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Octavia Spencer Photo by COVERUP PHOTOS for the SentinelAnd the winner is ... OCTAVIA SPENCER"Blackstage" At the 84th Academy AwardsIn last week's Sentinel, Rev. Jesse Jackson stated that "Academy Award voters need diversity in script." His statement amply supported by the numbers--spoke volumes about Oscar Sunday, both on the red carpet and elsewhere.As Jackson noted in his article, a recent media investigation revealed that, of the 5,765 voting members of the Academy, 94 percent are White and 77 percent, male. Only 2 percent are African American, and less than 2 percent are Latino.
Look at how those numbers compared with what was seen last (Oscar) Sunday. Blacks on the red carpetTo be sure, there were splashes of couples of color on the red carpet, most notably, the three major Oscar contenders: a radiant Octavia Spencer in a pale gold-beaded Tadashi Shoji gown; a stunningly gorgeous Viola Davis in Vera Wang, her hair au naturel (with her beaming husband, Julius Tennon); and a chic Siedah Garrett (and her "steady"). And comedienne Sherri Shepherd--her handsome and dapper prince Lamar Sally close behind--dazzled in her electric blue chiffon evening dress.Louis Gossett Jr. looked as regal as ever, accompanied by a gorgeous lady who should have been on everyone's best-dressed list as should ABC "Good Morning America's" co-host Robin Roberts for her sparkling off-white dress. Esperanza Spalding looked like the reigning jazz princess that she is; and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Pharrell Williams definitely represented on the carpet.But while there were other African Americans, they were few and far in between."Blackstage"When working the press room, one of the perks is a beautiful official program titled "The 84th Academy Awards." If you then flip through the program's 56 pages and look at the pictures of all the nominees in the 24 Academy Awards categories handed out Sunday night, you could count on two hands the number of roles--films and otherwise--in which African Americans played prominent roles in this year's awards.First, a look at film. A whopping ... six:· "The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement." (For more information, see last week's review.) It did not win for best documentary short subject. · Nor did Siedah Garrett, who wrote the lyrics for "Real in Rio" from the animated film "Rio," win for best original song. (Brazil's Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown wrote the music.) · R. Christopher White, another African American, was a part of a four-man team nominated for best achievement in visual effects for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." His team didn't win either.But--and maybe you didn't recognize him as such--best documentary feature honors went to TJ Martin for "Undefeated," Martin becoming the first Black (along with two other winners) to win an Oscar for directing a full-length film, whether feature or documentary. The film is about a long-suffering high school football team in poverty-stricken North Memphis, Tenn. who, you come to learn, goes undefeated--though not in the way you think. You may remember Martin: He's the one who dropped the F-bomb when, in acknowledging the other nominees, he said, "They have inspired us in so many ways. They should be up here with us. Actually, that would be [expletive deleted]!" Oh well ... It's probably fair to say that there were only two awards that most Black movie watchers really cared about. They finally got the answers to the long-awaited questions of whether Octavia Spencer would win for best supporting actress and Viola Davis would win for best/leading actress.The answers: Yes and no. With her Oscar, Octavia Spencer this year achieved the trifecta of the season's acting awards as Minny, the free-speaking maid in "The Help" since she also nabbed the Golden Globe award and a Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance by a female in a supporting role. In her acceptance speech, with Oscar in hand, she thanked her "families"--in her home state of Alabama, in L.A., and in "The Help." She got a standing O. Now, movie fanatics know who the favored-to-win are by the time the Oscars roll around. So they've long known that this race was always a toss-up between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, especially when you consider that Davis won the SAG Award for outstanding performance by a female in a leading role as Aibileen Clark in "The Help," while Streep won a Golden Globe award as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."When you consider that both the SAG award and the Golden Globe can be predictors of the Oscar winner, Davis had a 50-50 chance, though some feel she had more momentum going into the Awards. Other folks in the house The first face seen was that of Morgan Freeman, who kicked things off by introducing MC Billy Crystal. Beyond that, a definite high point of the telecast was Esperanza Spalding. Along with the multi-ethnic Southern California Children's Chorus, she sang a glorious "What a Wonderful World" tribute to movie stars who've passed away in the last year during the "in memoriam segment." The only African American featured: Whitney Houston.There was Pharrell Williams (on drums, no less), along with Sheila E. on timbales, playing in a balcony between sets. Williams was listed as a "music consultant." Of the 31 or so presenters, there was a very debonair-looking Chris Rock, who showed off his longer "good hair" when he presented the best animated film for "Rango." And Maya Rudolph looked elegant in her Johanna Johnson gown. [Though confirmed as a presenter, Halle Berry was a no-show because of an injury.]
Meryl Streep announced the Academy's honorary awards, two of three of which given last November, went to Oscar attendees James E. Jones and Oprah Winfrey. So where are we now?As of 2012, in the four major acting award categories, you can add Octavia Spencer's Minny Jackson in "The Help" to this esteemed list of African American Oscar winners:1939--Hattie McDaniel for "Gone with the Wind"1963--Sidney Poitier in "Lilies of the Field" 1982--Louis Gossett Jr. in "An Officer and a Gentleman"1989--Denzel Washington in "Glory"1990--Whoopi Goldberg for "Ghost"1996--Cuba Gooding Jr. for "Jerry Maguire"2001--Halle Berry for "Monster's Ball"2001--Denzel Washington in "Training Day" 2004--Jamie Foxx in "Ray"2006--Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland"2006--Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls"2009--Mo'Nique for "Precious"2012--Octavia Spencer for "The Help"Is that enough diversity for ya? Can we say we've come a long way--from 1939 to the present? Yes--but as the saying goes, we've still got a long and winding road to go. Academy Award voters need waaay more diversity in script, in membership--in every way.Hmmm ... Wonder if there would have been any impact had Eddie (Murphy) been the MC ... Nah.