Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Getting A Clue-ney: Race & The Oscars

[Welcome, Reason and, uh, No Frontin' MP3 readers!!]

My post-Oscar update (#6) on George Clooney (see below) garnered a strong comment from "Cal." I thought I would put his statement and my response as a post, with some other views on the Oscars, race and the rise of Three Six Mafia.

First Cal, who starts quoting me:
"Oh, right, I keep forgetting what a great advancement on race Gone With The Wind represented! Oh well, slightly better than the message of Birth of A Nation, I suppose."

Well....yeah. Hattie McDaniel's character certainly was a significant improvement on any black character in Birth of a Nation. She's an outstanding character in many ways.

"how much of a social "advance" was the live performance and win of 'It's So Hard Out Here Being A Pimp.'"

Hustle and Flow, a movie with a predominantly black cast, was produced by John Singleton, a black director/producer (who hired a white director). The song you mock was written and performed by blacks.

Black artists can tell their stories, sing their songs, and get popular and artistic recognition for doing so. They're making the decisions, not bound by the roles whites want them to play and sing. But you don't like what they choose to sing about, so you want to pretend that there hasn't been any progress since Birth of a Nation, or since white people wrote Hattie McDaniel's acceptance speech.

I agree with you about the song. But Hustle & Flow was made possible by the social advancement that allows black artists to make their own choices and develop their own power base. If you don't like it, take your bitch out on the black artists themselves. Don't blame whites for calling it for what it is: progress.
My initial response:

Cal: I'm neither blind nor an idiot. I know perfectly well that "Pimp" was written and produced by blacks. Duh! So what? "make their own choices and develop their own power base"? Oh, whoopee! I happen to be a black man too (don't just take my word for it: The picture in the upper left hand corner *really* is me.) -- and I can rightly condemn both those choices and the construct in which they appear.

I think "pimp" -- and the movie that produced it -- is something approaching modern-day minstrelsy. And I'm certainly not a "hater" of all things rap. "Hustle and Flow" may show a certain amount of "power" that blacks have, but I think it is an abuse of that power -- "upward mobility" in the black community is going from pimp to rapper who shoots other rappers.

Wonderful lessons.

But, the point is -- the "Academy" is still primarily white. What does it say that it chose to award such a "song" with an Oscar? Double-check what won for Best Picture: Hollywood is still stuck in a certain time-frame when it comes to race relations -- and frankly "Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp" fits neatly into that time frame.

Yes, I condemn Clooney for his self-indulgent comments about his industry(we're supposed to be worshipful that -- including Hattie McDaniel -- seven black people have won acting Oscars in nearly 80 years). I condemn 3-6 Mafia for their choices too. How frickin' "brave" is it to still be rappin' about pimps, bitches and ho's nearly two decades after Straight Outta Compton -- or 35 years after the heyday of blaxploitation?


To which, I will add: I'm not trying to "pretend that there hasn't been any progress" since the early decades of the 20th century. I never said -- or implied -- that there had been no progress since either Birth of A Nation or Gone With The Wind. My comments were directed at George Clooney who was remarkably self-serving in elevating his "industry" so far above the rest of America in terms of social progress was -- and how proud he was to be "out of touch."

Birth of A Nation was was also part of the "industry" of which Clooney is a part (albeit, a very early part) and widely praised in terms of technical craft. And there's a pretty direct line from there to giving Hattie McDaniel an Oscar (arguably deserved) for playing a slave -- as if there were a wide array of roles for a black woman to play in 1930's Hollywood. Too often, Hollywood acts in a self-congratulatory manner for doing what should be considered the obviously right thing. In short, the industry acts much like the politicians they hold in such contempt.

Blacks have made much progress over the last century -- no kidding. However, it is manifestly obvious that the advances are far greater in the music industry than in film. The fact that you can mention Spike Lee, John Singleton and just a handful of other black directors (let alone producers) that can put forward their own movies demonstrate that obstacles still exist. Again, I say this not to decry the situation or whine about racism in America (go to another blog for that), but just to show that Clooney's industry is more like the rest of America when it comes to race or other social questions than he is courageous (or smart) enough to admit. That's a point Nikki Finke makes in her analysis of
why Academy voters went for the "safe" racial drama Crash, instead of validating the gay-romance of Brokeback Mountain:

Way back on January 17th, I decided to nominate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Bunch of Hypocrites. That's because I felt this year's dirty little Oscar secret was the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero members of the Academy of Motions Picture Arts and Sciences being unwilling to screen Brokeback Mountain. For a community that takes pride in progressive values, it seemed shameful to me that Hollywood's homophobia could be on a par with Pat Robertson's. So in the February 1st issue of LA Weekly, I warned that, despite the hype you saw in the press and on the Internet about Brokeback, with its eight nominations, being the supposed favorite to take home the Best Picture Oscar, Crash could end up winning.
Finke may be overstating the case: As I said before, I think Crash won for a mixture of political ("race" beats "gay") and pragmatic/conventional (LA-based, large ensemble cast beats Midwestwest drama). However, I think the charge of hypocrisy hits pretty well.

And, yes, I have no problem "bitching out black artists", as you so delicately put it for the choices they make. In fact, I've done it in this space (search for my posts on 50 Cent and discussions with other bloggers on gangsta rap. Indeed, it is precisely because that blacks are in a stronger position to put forward their own visions -- whether musical or cinematic -- that it is so appalling to see "It's Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp" be celebrated by an overwhelmingly white institution as a high point in artistic achievement.

I'm not necessarily a fan (or the target audience) of Tyler Perry's work, but his Madea's Family Reunion has been the Number One movie the last couple of weeks. That he wrote, starred in and produced it himself is somewhat interesting. His
views on being a black filmmaker bear sharing:

Perry remembers once pitching a film based on one of his religious plays and being told, "Black people who go to church don't go to the movies."

The $10 million film has taken in $48.1 million in 10 days and was a surprise winner over several newcomers, including two movies geared toward urban audiences, 16 Blocks and Dave Chappelle's Block Party.

But the industry's insistence on releasing urban films that focus primarily "on gangsters or rappers is a shame, because there's a big audience for black people who are doing normal things," Perry says. "Black people go to church; black people love their families. And sometimes people want entertainment that reflects their real lives. That's all I'm trying to do."

Reunion marks Perry's second film based on one of his church-based plays that he has turned into box-office gold.

His Diary of a Mad Black Woman opened at No. 1 with $21.9 million in February last year and went on to earn $50.6 million.

"I don't know why there is that disconnect in Hollywood. I hope they see there are movies to be made about black people falling in love and respecting their families," Perry says.
"It's a little narrow-minded to think they can only be carrying guns or rapping."
No kidding.

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of critiques on Three Six Mafia, George Clooney and the Oscars (hat tip on all links to the invaluable
Booker Rising):

Ambra Nykol, "Pimpin Ain't Easy?"

Angela Winters, "Pimpin' The Oscars And Other Observations"

3) And, the BR Man himself, Shay:
"On Other Oscar Results" and "Coonery Wins At The Oscars"

UPDATE: More thoughts on the "Pimp" song crossing over into the broader culture.

UPDATE II: And still more.

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