Will Smith, Ariana Debose, Questlove and Samuel L Jackson picked up golden statues in the 94th Academy Awards.
Leaving aside the elephant in the room for the moment, this year’s Oscars nominations had already drawn criticism for the greatly reduced number of nominations of people from the Black community.
The biggest movie awards ceremony which aired during the early hours of Sunday 27 March, didn’t build on 2021’s record-breaking tally of nine nominations for Black actors, dropping down to just four, in addition to the nominations from Beyoncé, who performed her song on the night, and Questlove.
While we acknowledge that two of the most coveted awards, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress went to Will Smith (King Richard) and Ariana Debose (West Side Story), respectively, many would argue that some critically acclaimed performances were overlooked as contenders for awards. The likes of Jennifer Hudson, whose commanding portrayal of Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, a clear example.
To address the incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock, it is unfortunate that a fully robust celebration of some of the winners have been drowned out by the focus on the altercation between the two men.
Award-winning filmmaker and writer Frances-Anne Solomon, who is also a Director of the Windrush Caribbean Film Festival and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, described what some are feeling. She told Melan Magazine: “The incident between the eventual Oscar winner, Will Smith and comedian Chris Rock, has diverted the world’s attention away from the actual ceremony itself. What should have been the celebration of Smith’s win as only the fifth Black man to be awarded the Best Actor award has been overshadowed.
“In fact, very few people are even talking about the historic win for Ariana Debose who is the first openly queer woman of colour to receive an Oscar.
“We should be celebrating the wins – not waiting on what sanctions, if any, the officers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors will place on Smith.”
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A poignant win was Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, also known as the Black Woodstock. Summer of Soul ( … or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), has been described as “one of the worthiest [wins] of the night. In his speech, Questlove thanked his “beautiful mother,” who was in the audience, and his late father.
He also said: “This is such a stunning moment for me, right now .. [..] This is not about me. This is about marginalized people in Harlem that needed to heal from pain.”
A wonderful image of Denzel Washington hugging Samuel L Jackson doing the rounds on social media gave the only clue to many that Mr Jackson is now in fact an Oscar winner. He received his honorary Academy Award at the Governors Awards on the preceding Friday and so his moment of glory was not televised as part of the ceremony.
Congratulations to Samuel L. Jackson as he received the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. pic.twitter.com/HXqGdJea0L
— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) March 29, 2022
Jackson who has appeared in more than 150 films, was visibly thrilled to receive his award from Washington (who was also beaming), acknowledged their long friendship by saying: “We’ve come a long way and done a lot of things.”
In his speech he thanked his wife of 42 years, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, and their daughter Zoe, calling them “his biggest critics and biggest fans” before going on to say: “Who knows, that little kid from Chattanooga, Tennessee, watching movies, wishing he could be here to get the votes of people who run an organization like this that says, ‘Hey, I deserve something like this,’ thank you, so much.”
“All in all, it is important for the film industry to show that diversity is not just a trend. It is a bet on the future.”
So, clearly some representation, but not enough according to Solomon. She said: “Many of us who are actively involved in the industry saw this awards season as an opportunity for the film industry to prove that the changes which began in 2020, and now being reflected in society, were being mirrored in the business. Not just by the creation of more roles for people of colour and for opening casts and crews to be more diverse and real, but also in recognising the outstanding work of those already ‘treading the boards’ in the industry.”
“All in all, it is important for the film industry to show that diversity is not just a trend. It is a bet on the future. A future of equality that society is fighting for right now and that needs to be reflected and encouraged in films.”