The Oscars row does Diversity no favours

I remember my initial reaction to Jada Pinkett-Smith’s comments regarding boycotting this year’s Oscars award ceremony. I rolled my eyes so hard that an eyeballs almost fell out. Quite whether she intended to start a huge furore is another matter but, considering that the Academy board went through the same drama last year (no black nominees), there’s an air of ingenuity tainting this situation. Sure, there were hashtags last year and the same old mindless Twitter chatter that apparently solved very little, but boycotting? I don’t remember hearing any of that.

It’s not surprising that a vast majority of black entertainers have come out to complain – notice the key word there, ‘entertainers’. Not black, but entertainers. I am yet to read any articles that take into account the opinions of non-famous black people. Apparently we don’t matter. Yes, it is being touted as a race issue and I am sure that, as a black person, I am supposed to feel something for Idris Elba, Will Smith and Michael B. Jordan etc. but it is hard to.

The Oscars awards aren’t fair or handled with objectivity. Certain films are marked as contenders before post-production has begun. It’s a long-running joke that if you want to win Best Picture, just create a biopic. Nothing appeases the board more than a dramatic retelling of real life. Most people know this, and I am sure that most don’t care besides their desire and interest in people they don’t know. At the end of the day, someone else walking home with a gold statue has no bearing on my life as a black person. Will Smith could win five Oscars and I’m sure discrimination will still exist. Racism will still exist.

It’s a start.

That, I’m sure, would be the general consensus if multiple black actors were rewarded with nominations. And perhaps it would be. Just not for me. Not for hundreds of thousands of young black people who will never touch Hollywood, let alone the industry of their choice. If anything, this row does black people a disservice. Essentially, people are saying, ‘it’s okay to nominate someone on the basis of their colour’. People will disagree but I saw a good point written somewhere earlier, about how the next person of colour would feel when they won an award. Given that Hollywood is powered by ego, it may not resonate with them, but the implication would remain. And that’s what I have an issue with.

Awards, as a whole, are not indicative of talent. Even as far back as our school days, I am sure we all know at least one person who got an award they didn’t really deserve. They were the teacher’s favourite, or your bosses’ favourite – whatever. If these actors are proud to be black and successful (which they are, gold statue or not), why are they so set on being recognised by a group that has a long history of shunning them? This is the problem I have. It reeks of the outsider desperately trying to fit in. It never occurs to them that, to be great, they don’t need other people’s approval. They don’t need to be commended on abilities that they have worked hard to hone.

Black actors especially should be doing all they can to break the mould. Set up their own studios – work hard at achieving the diversity they claim to want.

They should be but the reality is that most of them will not.

Had Will Smith not featured in one of those biopics I mentioned earlier, who knows if Jada would have spoken up? Spike Lee’s movie Chi-Raq was “snubbed” making his comments less than objective. 50 Cent, who is one of those calling for Chris Rock to stand down as host, is well known for running on stage at an award show to protest against what he felt was an unfairness (basically, he didn’t win his category and threw a hissy fit).

Most of these celebrities complaining have nothing to say when young, black men are shot and killed by police. They have nothing to say about young black people who can’t get a job or those who are followed by security in stores because of the colour of their skin. They have nothing to say about black people who are being failed by their communities. Black people who feel like they have no way in this world, and little confidence to go out and achieve what they want because society looks down on them. Some actively perpetuate negative stereotypes, almost as if they’re better than the rest of us because they ‘made’ it.

Black people don’t want others to succeed, they claim. No, it’s just that we’ve seen what happens when some of them ‘succeed’. They lose touch with reality and equate their issues amongst the whole black community. After years of shunning us, their hurt feelings suddenly become the problem of the entire black population.

Others may be clamouring for the Oscars to change, but truthfully, it’s a waste of time. The snubbed actors will continue rubbing elbows with those that benefit from their exclusion. They will appease their white studio bosses and continue to lobby for roles. And they might even complain all over again when they realise that all of the schmoozing hasn’t worked. That’s life. Whether or not A or B wins an Oscar has no real bearing on the real world, on real matters.

