Saturday, April 20, 2024

EDITORIAL: Lessons in Oscars boycott


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HERE’S A THOUGHT about Hollywood and the replay of important chapters in our history and how their portrayal on film has fashioned our view of the world.

When he can find the time, Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean’s most prolific historian, should channel some of his enormous academic and writing energy into a penetrative analysis of the impact of the United States film industry on Bajans and other West Indians.

Sir Hilary has written extensively and with clarity about slavery, reparations, education, colonialism, cricket and economic and social development. But what about the lessons we have learned from the movies about Christianity and the birth and death of Jesus, relations between Blacks and Whites everywhere, Mahatma Gandhi in India, Nelson Mandela, Hitler’s killing fields in Europe, and about the 19th century pirates of the Caribbean.

Many of the images that dance in our heads come from what we have seen on the silver screen.

Just last Sunday, the glamorous movie industry handed out its coveted awards, the Oscars, and for the second time in successive years people of colour didn’t have anyone to cheer for, all because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had failed to nominate anyone who looked like the billion or so Blacks and Hispanics around the world.

What a tragedy!

The Oscar show, which was televised to every corner of the globe, was quite rightly boycotted by many viewers in the US, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and elsewhere because they objected to the lack of diversity among the nominees.

The Oscars have been in existence for 87 years and in that time just 14 black actors, including Cuba Gooding, an outstanding performer with decidedly Barbadian roots, have won the prize, the equivalent of Wisden cricketers of the year.

The first Oscar winner was Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal as a slave in Gone With The Wind in 1939, and the most recent winner was Lupia Nyong’o in 2013, who took home the coveted statuette for her performance in 12 Years A Slave, a great film produced by a cinematographer who traces his background to the Caribbean.

The Oscar boycott, inspired by an avalanche of criticism on social, print and broadcast media and by the leadership of the US civil rights community, gathered steam by a movement, “OscarssoWhite”, that focused attention not only on the nominees but on the stories Hollywood tells on film. The attitude of movie executives who decide what we should watch suggests that our stories about life, death and accomplishment aren’t worth telling. We know different.

The Caribbean may lack the power and prestige of the academy but people across the region can reject that unbalanced portrayal by supporting their own fledgling film industries in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, just like India and its Bollywood and Africa and its Nollywood, the names of their movie-making sector.

Movie-goers should flock to local cinemas when they show our own productions. In time Barbados can have its awards that give credit to the actors and the stories they tell.


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