First of all, let me say that I am SO TIRED of debating about Tyler Perry in any way shape or form. Tyler, you win. I'm throwing in the towel and mothballing my annual attempt to calculate how many years you send black America backward with the release of your latest movie. This latest round of promotional posters for 'Madea's Big Happy Family,' this one of you as 'The Black Swan' in particular, finally broke my will to complain. I know when I'm beat. You're like The Borg in 'Star Trek Next Generation' -- "Resistance is futile!"
However, recently Cathy Hughes evoked the name of Perry when handing out a blisterin, seething criticism of the Oscar Award-winning performances of Halle Berry and Mo'Nique. For those who don't know, Hughes is the founder of TV One and Radio One, two of the only black-controlled media companies in America. She was captured on the red carpet before the TV One Upfront showcase last week being asked about black people in the movie industry, and went off on a tear about black women's portrayals in movies. Hughes literally spat her disdain for Mo'Nique's Oscar win for her portrayal of Mary in the movie 'Precious.' She also went in on Halle for getting the golden statue for 'Monster's Ball.'Hughes minces no words in her disgust: "We got two Academy Awards for showing black women lower than dirt."
Some thought is was a bit rich for Cathy Hughes. Can the owner of Radio One be critical of the characters played by Monique and Halle Berry in light of the cast of characters Hughes' radio stations broadcast 24/7? On popular black media commentary site, Shadow and Act, one user responded to Hughes' accusations:
c'mon Cathy we know TV One is rather tame but Radio One sure ain't, so get off your high horse. (blkchik on the blog Shadow and Act)
After all if we're concerned about black women's images, shouldn't that begin with a memo from Hughes to the programming directors at all of those urban radio stations she owns? Yes, TV One is a great antidote to the negative images of blacks served up on BET, but Hughes' urban radio stations are still serving up BET-like images for our ears. Yet, while Cathy Hughes might be tossing boulders at black Hollywood's "glass houses," she has a point.
To be fair, black actresses don't get to choose which acting roles the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honors. Did Hughes forget that Halle Berry also produced and starred in 'Introducing Dorothy Dandridge'? She got passed over for her role in 'Frankie and Alice.' And let's not forget the greatest Oscar robbery in history -- looking over Angela Bassett in 'What's Love Got to Do With It.' Sure Bassett's character suffered, but she ultimately triumphed and became a rock star!
From her striking debut in Spike Lee's controversial 'Jungle Fever' up to her recent dramatic turn in 'Things We Lost in the Fire,' Black Voices takes look at the film career of the one and only Halle Berry.
Sure, white actors win awards for suffering as well. Charlize Theron won for playing a woman condemned to death row in 2003's 'Monster.' Her win was immediately followed by Hillary Swank's portrayal of Maggie, a promising boxer who ends up paralyzed before she's assisted in suicide by her trainer, played by Clint Eastwood in 'Million Dollar Baby.' Those are hardly "feel good" roles, but they are balanced out by Helen Mirren's Oscar for playing a monarch in 2006 and Sandra Bullock's win in 2010 for playing a saintly suburban housewife who rescues a black orphan in 'The Blind Side.' White actresses can win for being saints and sinners and everything in between.
If you throw in Jennifer Hudson's portrayal of Effie White in 'Dream Girls,' a black woman hasn't won an Oscar for not yelling and screaming since Whoopi Goldberg's win in 1990 for playing psychic Oda Mae Brown in the movie 'Ghost.'
Where Hughes completely undermines the validity of her points about Oscar nominations is with her effusive praise for Tyler Perry. How did Tyler Perry land in the middle of a discussion about black actresses? Apparently Hughes can over look the coonery and buffoonery mixed with melodrama in the extreme that are Perry's heavy-handed trademarks. His insertion into a discussion about Oscar-winning roles is just random, except for the fact that none of the wailing black actresses of 'For Colored Girls' were nominated this year. That's quite mysterious, as it's full of the kind of black women the Academy seems to love.
However, if anybody is in a position to do something other than complain about black images in film, wouldn't it be a media mogul like Hughes? Last fall I took a filmmaking course and loved it. I even produced a short. I got tired of waiting on Hollywood to create images I wanted to see and created my own. Where's your movie full of positive black women like Michelle Obama, Cathy, as you mention in the video above?
This year we don't have to worry about African Americans winning acting awards for characters that offend our sensibilities because black folks were completely shut out of acting awards at this year's Oscars. Ultimately, the problem isn't Mo'Nique or Halle Berry, or even Tyler Perry. The problem is that there are so few African Americans onscreen and even fewer controlling what films get made on the business end, that we have very little say in who gets nominated. (The small crop of successful black actresses working can't possibly keep up the pace of new sob story roles needed for a nomination every year.)
Would Cathy be steaming over Mo'Nique's win for 'Precious,' if we knew the following year a sister would have just as great a chance of winning for playing a queen, a boxer or a housewife? Probably not. But unless Hughes adds movie producer to her impressive list of media leadership roles, the lack of uplifting, Oscar-worthy roles for black women will probably continue.