Tag Archives: The Color Purple

Black History Month 2014: Alice Walker

9 Feb

Alice WalkerWhat better day to honor and pay tribute to Alice Walker than today, her 70th birthday?  Happy Birthday, Ms. Walker! She was born in 1944 in Putnam County, Georgia — between Atlanta and Augusta. Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she had the amazing Howard Zinn as one of her professors.  Walker reports that Zinn helped influence her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Walker’s support and admiration of Zinn also meant she, like Zinn, would have to leave Spelman. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.

I fell in love with Alice Walker in 1983, when I read The Color Purple, a novel that has such amazing pain, grace, humility, and forgiveness.  The movie version was released in 1985 and — while different from the book — was also a wonderful experience that I love. On a side note, I have to say that I was crushed when Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey were robbed of an Academy Award for their respective performances. Then I read Meridian (a brilliant quasi-autobiographical book addressing her activism in Mississippi during the civil rights movement), and was equally captivated by Walker’s voice. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker takes on the issue of female mutilation/circumcision.

Walker does an amazing job of addressing intersectionality, the multiple layers of identity people carry and the potential barriers people face because of those real or perceived identities. In her books, Walker manages to challenge racism, sexism, homophobia, and all of the other isms people face. I dare say, I feel more complete as a human being just for having read her work. Walker’s breadth of work demonstrates great compassion for gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. It is difficult to read her novels and not end up at a better place than where you started. My dear friend, Debbie Mix, read one my favorite poems by Walker at my wedding. The poem is:

Beyond What

We reach for destinies beyond
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other’s life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.

To choose, renounce,
this, or that –
call it a council between equals
call it love.

I also read this poem at Debbie’s wedding.  Keep the good energy rolling and read some Alice Walker. Gratefully, there is a lovely documentary on PBS (American Masters) celebrating the gift that is Alice Walker.

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.

Celebrating Black History Month: February 7

7 Feb

Alice Walker: National Treasure

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my favorite heroes, Alice Walker. I fell in love with Alice Walker in 1983, when I read The Color Purple. While the movie that came out in 1985 was different than the book, I also loved the movie. Then I read Meridian, and was equally captivated by Walker’s voice. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker takes on the issue of female circumcision. I would consider Walker to be an expert regarding issues of race, and gender. Walker’s breadth of work addresses and shows great compassion for gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. It is difficult not to read her novels and not end up at a better place than where you started. My dear friend, Debbie Mix, read one my favorite poems by Walker at my wedding. The Poem is:

Beyond What

We reach for destinies beyond
what we have come to know
and in the romantic hush
of promises
perceive each
the other’s life
as known mystery.
Shared. But inviolate.
No melting. No squeezing
into One.
We swing our eyes around
as well as side to side
to see the world.

To choose, renounce,
this, or that –
call it a council between equals
call it love.

I also read this poem at Debbie’s wedding.  Keep the good energy rolling and read some Alice Walker.

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