Black actors opening doors in Hollywood
I am so excited that Ruth E. Carter made history at the 95th Oscars! Taking home her second Oscar on Sunday night for costume design for “Wakanda Forever,” she became the first Black woman to win two Academy Awards. She is also the first person to win for both the original and the sequel of a movie.
Carter won her first Oscar in 2018 for “Black Panther.” She has had four Oscar nominations, including for “Amistad” and “Training Day.” Sunday night on stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Carter thanked the academy for “recognizing the superhero that is a Black woman,” adding, “She endures, she loves, she overcomes.” The costume designer created her own gown for the celebration, which wowed on the champagne-colored carpet and up close looked like a work of art!
Thank goodness we had that historic moment with Carter, because that was it for Black folks nominated, including the favored contender for best supporting actress, Angela Bassett, for “Wakanda Forever.” Bassett lost to first-time nominee Jamie Lee Curtis for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Even though Bassett won most of the awards in the supporting category all season, I predicted the academy would bestow Curtis the statue, since she is Hollywood royalty, being the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
I have been covering the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre since it first hosted the Oscars in 2002. That was the year Halle Berry became the first Black woman and, until this year, the only woman of color, to win a best actress trophy. The film was “Monster’s Ball.” It was not lost on me that this year, Berry was tapped to present in the category that saw Michele Yeoh of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” become the first Asian ever to win a best-actress Oscar. It’s a longtime Academy Awards tradition to have the lead actor from the previous year present the next best-actress winner with her trophy. But for Oscars 2023, there was a problem, if you remember. Will Smith, who won last year for King Richard, was banned from the show for a decade after slapping Chris Rock onstage over a joke he made about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith — but that is a story for another time.
Oscar is the grandaddy of all awards shows, and at 95 might be the only thing that admits to its real age in this town. But the prestige of winning an Academy Award can often mean more digits in the winner’s next paycheck. This is why African Americans have often been shut out. The #OscarsSoWhite movement brought attention to the academy’s lack of diversity in 2015 when no people of color were nominated in acting categories. Eight years after the hashtag kicked off that firestorm, this year’s portion of nominees of color was 8%. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American woman to be president of the academy, in 2016 set in motion a plan to increase inclusion and diversity by 2020. We can now look back and see that her plan is working. Although, as is often the case, Black people open the door, and everyone, everywhere, all the time can walk right in.
Tanya Hart is a Los Angeles-based syndicated radio personality.