Tag Archives: Quincy Jones

Black History Month 2012: A Look Back at the Academy Awards

26 Feb

The First Black Winners in each Acting Category

It’s an interesting coincidence that the Academy Awards are given out each year during Black History Month and a bit ironic given Oscar’s poor track record for honoring accomplishments by black members of the Academy. Of the 2809 awards given over the past 83 years, only 31 have been won by black men and women, barely over 1%. Let’s take a look at some of the history and accomplishments of these people working to break the color barrier in film.

Thirteen of the awards have been for acting, but it took decades for black actors to notch a win in each of the four categories. The first ever black nominee was also the first winner: Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Gone With the Wind in 1939. It took another 24 years for the next win, Sidney Poitier’s Best Actor award for Lilies of the Field. He was also the first black nominee in that category the previous year for The Defiant Ones. In 1982, Louis Gossett, Jr. took home the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in An Officer and a Gentleman. Only two other black actors had been nominated by that time, starting with Rupert Crosse for The Reivers in 1969. The longest wait was for Best Actress, which did not happen until the 73rd Academy Awards in 2001. Halle Berry took home the Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball (I strongly recommend this film albeit one of the most difficult movies to watch). Dorothy Dandridge was the first black nominee for Best Actress in 1954.

The year that Berry won was something of a turning point. 2001 saw Denzel Washington take home the Best Actor award, marking the first time that black actors won both leading role Oscars. Up until that point, only six black actors had won Oscars; seven have won between 2001 and 2010. The most successful black actors have been:

  • Denzel Washington, with five nominations and two wins (one Actor and one Supporting Actor)
  • Morgan Freeman, with five nominations and one Supporting Actor win
  • Whoopi Goldberg, with two nominations and one Supporting Actress win
  • Viola Davis, with two nominations (and a possible win tonight)

As with all actors, nominations for playing LGBT roles have been few and far between as well. In the past 84 years, only three actors have been nominated for playing clearly LGBT characters: Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game and Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery in The Color Purple. None of them won.  Our Whoopi was robbed for her stellar performance in The Color Purple.  When will it be safe to be a gay and or black character in Hollywood, or in the United States?   We know that the composition of the people voting is: 94 percent Caucasian, 77 percent are male, and the median age is 62.

Oscar hasn’t been kind in most of the other categories either. Of the high-profile awards the results are dismal.

  • Best Director, only two nominations, no wins
  • Best Picture, three nominations, no wins
  • Best Original Screenplay, three nominations, no wins
  • Best Adapted Screenplay, three nominations, one win — Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious in 2009

Black Academy members have done best in the sound categories:

  • Best Original Score, eight nominations, two wins (Prince and Herbie Hancock)
  • Best Original Song, eighteen nominations, five wins, one pending
  • Best Sound/Sound Mixing, nine nominations four wins (two each for Willie D. Burton and Russell Williams, the only two nominees in this category)

Isaac Hayes was the first black person to win a non-acting award for the Theme From Shaft in 1971. Irene Cara was the first black woman to do so with her shared win for the song Flashdance (What A Feeling) in 1983. Willie D. Burton, Russell Williams, and Denzel Washington are the only black multiple Oscar winners. Burton ties Quincy Jones for the most overall nominations with seven. Jones has won no Oscars but did receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1995. In the categories not yet listed, black men and women have been nominated 12 times in five categories with only one win, Roger Ross Williams in 2009 for the Best Documentary Short Subject Music by Prudence. Besides Quincy Jones, four black performers have won special awards, James Baskett (1948), Sidney Poitier (2002), James Earl Jones (2011), and Oprah Winfrey (the Hersholt in 2011).

One of the best films ever made holds a special, unwanted distinction. The Color Purple holds the record for the most nominations without a single win. With 11 nominations in 1985, it is one of the most nominated films of all time. It received nods for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (two nominations), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Walking away empty-handed, the film tied the record set in 1977 by The Turning Point. What a shameful night for the Academy.

Sadly, this year doesn’t move things forward very much. The wonderful movie The Help is poised to do well with four nominations (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (two nominations, including Golden Globe Winner Octavia Spencer)). The only other black nominee is Siedah Garrett with her second nomination for Best Original Song for Rio. While no-one should win an award solely for the color of their skin, it is a sad statement about the motion picture industry that it has taken so long for so few wins. After a strong decade of recognition, this year’s list is unacceptable. Let’s hope next year’s films show greater diversity.

Black History Month 2012: Quincy Jones

11 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a man whose sixty years in music and the arts make him nearly unmatched in accomplishments and awards. Quincy Delightt Jones, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1933 and raised in Seattle. He received a scholarship to the school that eventually became the Berklee College of Music. He left before graduation to take advantage of the chance to be a trumpeter with Lionel Hampton’s band. While with Hampton, he displayed an uncanny knack for arrangement and quickly relocated to New York where he became an in-demand arranger for luminaries like Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. From 1956 to 1960 he alternated between touring as a trumpeter and arranger and time in New York. After being involved in a disastrous tour of North America and Europe, he decided that he needed to take further control of his own destiny.

We had the best jazz band in the planet, and yet we were literally starving. That’s when I discovered that there was music, and there was the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.

He accepted a loan from Irving Green, head of Mercury Records and began working for the company, soon rising to Vice President, the first African-American to hold such a post at a label not owned by African-Americans. In 1964, Sidney Lumet invited him to score his film The Pawnbroker, and Jones became the first African-American to score a major film. He has since done over 30 scores, receiving a record seven Academy Award nominations. He also has a record 79 Grammy nominations with 27 wins including the Grammy Legend award.

He has gone on to an amazing career (including producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time). His list of awards and accolades is so substantial that it merits its own Wikipedia page. This includes the coveted Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, indicative of his dedication to giving back to the world. While he is well known as the conductor and producer of the We Are the World sessions, he has made many regular contributions to other causes. Jones holds the title of the ONLY music composer of a Steven Spielberg movie, The Color Purple.  All other Spielberg movies used John Williams to compose the music score.  Not a big surprise to the TSM audience, but not only did I love the movie The Color Purple, but I bought the soundtrack immediately after seeing the movie.

Beginning with his work with Dr. King in the early 60s, he has launched many initiatives. Jones is co-founder of the Institute for Black American Music and the Black Arts Festival in Chicago. In 2004, he helped launch the We Are the Future (WAF) project, which gives children in poor and conflict-ridden areas a chance to live their childhoods and develop a sense of hope. He regularly contributes time, energy, and money to other organizations, including the NAACP, AmFar, and GLAAD. Not content just to be a celebrity and businessman, Quincy Jones is a model of civil rights and social justice.

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