The Oscars ceremony will be held on February 28 in the US. This ceremony aims to reward “excellence in the cinema industry” and yet, numerous protests are being held regarding the absence of black actors nominated. Finding a job in Hollywood is not easy for them, the movie industry prefers black actors to play in servile, demeaning and vulnerable roles. African-Americans who play leading and strong roles are rarely recognised. They may be nominated for an Oscar, but rarely win. Black actresses, in particular, win an Oscar for stereotypical roles that have long been associated (and still are) to black women. Here is a list of Oscar winning black actresses:
Hattie McDaniel – The Mammy
In 1939, Hattie McDaniel was the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress for “Gone With the Wind”, playing a slave called “Mammy.” In the film, Mammy is a slave who works in the home of the O’Hara family. One of her main responsibilities is to take care of the girls, especially of Scarlett O’Hara.
This image of black women as overweight, obedient servants who love, nurture, and are loyal to White people is common in American society. This is one of the images that shaped the image whites people have of black women today. Between 1890 and 1920, the mammies have appeared in books, magazines, advertising, and films, on restaurant menus and cookbooks, and for a variety of products such as salt and cookie jars.
The mammies history as protective faithful of white children were important in the southern United States and much attention has been paid to their bodies, such as the big chest descriptions and fats as a source comfort and support.
The role of “Mammy” is a stereotype that depicts African-American women as a servant figure, which reflects the female slaves in the South before the war. Mammy figures were obese, dark skin, kind of women who had desexualised..
The first African American actress to win an Oscar was for a role depicting servitude.
Whoopi Goldberg – the voodoo priestess con
In 1990, Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar as a supporting actress for Ghost in playing Oda Mae Brown, a psychic scam whose purpose is to support a white couple and entertain the audience with sass talk.
I do not criticize anything Whoopi Goldberg is one of my favorite actresses and her performance in this film was masterful. But the comic features and character trickery reflects the historical stereotype of African Americans. This stereotype is the most degrading of all black stereotypes ruling African Americans as a figure of the clown.
Halle Berry- the Jezebel
In 2001, Halle Berry becomes the first African-American actress to win the Oscar for best actress. In Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry plays the role of Leticia, an alcoholic, poor, and wife of a murderer sentenced to the death penalty.
Also, I do not think that Halle Berry deserved the Oscars, her performance was far worse than that other competitors. But I also wonder why such excellent actresses Dorothy Dandridge and Angela Bassett who were both nominated were not rewarded. Has she won the gold statue because of post-September 11 effect? Or because she embodies the “Jezebel”, a stereotype that depicts Black women as promiscuous and over-sexualized temptresses.
This stereotype was created during slavery. It was common for women slaves to be raped during that time, and the men needed to validate their action. They began to label these women as women of easy virtue, allowing justify their act not as rape because the latter wanted this sexual act and deserved it.
In the film, the character of Halle Berry has sex with a white racist prison guard who supervised the execution of her husband. This is by far one of the crudest sexual scenes of American cinema.
Actress Angela Bassett, turned down the role of Leticia, in an interview, she said: “I was not going to prostitute myself in a movie I could not do that because it’s a stereotype about black women and their sexuality.”
Jennifer Hudson – the angry black woman
In 2006, Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Effie White in the musical film and drawn on a true story Dreamgirls. Effie White was the leader and the best singer of her group, a sassy woman with a strong personality and diva attitudes.
Early in the film, the character Hudson may be seen as someone who was very assertive, argumentative and defensive, reflecting the stereotype of the “SAPHYRE” knew today as the angry black woman. At the end of the film, viewers realize that Effie was the desire to take control of her own destiny and identity. Her anger and frustration were fed because she was a victim of discrimination because her physical appearance did not meet a white dominant idea.
Mo’Nique – the “welfare queen”
In 2009, Mo’Nique won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mary Lee Johnston in the film Precious. Mary is an unemployed mother who lives on social benefits. She embodies an abusive and lazy black mother who is proud to belittle her child. Refusing to let anyone or anything, affect her eligibility to receive government assistance for her.
Octavia Spencer – The maid
Octavia Spencer won the Oscar for a supporting actress for the role Minny Jackson, an outspoken black maid in “The Help”. Although Spencer’s performance is masterful, I can still note that African American are recognized in Hollywood only when they play demeaning roles
Lupita Nyon’go – L’esclave
In 2014, Lupita Nyong’o wins the Oscar for best-supporting actress for the role of a slave abused by her master. For the first time in cinema, Lupita showed the horror of what female slaves lived. She was not the main character but she stole the show.
In this role, Lupita is extremely vulnerable and desperate. She is frequently raped and boost to the point of losing consciousness. The scenes are shocking and hard to watch. But Hollywood prefers this kind of servile characters for black people.
Why do the cinema industry rewards black actresses for this kind of roles? Is it a way to consolidate an idea of racial superiority?
The media, included the movies have a strong influence on people prejudices and representation of a group of people. Rewarding black women with an Academy Awards on roles that are tied to clichés and stereotypes are just reinforcing these negative representations.