op-ed: mainstream award shows have always been racist

January 21, 2015

In 2015 in early January, Iggy Azalea received “The Best Hip-Hop Artist” for the People’s Choice Awards with nominees being Drake and Eminem. Along with these nominations for music, the movie Selma directed by Ava DuVernay did not receive any nominations for an Oscar – yet, it is arguably one of the most important movies of this decade.

By Philip Jackson, AFROPUNK Contributor

When talking about pop culture, especially when discussing award shows in pop culture, many people do not want to bring up what they call, “The Race Issue”. But is it coincidental that most of the artists, actors, or actresses who go unappreciated typically are African-American? No matter how many racial discussions and inquiries people will participate in on a daily basis on Twitter, the people making choices at the Grammy’s and Oscars continue to favor others of another race as majority winners.

It seems that there is still an unbalance on the racial weight scale in the media industry as when time continues to progress, more and more white artists, actors and directors are continuing to receive more credit mainstream wise than one who is black. And it also seems that it has always been that way since blacks have tried to get involved in musical, acting and filming careers.

One of the main complaints on Twitter from the African-American community regarding the Oscars this year is that in the year of the releasing of Selma, not one black actor received a nomination. The omission of black actors in nominations matters so much in a time where people are protesting everyday over the killings of young blacks. 

‘Selma’ was already released during a pivotal time in America, but got surpassed in the box office already by the movie ‘American Sniper’ which had a record breaking first weekend. ‘American Sniper’ started off with an opening weekend at $105 million dollars in its debut.

The movie ends up promoting another perspective on pro-terror just as the film The Interview does, with so much controversy that was caused behind it. But with ‘Selma’, a film that highlights the in-house problems of the United States that is still going on today, and also focuses and pinpoints on one of the most important periods of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life gets swept under the rug amidst these films.

Spike Lee, unsurprisingly gave his opinion on Oscar voters with the snubbing of Selma. As Lee simply replied, “f*** ‘em” to the voters – he definitely has experience as two of his most well-known films, ‘Malcolm X’ with Denzel Washington and ‘Do The Right Thing’ were snubbed of nominations in Oscar film categories in the 90s.

Historically, African-Americans have always gone unnoticed, uncelebrated and received no official accolades from mainstream award shows. If you think otherwise, just ask Rock n’ Roll legend Little Richard.

Little Richard’s song, ‘Long Tall Sally’ was a driving, body gyrating, electrifying song – but during that time period that was only within the African-American community. Little Richard embraced the microphone with fire and passion, but someone else received credit for that song that was so intensifying.

Little Richard put the Grammy’s on blast in 1988 and also had an underlining message on how many black musicians go under the radar when it comes time for awards to be announced. Richard walked out to present the award in 1988 with Buster Poindexter for “Best New Artist”, before the award is presented he says, “I used to wear my hair like that… they take everything I get.” When they open the envelope to announce the Best New Artist for the Grammy’s he announces that the best new artist ultimately is, himself.

What some may have thought of this was a joke, actually fail to realize not only the truth, but also the pain in this statement. Although there has been some success seen in the film industry for African-Americans, it has not been to the same extent to people who are white.

But what we may not be understanding is that essentially, these award shows may not have ever been made for African-Americans to flourish in. The best outlet for blacks has been a space to create their own art where their expression can be seen, heard and felt at its fullest. This can relate to why Black television networks were established.

And within these black television networks where blacks saw that they might not receive the credit they deserve nationally for their work due to a hierarchy of race in the media industry, they would receive their accolades in black award shows like the Soul Train Awards, BET Awards and NAACP Image Award shows.

Whether it is Kendrick Lamar not receiving an award for a culture impacting album or if it is a movie that highlights the pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement, it is important that the music and the films continue to get produced and that African-Americans are there supporting the art.  

* Twitter: @philljabstract