Some aren’t going to like this, and I don’t care that I may or may not be preaching to the choir, but Viola Davis, who played ‘Aibileen Clark’ in The Help should have won the Best Actress In A Leading Role Oscar over Meryl Streep, who played Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
I say this because, working backward, I predicted that Streep would participate grandly in the only Oscars upset of Sunday evening. My reasons for asserting this possibility cut to the heart of American, British, and AMPAS (The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) cultural history.
The basic rule, or habit, is that the winner of the Best Actor and Actress Award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards wins the Best Actor and Actress Award at the Academy Awards. That guiding fact has played true six out of the past nine years, and it even worked on Oscar Sunday, as Jean Duradin and Christopher Plummer, both SAG winners for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, won again at the Oscars.
Some say it’s because Ms. Streep is so popular, and there’s no arguing that at all. Indeed, just how popular she is reflected in how many times Streep has been nominated for Oscars: 17 times since 1979, and four times in five years: 2007 to 2012.
Streep’s frequency of nominations, and especially over the last five years, means she could have won and one could have written up any narrative about how popular she is for that year she took home the golden man. It just so happens that story line’s being dragged forward this time. And it’s a perfect cover for the simple fact that neither the Academy or BAFTA wanted to see the replay of a SAG 2012 moment: two black women take home Oscars on the same night for the same movie.
The moment both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer won at the SAG awards (Spencer got Best Supporting Actress for The Help), I had two thoughts: this was truly just progress, and both should repeat the speeches (with some variation) at the British Film The Television Academy Awards (BAFTAs) and the Oscars.
The BAFTAs brought the first dose of reality home to this blogger. Just as I watched with my Mom and openly expected Davis’ name to be called, Streep’s name was picked instead. My Mom, 78, said “They don’t want to give it to her because she’s black.”
I found myself in that all-too-familar role that many young blacks find themselves in when trying to show our parents that America has made true racial progress: the one of trying to explain away the action as having nothing to do with race, saying “Well, it’s because Streep played the most popular British Prime Minister of our time and it’s the BAFTA’s in Britain. It makes perfect sense and will not happen at the Oscars because that’s not the UK.” Or words to that effect.
Still, the other side of me that sees, time and again, this kind of race-base rejection happen, and hears, again and again, some creative spin for why the action happen that takes race out of the conversation, was saying “I could be wrong.”
The idea that “I could be wrong” was strengthened when the LA Times marched forward with its study of AMPAS membership which concluded that of the 5,100 surveyed of the 5,765 members, 94 percent were white and 77 percent were male.
That was one week before the 2012 Oscars, and caused a classic reaction by famed Hollywood blogger Nikke Finke who says “Well, duh?”, and pointed to the overwhelming white-male-ness of the Hollywood studio executive ranks as the reason.
Then, Daniel Sutton, who reports for News 10 out of Australia, interviewed me on the Oscars Red Carpet Saturday and asked for my Oscar predictions, including any upsets. The possibility that Streep would win over Davis was the only upset I predicted, though I didn’t have time to get into the reasons for my assertion.
This time I did.
I think it’s just plain sad that the Academy can’t see its way to play to type and give an Oscar to a black actress or actor who’s swept the awards season and hit all of the “precursor” marks, even if it means giving Oscars to two black actresses or actors on the same night.
To do that, and move American society forward in the process, shows real progress because it means the two truly best deserving performers rightly took home the Oscar.
This time, because the Academy didn’t like the idea of seeing two sisters win on the same Oscar night, I can’t say that happened. It also sends the wrong message, a statement that goes against what America wants Americans to believe: that the best and hardest worker wins regardless of color.
Sorry, but I think, deep down inside, Ms. Streep knows this too. When a person inserts “popularity” into the equation for competitions like the Oscars, it opens the door to racism, too.