Monday, March 3, 2014

Make Nyong'o a star, H'wood. I dare you.

Dear Hollywood,

Wussup, bro? Been awhile since we talked. How ya been? You had a pretty good night last night at the Oscars, huh? I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I couldn't be bothered to watch. I had a pretty good feeling who was gonna win what, and I know you can't get enough of that stuff, but I really didn't need to sit through yet another themed montage or one more superfluous musical number. You understand.

But hey! You gave the big prize to 12 Years a Slave. That's awesome, man. I wasn't sure if you had it in ya. I mean, I know how much of a tough sit-through it was for some of you, but you made the right call on that one, dude. Trust me. In fact, that's kinda what I wanted to talk to you about - specifically, the young actress from that movie to whom you awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, Lupita Nyong'o.

She looked terrific, didn't she? And boy, has she become a media darling in such a short time - appearing on magazine covers, doing interviews everywhere, walking red carpets. But then, that's part of the Oscar game, isn't it? Making yourself visible, proving that you are not your character, showing (but not too much!) that you want that little gold man.

And it worked! You fell in love with her as much as with her character in the movie, and while some people thought you'd go with Jennifer Lawrence, you gave Nyong'o the Oscar, and she deserved it. What a speech she gave, huh?

But see, it's not the Oscar itself that concerns me. It's what comes afterwards. Now I'm afraid I'm gonna get into some Real Talk here, so pay attention, Hollywood. This is important.

Now we all know that you've tried to reverse the racist practices that have governed the industry in the past, and credit where credit's due, you've taken some baby steps in that direction. There are more actors and filmmakers of color in the Academy now, and some have been recognized as Oscar nominees in recent years... and some of them have won. And that's great. But where do they go after they've won their Oscars?

Remember Jennifer Hudson? She was given the same treatment as Nyong'o when she won for Dreamgirls. And what kind of roles has she had since? Well, let's see: The Secret Life of Bees - in support to a white girl. Sex and the City - in support to a white woman. The Three Stooges - in support to three goofy white guys! Sure, she got to play Winnie Mandela, but that was a non-Hollywood movie seen by very few. It took a black director to give her another role of substance in a mainstream Hollywood movie, Black Nativity.

Or how about Gabourey Sidibe? You gotta remember her, the big girl from Precious? Yeah, I know, big girls don't exactly have it easy in this business (unless they're played for LAFFS!), but you seemed to like her enough to bestow an Oscar nomination on her, and she got the princess treatment too, just like Nyong'o. She's had recurring roles on TV's The Big C and American Horror Story, which is good, but nothing as big as her role in Precious has come her way since - again, a role that a black director gave her. 

Did these ladies lose their luster somehow once they stopped walking on red carpets? When the paparazzi stopped following them around and the talk show circuit lost interest, did they become lesser actresses? Was no one willing to give them roles comparable to those in Dreamgirls and Precious?

Hey, you know who I saw last week? Rita Moreno. Yeah! She was at a screening of West Side Story here in New York, and in a recent video clip they played before she appeared on stage, she talked about her career, and about how proud the Latino community in New York was when she won the Oscar. You know what she said in that video? She said that after she won, she kept getting offered the same kinds of stereotypical roles. She wouldn't take them. That almost cost her her career, dog! Can you imagine?

Well, maybe you can.

Do you see where I'm going with this, Hollywood? I'm not convinced (yet) that Nyong'o's career will turn out any different than those of Hudson or Sidibe to this point - and I haven't even mentioned the older black women feted by Oscar recently, much less the men (any plans for Barkhad Abdi beyond Captain Phillips?). See, I'm confused, bro. You make such a fuss over young black actresses like Nyong'o when they're Oscar nominated, you give them the royal treatment, maybe you even give them the Oscar itself... and then they never get the chance to truly capitalize on those kudos you yourself bestow on them.

I know the reason some people would give for this. Maybe it's true and maybe it isn't. 

But I'd rather give you the benefit of the doubt... even if you haven't really earned it.

So I'm calling you out, Hollywood. I dare you - I challenge you - to put your money where your mouth is. By giving Nyong'o the Oscar, you've basically said to the world, "We believe that this is a high-quality actress worthy of your recognition." So prove it. Offer her starring roles. Give her the opportunity to shine - and not just in movies where her character has to be black, like 12 Years. Offer her the Jennifer Lawrence-type roles. The Anne Hathaway, the Natalie Portman roles, where race is irrelevant to the character. 

Make her the star you say you believe her to be.

Or is she just another nigger?



  1. I want the same as you, man! So many actresses, not only black ones, disappear after winning an Oscar in their debut, like Marlee Matlin. She was another one who couldn't avoid bing typecasted.
    What about Mo'nique and Halle Berry? I hope Lupita doesn't suffer the same!
    Nice done with this letter. Now, it's time to wait and hope for the best for this talented gal.

  2. I remember Marlee Matlin. She had a tv show in the 80s with Mark Harmon. She was good.

  3. That has been the Oscar curse ever since they began dishing them out. It's not an issue of black or white skin. Julie Andrews famously said that winning the Oscar in 1965 almost wrecked her career. Producers don't want you when you are TOO big of a name. They think the Oscar-winner is going to prance around wanting "star" treatment, star billing and a star paycheck because they won an Oscar. Here's an article from last year covering some of the curse victims :

  4. An excellent point, but if this is true, then they may as well get rid of the Oscars altogether.

  5. You make excellent points here, Rich. But you know, while I like the glamor of Oscars, I've decided it's just like a new just another new thing to ballyhoo, with some musical interludes on the side. Maybe we should get rid of the Oscars -- but they won't, because it's bad for business. Anyway, here's hoping Lupita will sideswipe the so-called "Oscar curse."

  6. Can't argue with that assessment. It's been harder for me to justify sitting through the Oscar show in recent years, especially when I can see the highlights on YouTube!


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