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Here are my thoughts on Oscar part two. I love movies. Films snobs like to call them. When I like a movie or it has moved me some way or really just sat with me in a way I must chew on, I will see it several times. For instance, I went to see the Talented Mr. ripely 6 times in the movie theatre. I couldn’t figure out whether I thought the film was homophobic or not. The locales were also so sumptuous that I was mesmerized visually by the film. This same need to figure out my feelings about a movie happened recently with Fruitvale Station. I am still bothered by the fact it did not receive an Oscar nod. However I addressed that in an earlier post in detail. What prompted me to write today are comments made by Forest Whitaker on his Oscar snubs. He was passed over as actor for The Butler, and the film he produced Fruitvale Station. He very graciously said “It’s always nice when people celebrate me or my work. But that’s not my real marker. It’s seems to be more of a marker for others.”
How wonderful of him. However I don’t believe him. One we must consider the fact he already has an Oscar. So to say it’s all about the art is a bit disingenuous when you already hold the marker. Also this sounds like the answer he is supposed to give, right? It keeps the industry, the machine happy, and makes him look saintly. Now this might sound harsh, however I am not against him here. I actually feel that is the answer he has to give as a male artist of color. Forest cannot be folksy and say crazy things like Jennifer Lawrence. He must seem deferential to the Academy if he wants to keep his position.
Then Forest goes on to say something that I really find interesting.
“In my career, probably maybe 80 percent of the time, I’ve been playing characters that had no ethnicity or different culture,” Whitaker said. “So I’ve been lucky.”
Characters with no ethnicity? A black man onscreen is seen as a black man. Forest is a striking figure, with his beautiful dark skin tone, and stature, he makes an impression of groundedness and a sense of power with his size. His talent is in wielding this power in unlimited ways. It can be gentle, and soothing like a grandfather, or strong and imposing like a warrior, or anything inbetween. Also if his characters had no ethnicity or different culture as he claims, what culture did his characters have? None? A character cannot be void of culture. Unless you’re playing a robot, even then the robot is programmed to speak and act a certain way as designed by the programmer to fit a purpose of society. A characters actor always has a culture of the character. I am confused by these comments made by brother Forest, does he really believe them? Or is this all a masterful bit of public relations to feed the beast that is Hollywood and keep the status quo? The darkies are happy all day and such? If brother Forest thinks the society as a whole has not seen a black man ever time he has appeared onscreen, then he is confused as well. This is not an attack on Forest, he is a brilliant actor, however these are deep questions about the industry, and how an actor of color feels he must respond in the press it seems. Troublesome indeed.
In terms of race and casting I am moved to think of the Yellow Face play written by David Henry Hwang. Based on the infamous controversy over Actors Equity deciding Jonathan Pryce couldn’t put on yellowface in the Broadway Miss Saigon, and then suddenly reversing its decision two weeks later from pressure to allow yellowface from the white theater community. let us remember Equity is also (as of this 2012) report 85% white… Race in Actors Equity
I feel his play deals with pressing issues. What is race? What are the components of this social construction? Who makes the rules, and who is allowed to change them? Is race fluid? Forest and his comments lead me to investigate all of this and dig deeper.
On The subject of race and perceptions of race in casting, I found an article that cites several cases of theaters simply putting white people in black, yellow and brown face, instead of casting actors of color in the roles. Black,Yellow,Brown Face
The sad fact is these cases are very recent. We aren’t talking 1927 people. So again, for a Forest to say his race isn’t a factor, or that he’s been cast in roles with no culture or ethnicity is troubling because either his perception is off, or he feels this is what he needs to say. Either way it’s oppression. I’d love thoughts from people on this. Our movies are our exports and what we value. More representation of People of Color and the LGBTQ community in roles with agency are of vital importance!