Regarding diversity in acting, I agree that there needs to be more. What we see on screen should reflect what we see outside on the streets every day. Faces of every colour. Different nationalities and ethnicities – different cultures. However, none of that will happen if people sit around and wait for the current regime to make it happen. It won’t. Sure, there has been some progress, but it’s slow. For that reason, I find all of this uproar highly hypocritical. How many of the current black actors today lobby for their peers? How many of them consider that, given that they’re few in numbers, the chance of them being nominated is low anyway? How many of them realise that increasing the number of actors should be the main issue and not awards that matter so very little. Life is about opportunities, not keepsakes.

How would they feel if the Oscar board created an award specifically for actors of colour? That’s where this is leading and the implication is unsettling because that isn’t diversity. It’s special treatment, and that doesn’t do the rest of us any good. Not only that, this isn’t what we want but this is what they will claim that we want. Black people want special treatment. That’s the sentiment I keep seeing. Casual racism poured across many web pages, unfairly targeted at the entire black population. It’s maddening and very sad.

Take the comments of Charlotte Rampling, a 69-year-old British actress, who I have admittedly never heard of. For that reason alone, her opinion means nothing to me. But isn’t it interesting that she says that this debate is “racist to whites” and also that, “These days everyone is more or less accepted … People will always say: ‘Him, he’s less handsome’; ‘Him, he’s too black’; ‘He is too white’ … someone will always be saying ‘You are too’ [this or that] … But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”. The ignorance is bald-faced, but not surprising.

Whether or not vast groups of white people have this opinion is not for me to say, but it’s interesting isn’t it? Why is she so heated over the fact that black people feel that they are minorities? Is it because the truth hurts, or because she, whether directly or indirectly, doesn’t think that we deserve to have a voice? While I feel as if this whole situation was generated by Will and Jada for their own purposes, it’s sad that it is being used to tarnish all of us. What good will do this do?

Contrarily, Janet Hubert (or the original Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince if you like) had this to say in a response she posted on Facebook. “People are dying, being shot left and right, people are hungry, people are trying to pay bills — and you’re talking about actors and Oscars. It just ain’t that deep”. She may not be objective but it is hard to argue with her point. Thank God that at least one person in the industry is tethered to reality.

It’s a shame that we, as a society, put others ahead of ourselves. We value outside opinions more than those of our friends, families, close ones. Time and time again we miss the opportunity to build on what we have and make it strong enough to hold up against adversity. I hope that those boycotting the Oscars are thinking about how to fix the problem, and not about what they can do next time to put their name on the ballot. I hope that they’re genuinely interested in eradicating inequality, albeit in an industry that doesn’t do the majority of us any favours. I hope that this isn’t just another ploy to grab attention and look good in the limelight.

There’s no point in taking a stand if your next move is to exit the door. There’s no point in claiming to be a voice for black people if you speak up whenever it suits you. There’s no point in pretending that Hollywood even cares about the issue. The ceremony will be packed and the white men and women will enjoy their awards. Some might utter a thing or two about diversity because they’re ‘aware’ and want everyone to know it, but it’ll be interesting to see how many white actors boycott along with their black counterparts (if any).

All I know is that I, along with many other black people faced with more important issues, will be trying my hardest to make my own way in this world, regardless of whoever wins a silly award.

Written by our guest writer, Sikemi


Guest Writer Profile: Aged 24, Sikemi’s conscious views are that, “Black people should strive to build their communities from within, forging strong bonds and inspiring those who lack confidence. We may finally get the respect that we deserve one day, but the utmost goal is for us to respect ourselves, to better ourselves, in conjunction with making sure that our voices are still heard.”


 

Patrice Lumumba – did they teach you about him?

 

No, ‘they’ being the educational system, did not teach me about Patrice, like they didn’t teach me about the Warrior Queen, Nzinga of Angola who fought against the invading Portuguse or Queen Nanny of the Maroons, who lead a resistance against slavery. There’s so much more they didn’t teach you and I, it’s a mis-carriage of education. No wonder why so many of us grow up thinking all our ancestors were subjected to nothing but slavery and colonialism. Yes these inhumane events occurred – which we must never forget, no matter how profound or traumatic it is, but our ancestors were Kings and Queens before this time period, and when this period was taken over by the Europeans, our ancestors fought for their survival. They fought for their freedom. They fought to preserve their spiritual and cultural customs and traditions. They fought for the next generations to come – me and you, they fought to pave the way for the next generations to have a chance to uplift a nation, and a continent. They fought to protect their rich, natural resources the Europeans so greedily wanted. So, let us remember what they did. Let us learn for ourselves about the bravery and sacrifices our people endured. Let us know about Patrice Lumuba.

