Personal Ballots: Best Actor and Best Actress - And so it's come to this, the finale of the traditional Oscar-like categories in our own annual Film Bitch Awards. All the nominations have been announce...
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
By now I'm sure most all of you have heard the 'controversy' rummaging around this latest installment in the much beloved by white people sub-genre of "well off white people learn the real world for black people." Now I haven't seen the film, so whether or not it skirts the serious subject matter at hand is a rather mute point to me. What I am intrigued by is the potential double standard that is derived from a film like this. You see, let's be honest - on the whole actresses aren't exactly given premium roles day in and day out. Especially not black actresses who are generally forced to leave their Oscar campaigns in the hands of a role that is statistically likely to be a "poor and/or dumb southern woman" (sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton optional).
So, I started to think about a scenario. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we all agree that The Help sugar coats the racism and segregation in favor of a more "audience friendly" (*wink wink*) picture. Here's the question - should black actresses take on a potential Oscar role even though it very well may undermine an important segment of their own cultural history? My answer: yes.
Now I admit all would be for best if this sort of gerrymandering of real world political and sociological issues wasn't deemed necessary by on high. Unfortunately the monetary forces that be seem to suggest that lots of people either don't want to, or simply refuse to pay to deal with some of the issues that have shaped today. Especially when you factor in that the most vocal white commentators to speak out on racial issues these days are of the ilk that make Edward Norton's mirror driven 25 Hours rant seem empathetic towards his fellow man. So why do I think films like this, no matter how grueling and frustrating they may be for those of us who wish we as a society could man up and directly address the root concerns? Simple: Open a dialogue.
You don't get to home plate without reaching a few bases and sometimes to get moving at all you just have to bunt - there my one sports analogy as required by the international blogging association done and done. What I mean to say is this: if you really want to tackle the deep issues, you've got to start somewhere. And more often than not you end up starting off a great deal farther than you'd ever really like to. In today's turbulent "if you're not with me you're against me" environment baby steps can seem the equivalent of moving an entire planet when it comes to bringing people to light on serious issues that don't conform to their narrow vision of the world.
So where does Hollywood's obligation to sweep in and start offering competitive roles to black actresses come in? That's the sticky part. Unless you can convince Hollywood there's money to be had, they're generally fine with letting black actresses wonder aimlessly in the abyss of Tyler Perry films and BET made for TV movies and television shows that have the crossover value of a USA professional Cricket league. Not necessarily their fault, but once the social stigma is there it's hard to battle back against perception, regardless of the number of facts one presents.
Granted that's kind of Hollywood's stance on just about every social issue. But I think there is an intermediary solution. In recent years what it has taken to win an Oscar isn't the backing of a major Hollywood studio, it's the festivals and a solid mid-level studio willing to tuck in a cool $15 million. The production budget for the last 3 Best Picture winners equates to $45 million - $15 million a piece - per Box Office Mojo, proving you don't need mainstream Hollywood to buy into what you're doing to make an impact. And with films like The Help, also made relatively on the cheap at $25 million, I wouldn't be surprised if these mid-range studios were lining up around the block for another film vaguely like it to invest in. And if, by some chance, we can get that next wave of films to go just a little deeper, then who knows how far it can go in the end?