We’ve all probably made a few New Year’s resolutions: Lose weight. Exercise regularly. Spend more quality time with the kids. Spend more quality time with the spouse. Save more money. Pay off that credit card debt. Get a better job. Get married. Get a divorce.
It appears the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Hollywood institution that hands out the Oscars, may have made a new century resolution. After selecting only six Black winners in its first 70 years -- Hattie McDaniel (“Gone With the Wind”), Sidney Poitier (“Lilies of the Field”), Louis Gossett, Jr. (“An Officer & A Gentleman”), Denzel Washington (“Glory”), Whoopi Goldberg (“Ghost”), and Cuba Gooding, Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”) -- another half-dozen heard their names called on Oscar night in the first seven years of the new millennium: Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) and Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) in 2002; Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) in 2005; and Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) and Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls”) in 2007.
Additionally, Don Cheadle, Viola Davis, Ruby Dee, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah, and Sophie Okonedo scored their first nominations in the '00s. Will Smith and Djimon Hounsou have each earned two nods (the former for Best Actor; the latter, Best Supporting Actor) along with Foxx, who became the first Black actor and only the second man to be recognized in both acting categories in the same year (his lead victory for “Ray” and a supporting citation for “Collateral”).
And the fascination with melanin has apparently entered its second decade: Freeman made the finalists' list for the fifth time for “Invictus,” tying him with Washington as Oscar's most nominated Black actor; and “Precious’” Gabourey Sidibe is the first Black Best Actress nominee since Berry, while the woman who plays her monstrous mother, Mo’Nique, has been tagged a shoo-in to win Best Supporting Actress.
The acknowledgements are a cause for celebration, but they might leave the impression that Black actors hadn’t been turning in many Oscar-worthy performances before 2000 dawned. Here are some of my favorites that got the shaft from the Academy...
Mary Alice, “Down in the Delta”
With understated strength, Alice triumphs as a strong-willed mother determined to rescue her underemployed, drug-dependent daughter (Alfre Woodard) from the streets of Chicago by sending her south.
Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, “Do The Right Thing”
Their co-star, Danny Aiello, received the film’s sole acting nod, but Davis and Dee are the anchors of Spike Lee’s masterpiece. Who else could Lee tap to portray Da Mayor and Mother Sister, the unofficial king and queen of their Bed-Stuy block? Whether they are schooling the youngins, or confronting and comforting each other, the dynamic duo is a class A+ act.
Terrence Howard, “The Best Man”
Howard provided the sparks in this buppie soap opera as Quentin,
the charming, devious player everybody hated to love. He could’ve certainly taught his “Hustle & Flow” character, DJay, a thing or two about being a pimp.
Samuel L. Jackson, “Jungle Fever”
Jackson won the first-ever prize given by the Cannes Film Festival for a supporting player -- and for good reason. Nothing he’s done in the nearly 20 years since “Jungle Fever” can touch this explosive, heartbreaking portrait of a crack addict.
Debbi Morgan, “Eve’s Bayou”
Morgan is radiant and captivating as Mozelle Batiste Delacroix, a sexy Southern belle with the gift of second sight who can provide others with answers to their burning questions but is stumped over her inability to hold onto love.
Richard Pryor, “Silver Streak”
Save his "Live on the Sunset Strip" concert, no film role has displayed Pryor’s comic genius better. As a thief joining Gene Wilder on his quest to prove he’s innocent of a murder rap, Pryor shows up halfway through the movie -- and saves it. Much of his dialogue was probably ad libbed, such as his hysterically funny retort: “How come all you whiteys got such a tight ass, man?”
Tupac Shakur, “Juice”
All eyez were definitely on Shakur when he made this impressive film debut as the menacing Bishop, whose incessant hunt for respect in the hood leads him to turn on his own posse. He should've been the first rap artist to receive an acting nod.
Wesley Snipes, “New Jack City”
In his breakthrough starring role, Snipes put the “G” in Gangsta as
the caustic, clever crack kingpin Nino Brown, giving new meaning to the phrase “intelligent hoodlum.”
James Earl Hardy is an award-winning feature writer/critic, playwright, and author of the best-selling "B-Boy Blues" series. His next book project, "Visible Lives: Three Stories in Tribute to E. Lynn Harris" (with co-authors Stanley Bennett Clay and Terrance Dean), will be released this May.
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