Today marks 55 years since Patrice Lumumba was assassinated. Until today I had not known of this brother. It was via Dynamic Africa’s tweet that I came to discover who he was. Patrice Emery Lumumba (2nd July 1925 – 17th January, 1961), was born, Élias Okit’Asombo in the Kasai province of Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the village of Onalua. Lumumba was a leader of Congolese Independence, who stood for the unity of his people and his continent. He became the first democratically elected leader of the Congo in 1960, the same year his country were declared independent from Belgium. What struck me whilst doing my research, was seeing the words ‘Congo’ and ‘Belgium’ in the same sentence. A shiver wet down my spine. Just last year I had learnt about Belguim’s King Leopold II and how he ruled over the Congo with unmeasurable horror. Up to 10 million Congolese people are said to have died under his inhumane regime. Murder, poor living & working conditions, death by disease or lack of food led to the inevitable deaths of these innocent people, who were brutally worked on rubber plantations to feed the greed of European colonialists. This was the scramble for Africa at it’s disturbing extreme.

It was at the Berlin Conference 1884-5 where King Leopold II secured his claim to the Congo on the basis that his aim was to ‘protect the natives from Arab slaves, and to open the heart of Africa to Christian missionaries’. This sick and twisted lie allowed this evil man to torment the Congo until 1908, when his horrors finally became clear to the international world. Leopold had wanted the Congo for its rich abundance of raw materials the very same reason why Europe did not want to leave the Congo in Lumumba’s control. During the official Independence Day celebrations, Lumumba publicly denounced Belgium for it’s brutal colonial grip over the Congo. Lumumba wanted to free his country from it’s colonial shackles. He wanted to unite the divided ethnic groups again and take control of Congo’s resources, so he could use them to improve the quality of life for his own people.

The Belgians did not like to hear Lumumba denounce them because his words were the truth. They saw Lumumba as a threat. A threat. Since what right did a European have to invade, steal and control something that clearly does not belong to them? A threat – yes, to European greed and control, something that hasn’t changed at all, yet society chooses to sweep it under the carpet like it’s all ‘in the past’. It’s not, when white people are still benefiting from this greed whether they care to acknowledge it or not, and my melanated brothers and sisters are still reaping the scars.

Despite independence, Belgian officers were still in charge. The Congolese army revolted against them in the mineral rich region of Katanga. This became known as the Katanga crisis which turned into a civil war. What makes this crisis twisted is the fact that the involvement of the two super powers at the time – USA & the Soviet Union came about not only because of the on-going Cold War tensions, but because of Congo’s resources. As well as the UN, Lumumba called for military support from the Soviet Union, which the US saw as an excuse to claim the Congo was going communist. What they were really ‘concerned’ about was the Russians getting their hands on the rich minerals of the country and Africa in general, (it is said that the uranium from the atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was taken from the Congo). To prevent Russian advancement, the US installed the puppet-sell-out army chief, Joseph-Desire Mobutu.

America’s devious ways of control hindered Lumumba’s dreams and inevitably lead to his murder. This is what happens when a melanated being stands up to the greedy, twisted and corrupted west. The legacy of his death had damaging reverberations for the Congo. Look at the person who replaced him – Mobutu, who morphed into a military dictator, a manifestation of the greed and corruption of colonial Europe.

Lumumba died a martyr. He stood up to colonial Europe and the west for what they did to his country and continent. He stood up for himself and his people. He should be known to us all, as of all the histories of Congo before and after colonisation. For today, let us know Patrice Lumumba.

 

Eunice


Resources on Patrice Lumumba:

  • May our People Triumph: Poem, Speeches & Interviews, by Patrice Lumumba 
  • Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba, by Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick
  • The Assassination of Lumumba, by Ludo De Whitte
  • MI6 and the death of Patrice Lumumba – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22006446

Resources on King Leopold: