(Em, em—Clearing throat.  To the tune of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.)

Old Hollywood Glamour, and Red Carpet Vixens.
Bedazzling dresses, and bosoms that fit them.
Elegant parties, and Fashion Police,
These are a few of Our Fav’ Oscar Things!
(Screeching sound) Hold up.  Stop the music.

Yes, the Academy Awards, informally known as “The Oscars”, from the name of the Golden Guy you get as the prize, exquisitely offers all this—and more.  Since 1929, it’s been a classy ceremony, a sexy institution, and even a racy affair, one that has become paramount (pun unintended) to the film industry’s recognition of excellence—both in performance and appearance.  And this year’s 83rd Academy Awards will be no different.  Or will it?

While The Oscars do hold all these tantalizing traditions for the world of motion pictures—and her audience to behold—it is my assertion that in tandem with all this glitz, gold, and glam, is a sham.  The Oscars have historically been, and frankly continue to be consistently Classist, systematically Sexist, and institutionally Racist.  (Yeah, I said it.)

Oh, don’t act so surprised. Way back in 1939, Miss ­­­­­­Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Afrikan American person—male or female—ever to do so for her “convincing” role as Mammy the Maid in Gone With the Wind.  After that, it was all- quiet on the Academy front for nearly a quarter of a century until Sidney Poitier finally snagged the first Oscar for Best Actor as a Black Actor in 1963 for his role in Lilies of the Field. (Not Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.)  Post-Poitier, we’ve witnessed the beautiful, “light-skinned” and socially acceptable Halle Berry become the sole Black woman to date to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 2001, nearly four decades later, for playing a nearly broke-down woman who bares her soul—and breasts to Billy Bob Thornton—in Monster’s Ball. After winning a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Glory in 1989, the year 2001 was ironically the very same year that the talented (and fine) Denzel Washington finally won his “Big One” (Best Lead Actor) for playing a crocked cop in Training Day.  It was like getting two for the price of one that night, with a warm welcome to the new millennium!

Alright, so many other Afrikan Americans in-between the Mammy days and the present day have had the honor of being nominated for Academy Awards, winning, and even doing so while “keepin’ it classy”.  Fine.  So what of other people of color, how well have they been represented at such a prestigious affair as The Oscars?

Don’t get me started.  Well, actually there’s not that much to say.  Except that the trend is strikingly similar.  After Jose Ferrer became the very first Hispanic person to win an Oscar in 1950 for his Leading Role in Cyrano de Bergerac, only four other Hispanics have ever been nominated for Leading Roles: three Latinas, including the sultry Salma Hayek for Frida in 2002, and Anthony Quinn, who got the nod twice.  The mighty and talented Quinn did, however, bag the bounty both times he was nominated for Supporting Actor.  (Always a bridesmaid…)  The other Bridesmaid—I mean, Latino Actor—who got of an Oscar in a supporting role is Benicio del Toro in Traffic.  Given that this controversial flick hit theaters during Y2K, and that del Toro became the first and only actor to win for a Spanish-speaking role, this Oscar moment proved groundbreaking; the fact that del Toro won for playing a drug dealer, not so much.  And let us not forget Señorita Rita Moreno, the only Latina Actress to win an Oscar, in 1961 for her sassy supporting role in the all-time classic West Side Story.  (Mariaaaa! I just met a girl named…)

Asians in film (including continental Asians, Asian Americans, and others of the Asian Diaspora) got off to a smashing start in 1935—pre-Mammy—with a Best Actress in a Leading Role nomination for Merle Oberon who played Kitty Vane in The Dark Angel. Miss Oberon, born in India, became both the first Asian ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the first Asian woman to be offered a spot in this category for Best Lead Actress.  No other Asian woman has been recognized for their work in a Leading Role ever since.  About every 23 years since then, on average, an Asian Actor has managed to receive an accolade from the Academy: Miyoshi Umeki being the first and only to win Best Supporting Actress in 1957 for the film Sayonara; Yul Brynner being crowned king, a.k.a. Best Lead Actor, for playing one in The King and I the year prior to Umeki (1956); Ben Kingsley securing his place in history with the second Oscar for Best Lead Actor—and last to date—in Gandhi in 1982; and Haing S. Ngor winning Best Supporting Actor in his debut performance in 1984’s The Killing Fields.  As for Asian Directors, Ang Lee broke the mold, and nearly stole the show in 2005, taking home the Best Director trophy for Brokeback Mountain.  It was his second time receiving a nod in this category, in addition to his nominations, and wins, in a number of others.

Meanwhile, for the past 82 years, white Americans, and other white folks of European descent have been scooping up Oscar nods like they’re orders of large popcorn with extra butter at the movies—in excess!  I mean, just look at Meryl Streep.  Rightfully regarded as one of the most talented Actors—male or female—of our day, she’s received a record-breaking 16 Academy Award nominations!  While winning only two of those, Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979 and Sophie’s Choice in 1982, Streep continues to be a force to be reckoned with, over 30 years later, in this Hollywood game.  This speaks volumes for the empowerment of women all shades of the rainbow, yet speaks even louder about the role Race plays, or fails to play fairly, within the Academy Awards, and the film industry as a whole.

I know what you’re thinking: Enough, already!  I’m being—for lack of a better word—dramatic. Perhaps the disparity between the representation of white folks and people of color at The Oscars has all been a coinky-dink. America’s past all of this “systematic oppression” small talk, right? (Please don’t make me bring up the downfall of Best Supporting Actor Cuba Gooding Jr.  Never mind.  That’s a whole ‘nother topic.)  Well, whether you view America as a melting pot or a rainbow, the land of the free or the home of the enslaved, we’ve come a long way from Mammy the Maid.

I mean, last year in 2010 we saw a whole lotta “stirring the pot” goin’ on.  A film like Precious, for instance, received critical acclaim throughout the Academy. In this disturbing tale, the title character Precious, a 16-year old, morbidly obese Black girl, living in the projects of Harlem, New York City (NYC), learns to read and love herself amidst the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from both her parents, while birthing the two babies her daddy gave her—literally.  Precious received six Academy Award nominations, a Best Supporting Actress win for Black Comedienne Mo’Nique, the first Best Adapted Screenplay awarded to an Afrikan American, Geoffrey S. Fletcher, and a close call for Best Picture.  In other 2010 milestones, Kathryn Bigelow became the first female ever to win the coveted kudos for Best Director of a Motion Picture with The Hurt Locker.  The film itself, which examines the lives of American Soldiers, and the notion that “war is a drug”, reached the height of Oscar-glory, winning Best Picture, and stands as the reigning champion to date.

So here we are, just days away from the 83rd Academy Awards, wondering: what happened?  And if you’re not wondering, you sure should be.  Picture it: all the Oscar nominees for Best, Actress & Actor, Best Supporting Actress & Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and all the Producers nominated for Best Picture; all together, all white. That’s a total of 72 white nominees, without a “Blackface,”—I mean Afrikan-American—Hispanic or Latino, Asian, or any other person of color in sight.  Sure, Javier Bardem gets a nod this year for his role in Biutiful, but don’t get it twisted.  He’s from Spain.  That’s in Western Europe, and last time I checked (as I often do) that meant white.

Furthermore, what began last year as a “breakthrough” for female directors has become a “backlash” against them, with both Lisa Cholodenko, director of The Kids Are All Right, and Debra Granik, who directed Winter’s Bone, being snubbed as nominees for Best Director.  To be clear, these two films were well directed by white women (yes, still white), depicting the lives of—brace yourself—white women.  If the Academy found these films creditable enough for the highest acclamation in film, each receiving nods for Best Picture, and both securing spots for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, then why not credit the women behind the cameras?  After all, Cholodenko and Granik are the ones who shaped these films, crafting and sculpting them into the works of art that’ll each have their chance to shine in the spotlight come Sunday, February 27th. (And that you can vote for yourself at: http://www.picktainment.com/games.)

In deed, there’s something strange in the neighborhood this year at The Oscars.  You say Inception; I say regression.  (And no, let’s not call the whole thing off.)  In fact, I want to call some people out, namely the 5,000 members of the Academy who have the honor and privilege of screening potentially “Oscar-worthy” films, selecting nominees, and ultimately deciding, via vote, the fate of Film year after year.  Also, I’d like to thank the Academy for reflecting the views, as opposed to appearance, of our society as a whole. (Yes! I found a way to work in my favorite Oscar cliché!)

Seriously, though, this is where the Classism comes in.  While it’s true that the film studios are the ones who bravely send out their own creations to the Academy for screening, in hopes of being nominated, the very subject matter of the films that do get the Oscar nods are extremely telling of where our heads are at.  Take this year 2011 for example.  Nominated for Best Picture, we’ve got… Black Swan, examining the “dark side” of an awfully pale—and anorexic-looking—dancer, performing in the most Classically Classist kind of dance there is: Ballet… The Social Network about a young, white male, hacker from Harvard… 127 Hours about a young, white male, hiker in Utah… Inception, an action flick where a young, white collar thief gets deep into the mind to master his crimes… Toy Story 3, an animation sensation where a white, suburban boy must finally put away “childish things”… The King’s Speech, which presents the very definition of “Class”, with a twist: an elite British prince, born with both a royal seat saved for his reign as King—and a speech impediment.  I could go on.

Oh, yes, I know, there I go being dramatic again. Of course, there are exceptions to the rampant social divide this year—sort of.    The Kid’s Are All Right is an excellent portrayal of a real life, real loving type of Modern Family, where the parents both happened to be women, authentically raising their two precious kids, who happen to decide to meet their “Papa Sperm Donor”.  This Modern Family also just happens to be white, living in relative privilege in the ‘burbs.  Now, films such as Winter’s Bone, focusing the lens on an Ozark mountain girl, True Grit, based in the Wild West, and The Fighter, bringing the story of an Irish-American working-class boxer to light, are certainly not Classist in the sense of basking in the lives of the elite or materially comfortable.  None-the-less, the very fact that every single one of these aforementioned films portray only the lives and times, struggles and successes, of white people of all classes is Classist all the same, for all other people are all but marginalized, left to become “the other”.

Speaking of being marginalized, do you remember a film that hit theaters last fall called For Colored Girls, directed by a Colored Guy named Tyler Perry?  Yeah, I almost forgot about it too, what, with the way the media essentially shoved the film right under the Red Carpet, and us movie-goers—present writer included—darn-near blocked it out of our short-term memory banks.  Well, this story, expanding upon the Obie award winning play and choreopoem by Ntozake Shange in 1974, originally entitled For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, poetically explores, and exposes, the lives of nine Afrikan American women living in the NYC projects.  Bringing these Colored Girls into the present day, the film unravels often tightly wound topics such as: Post-war, Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome, and other Mental Health issues; Date Rape, Backdoor Abortions, Sexual Abuse, and Sexual Addiction; lyin’, cheatin’, good-for-nothin’ lovers, and “downlow brothas”; and HIV/AIDS. Sounds like the perfect film for a date-night, right?  Despite its heavy premise, Picktainment’s own Paul Hansen wrote an honest and favorable review of the film last November 2010, shortly after its release, stating, “For Colored Girls may be a contender for a Best Picture Oscar considering the importance of the subject matter… It would be difficult to isolate any one actress in the film for possible Oscar contention since there were so many strong performances.”  Hansen goes on to admit, “For Colored Girls is troubling because so much of it seems to ring true regardless of ethnicity. The complexity of the issues presented are much too great to encapsulate in a single review.”

For Colored Girls

Yes, Hansen, certainly, the “complexities” in For Colored Girls are immense to put it mildly, while brimming with stellar performances from Anika Noni Rose, Disney’s first Afrikan American Princess from The Princess and the Frog, and Dreamgirls, Phylicia Rashad of Cosby Show fame, Kimberly Elise and Janet Jackson, who have both starred in other Tyler Perry films, and even Academy Award Winning Actress/Comedienne Whoopi Goldberg.  However, it seems as if the “importance of the subject matter” was simply too much for the Academy, and even many Black folks, to process.  Admittedly, after I watched the movie, alone in a theater filled with no more than six people, after one walked out, I was “shell-shocked” for three days.  James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies, mentions, “For Colored Girls marks the first time in five years that Perry’s screened one of his films for critics in advance of its release,” and yet this venture of Perry’s into dramatic cinema went largely ignored.  Or, I should say, was largely criticized.  Rocchi goes on to lament, “It is not enough that Jackson’s husband be cheating on her; he must be “on the down-low,” secretly gay, and that must be extrapolated to its hateful conclusion by the finale. These things happen in life, to be sure, but they do not happen all at once.”  Really, Rocchi?  So straight sistas can’t contract HIV/AIDS from their “hetero-identified” husbands or lovers who sleep around with other men “on the low”?!?  (Oops, I just leaked part of the story!)

Check this out.  J.L. King, co-author of 2004’s On the Down Low, breaks it down:

Today black women make up more than half of all women who have died from AIDS in the United States. African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, yet we now account for nearly 50 percent of all new AIDS cases in the United States. Sixty-eight percent of all new AIDS cases are black women, 75 percent of whom contracted the disease from heterosexual sex.

In the past, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) did not separate bisexual and gay behaviors. Both were grouped together, and gay overshadowed bisexual behavior. People saw AIDS still as just a white gay disease. However, the women getting infected were your everyday women, housewives and mothers. Heterosexual sex was being reported as the primary reason for these alarming numbers. Numbers that forced the CDC to take a look at this behavior, and to realize that in the black community, many men did not identify themselves as gay or bisexual, but they were having sex with men.

This reality can’t be any harder to digest than James Franco’s depiction of a young mountain climber having to amputate his own limb in 127 Hours. (Oops, I did it again!)  Be that as it may, For Colored Girls received nary an Oscar nod, not a single one.  OK, I get it.  Perhaps Perry, who usually sticks to Black Slap-Stick humor, did not deserve an offering of an Oscar for Best Picture in his first attempt to be dead serious.  Then what about all his fabulous actresses and actors; were none of them worthy of acclaim?

The 42 annual NAACP Image Awards, who celebrate the accomplishments of people of color in the fields of TV, music, literature and film, airing live March 4, 2011, beg to differ with the Academy Awards, bestowing For Colored Girls with seven nominations—the most for this awards show—for Outstanding Motion Picture, Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture, nearly sweeping the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress, and even an Outstanding Supporting Actor nod.  Now before you begin judging the NAACP Image Awards, you should know that other nominees include: Lisa Cholodenko, Outstanding Motion Picture for The Kids Are All Right (apparently Cholodenko being a lesbian Jew of Ukrainian heritage gives her a pass as a “Colored Girl”), and Justin Timberlake, Outstanding Supporting Actor for The Social Network. (I’m rendered speechless on that one.)  So, while the NAACP seeks to expand its horizons, and open doors, the Academy seeks to, it seems, narrow their scope and, well, shut the door, securing it with a padlock.

All of this is the say firmly, and loudly that as Classy, Sexy, and Racy as The Oscars manage to be, the establishment of the Academy Awards could stand to use their 3-D glasses for the greater good, applauding a wider array of films, and broader spectrum of cinematic contenders.