Media mogul Cathy Hughes made headlines recently when she gave her honest opinion about the roles Black women have portrayed in films that have garnered them Oscars, namely Halle Berry for the 2001 film “Monster’s Ball” and Mo’Nique for the 2009 film “Precious.” Both played rather unsavory characters who shocked and dismayed some moviegoers. But their outstanding performances thrust them into American film history.
Hughes, founder of Radio One network and TV One cable channel, said in an interview with Ms. Drama, “We got two Academy Awards for showing Black women lower than dirt.”
The first Black actress to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a film was Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal of Mammy in the 1939 film, “Gone with the Wind.” McDaniel was heavily criticized by the leaders of the Black community for taking the role, and then for doing such a great job, they felt she enhanced the stereotyping Black women.
Fast forward to just days after Hughes blasted Halle and Mo’Nique. Whoopi made headlines, when she blasted the New York Times for leaving her out of an article about Black actors and the Oscars. Since then she’s issued an apology for calling the article “shoddy.”
“I felt the reporting was shoddy and for that I’m going to apologize, OK?” Whoopi said on The View last week. “I personally found the article really confusing, and as I said, I was also quite hurt that Cuba Gooding Jr., Louis Gossett Jr., and myself were not included in this expose about Black Hollywood.”
The New York Times claimed the article was not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to note the apparent step backwards the Oscars have taken since 2002, when Berry and Denzel Washington both won awards.
Whoopi had every right to speak up against the slight. Thus far 14 Black actors and actresses have taken home Oscars. And they named 10 in the article. What, you couldn’t add three more names?
James Baskett was given an honorary Oscar, making him the first Black male actor to take home the coveted award. Baskett portrayed Uncle Remus in the 1946 Disney film “Song of the South,” the second most protested film in American history. You know he caught hell.
The Black road to Oscar is filled with anger, betrayal and all that glitters. Let’s face it, Black actors and actresses, whether they like it or not, are still looked upon as representatives of their race. And any role they select that demands them to stretch, to go outside of their comfort zone, or is controversial is purely done because they want to grow in their craft.
To live and work in Hollywood, you have to have thick skin. To live and work in Hollywood as a Black actor or actress, you have to have double thick, armadillo-like skin.
Gail can be reached at email@example.com.