why are the voters “old?” Because previously, membership did not expire… ever. So even if you were no longer active in the industry and you were 100 years old, you still have a vote. But, last month the academy adjusted the requirements to address the lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar nominees. Now, to have a vote, members have to be active within the last 10 years or they will be stripped of their voting status. The changes in these rules were needed and just goes to show that having a voice really can make a difference.

So what now? Is the portrayal of blacks as servants or in rags to riches stories such a bad thing? Maybe. Could it spread and build upon prejudices? Possibly. Are blacks and other minorities undervalued in Hollywood? Yes, don’t argue that one. However, as the great Hattie McDaniel famously said, “I would rather play a maid in the movies than be one.”

Take that into account on your next casting call.