Between Regina King’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, Spike Lee’s Best Screenplay Oscar for BlacKkKlansman and Shameik Moore’s Oscar for Into the Spider-Verse (in which he voices a Black Latino Spiderman), Sunday night’s 91st Academy Awards ceremony inarguably turned out to be one of the Blackest—all things considered.
Even with such historic moments, however – King and Lee respectively took home their first-ever Academy Award – this year’s Oscars was not without its fair share of flagrant snubs. Ryan Coogler’s superhero tour de force, Black Panther, was left without worthy honor in the categories of Directing and Best Picture, despite the film’s global acclaim and Coogler being one of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood today.
Spike Lee taking home the honor for BlacKkKlansman (a movie that Sorry to Bother You director Boots Riley criticized for historical inaccuracy and for Lee making a cop “a hero against racism”) brings to question what quantifies artistic value at the Academy roundtable, given the slew of cultural masterpieces Lee has produced over the course of 30 years.
Below are nine reminders The Academy has a well-forged tradition of glossing over some of the most culturally relevant and socially impactful films created by Black people. What’s your take?
Spike Lee was nominated for Best Screenplay, but lost to Tom Schulman for Dead Poets Society. A comedy-drama tethered to the streets of Brooklyn circa late ‘80s, early ‘90s, when racial tensions plagued a changing neighborhood (re: gentrification), Do the Right Thing is deemed "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. To date, the movie is considered by many one of the greatest films of all time, and is remembered for its many distinct characters, including Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), Radio Raheem (Bill Nun) and Mookie (Spike Lee). It also featured the distinguished likes of Rosie Perez, Samuel L. Jackson and Martin Lawrence.
Black Panther was primed to make history as the first-ever superhero movie to be nominated for the illustrious Best Picture Oscar. Directed by Ryan Coogler Black Panther finds Chadwick Boseman as king and protector of the technologically-advanced African nation of Wakanda. It not only redefined what superhero movies can be, it served as a an brilliant example of black excellence and beauty. Alas, the film won for Costume Design (Ruth Carter), Original Score (Ludwig Goransson), and Production Design (Hannah Beachler; Set Decoration: Jay Hart). Black Panther lost Best Picture to Green Book, which has been at the center of controversy due to its racial disparities and historical inaccuracies.
Although Ryan Coogler’s first feature film – both written and directed by him – received no acknowledgement by the Academy, Fruitvale Station is as Oscar-worthy as they come. Based on the events leading to the death of Oscar Grant, a young Black man who was killed in 2009 by Bay Area Rapid Transit police at the Fruitvale district station in Oakland, Fruitvale Station was Certified Fresh (94%) by Rotten Tomatoes, calling it “passionate and powerfully acted” while the Hollywood Reporter deemed Coogler’s entry "a compelling debut" and "a powerful dramatic feature film."
A Raisin in the Sun, adapted from the 1959 play of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry, stars Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Roy Glenn, and Louis Gossett Jr. A lauded drama, A Raisin in the Sun follows an African-American family living in Chicago forced to decide what to do with the insurance money left by the passing of their patriarch. Released by Columbia Pictures in 1961, the film was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. It received no acknowledgment from the Academy.
Another film the Academy failed to acknowledge, Lean on Me is based on the story of a real-life inner city high school principal and teacher in Paterson, New Jersey. Circumstances reach a boiling point when the newly-hired Mr. Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) is faced with the arduous task of improving his at-risk school’s retention and graduation rates—or the New Jersey state government will take over. Lean on Me stands as a moving depiction of the saving grace that are unrelenting and courageous educators, particularly in underprivileged and underserved communities.
While a great film about a Black man with a Black filmmaker won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar in 2017 (OJ: Made in America), 13th is still the film that should be taught in schools for years to come. Titled after the Thirteenth Amendment, 13th explores the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States. In the era of #PrisonReform and at the height of school-to-prison pipelines, DuVernay’s work deserved an honor, if only for striking the heart of America’s twisted racism, with meticulously presented facts.
Based on the life of American-born singer—the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll, Tina Turner, What’s Love Got To Do With It stars Angela Bassett as Tina Turner and Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner. While it received critical acclaim, landed on many GOAT listicles and is regarded as one of Bassett’s powerhouse performances, the movie lost Oscars in the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress.
The Color Purple – titled after Alice Walker’s 1982 novel – was nominated in just about every coveted category, including Best Actress (Whoopi Goldberg), Best supporting Actress (Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey) Best Picture (Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones) and Best Original Music Score (Quincy Jones). Unfortunately, the Academy yet again dropped the ball, failing to justly honor the irrefutable classic, which poignantly centers the trials and tribulations African-American women were subjected to during the early 20th Century.
Spike Lee’s musical comedy-drama stars Larry Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito and Tisha Campbell-Martin, and follows the quarrels between fraternities and sororities at a historically Black university. Well beyond its years, School Daze touched on issues concerning colorism and “passing” physical aesthetics in the black community, while depicting the political angst of a student body advocating for divestment from South Africa (in protest against South Africa’s system of apartheid). No mention by the Academy.
(Photo: Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage)