5 Movies That Won Oscars For Touching On Race And Were Terrible At It
Besides the rare shakeup, everybody knows there's one specific type of film that tends to rake it in at the Academy Awards. "Oscar bait" films are generally serious dramas that explore the depths of white men's pain (because according to society, those are the only stories worth telling). But once in a while, the Academy will recognize films that touch on the racial issues plaguing this country. That's a good thing, don't get me wrong. But unfortunately, those movies tend to, what's the best way to put it ... suck ass. Like how ...
Crash Didn't Give A Damn About Women Of Color
In 2006, Crash won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain, because while the Academy wanted to show that they were woke, they weren't ready to be that woke. It is a tedious film that explores what the co-creator of Walker, Texas Ranger imagines the daily interactions between Los Angeles residents of different racial and class backgrounds to be like.
As we watch these characters' lives literally crash into each other (get it?), we are meant to leave the theater reflecting on how we're all more connected than we think, and that we have more similarities than differences. Sure, that's a positive message, but one delivered at the expense of the minorities in the story, especially the female ones.
Like Sandra Bullock's housekeeper, who constantly suffers at the hands of her racist boss, but is apparently suddenly fine with it at the end of the film, when Bullock unexpectedly gives her a hug and says, "You're my best friend." Cool, Sandy, but you're not HER best friend. You're her awful racist boss who pays her to silently smile as you scream at her about how she folds your and Brendan Fraser's laundry.
But that's not near as bad as what happens to Thandie Newton, who is sexually assaulted by Matt Dillon's racist cop in front of her husband. Not only does Newton bafflingly end up apologizing to her husband (who honestly needs to apologize to her for being Terrence Howard), but she also gets yelled at by the same cop the very next day when she has an insane car crash and is stuck in the flaming wreckage. Newton understandably freaks out when she realizes it's Dillon and doesn't want him touching her. He yells that he's not going to hurt her and drags her out, whereupon she cries in his arms and he is redeemed. And that's where their story ends; he's learned that we're not so different after all, and she's learned that her trauma doesn't matter to anyone. Dillon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this.
Mississippi Burning Is A Flaming Dumpster Of Lies
Mississippi Burning is a brutal movie about the true story of three civil rights activists who were murdered in rural Mississippi (there's a reason it's not called Texas Burning). Two white FBI agents come down and end up shaking things up in this deeply racist and sexist small town, even resorting to violence to discover the truth and fight the Ku Klux Klan members who run the area. It's a violently cathartic ending for such a tragic story, and the viewer definitely has no problem rooting for those agents ... until you do a little research.
First of all, real civil rights activists hate this movie because absolutely no attention was given to the incredibly brave people this story was supposedly about. (You know, the murdered heroes?) Instead the film instead focuses on the two FBI agents, who save the day by basically being white and tenacious. Secondly, the heavy-handed portrayal of the FBI as the Good Guys is deeply ironic, considering how J. Edgar Hoover spent years using the FBI to try to ruin Martin Luther King Jr's life.
Stephen Schwerner, brother of one of the slain activists, Michael Schwerner, called the film "terribly dishonest and very racist." Coretta Scott King herself led a boycott of the film. If MLK's widow is telling everyone your civil rights movie is BS, then you really need to sit your ass down and figure things out.
Driving Miss Daisy Was A Cop-Out
Driving Miss Daisy is a middling movie about the relationship between a crotchety rich old Southern white lady and her kindly black driver. Just from that sentence alone, I'm sure you can figure out why it's on the list. In the film, after getting into a car accident, Daisy is pushed by her son into hiring a chauffeur, who ends up being Morgan Freeman. She starts off being a standard terrible old white woman at first, but starts warming up to him, eventually telling him at the end of the movie "You're my best friend." (Recognize a trend?)
Even though it's set in the South during the civil rights era, the movie takes a gentle approach to actually exploring racism, showing it solely through the white lens. It's the Downton Abbey of Southern racism movies -- it's OK, and if you fall asleep, you won't miss much.
It won Best Picture, which is still a better choice than Crash, except another, much better film about race came out that same year. A young up-and-coming filmmaker named Spike Lee wrote, directed, and starred in Do The Right Thing, an unflinching look at racial tensions in Brooklyn, and though it nabbed a few Oscar nominations (Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, neither of which it won), it was shut out of the Best Picture conversation.
Is it really surprising that the Academy is more comfortable watching a film waxing nostalgic about how blacks and whites used to interact than a film from a solely black perspective on how they interact now? I suppose not, but it's still wildly insulting. And for poor Spike, the insults would keep coming ...
Green Book Robbed Us Of A Movie About The Actual Green Book
Lee would lose another shot at Best Picture to the reverse Driving Miss Daisy, 2018's Green Book. Quick rundown: The Negro Motorist Green Book was an annual guidebook originated by a New York City mailman named Victor Green which helped countless people stay safe during the Jim Crow era, when making eye contact with a white woman could get a black man murdered. Black people were buying more cars and enjoying being in a moving vehicle they weren't being forced to sit in the back of. As black journalist George Schuyler pleaded, "All Negros who can afford to do so purchase an automobile as soon as possible in order to be free of discomfort, discrimination, segregation, and insult."
In an era when you couldn't check Yelp to find out if the diner at the next stop had good waffles but terrible racists, the real Green Book was a necessity. It was a comprehensive guide of what roads you could safely take, what restaurants you could eat at, barbershops, even gas stations you could stop at. The story behind its creation and use would make an amazing movie. Instead Hollywood opted for a mediocre film that quickly brushes the titular book aside to center on a white driver and his relationship with a black musician. It was apparently dishonest enough that the musician's family called it a " symphony of lies." It's like black audiences were catfished by the title.
Gone With The Wind Started A Terrible Oscar Trend
There was some backlash recently when this year's Oscar nominations were announced. Out of the 19 people nominated for acting, only one was black, and she played a runaway slave. Cynthia Erivo did do a fantastic job as Harriet Tubman, but that doesn't change the fact that it is absolutely a trend for the Oscars to mostly reward black performers who play certain roles. And for black women, this started with Gone With The Wind.
Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to win an Academy Award. She played a slave in that film -- and a happy one at that. Remember, Gone With The Wind has a very pro-Confederacy take on the Civil War. McDaniel's character, Mammy, actually refuses to be set free when the North wins and slavery ends. Which I suppose could have been worse, since the original novel portrays the KKK as the good guys.
McDaniel couldn't even attend the premiere of the movie, cause it was 1939 and Crash hadn't singlehandedly solved racism yet. A producer even had to petition for her to be allowed into the Academy Awards ceremony where she was a nominee. She ended up being the only black woman in the room, and wasn't allowed to sit at the same table as the rest of Gone With The Wind cast. The Oscars, bay-bee!
For more, check out 5 Racist And Sexist Messages Hidden In Forrest Gump:
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