Is Hollywood Replacing African American Actors With African Actors?

January 21, 2014  |  

Producer and screenwriter Gary Hardwick, who is best known for writing on the films’ Deliver Us from Eva and The Brothers as well as being the executive producer of the popular 90s television show “In the House,” has created a thought provoking meme about the African-invasion into Hollywood.

As you can see from the picture above, the meme is a board of two rows of six faces: the top row has pictures of blacks actors and actresses with African names and the bottom row is comprised of black folks with…well you know how creative us American blacks can be. (But it’s from the Bible though!) Anyway, the collage’s caption reads as follows:

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Barkhad Abdi are nominated this year for acting Oscars. They are all African. Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker, Octavia Spencer and Michel B. Jordan were not nominated. They are all American. I have never liked the term African American. I want to thank the Academy for finally separating the two words.”

What Hardwick is referring to is the recently announced nominations for the 86th annual Academy Awards, which appears to be honoring lots of color this year. In particular, the Steve McQueen film 12 Years A Slave, has received 9 nominations including: Best Film; Best Actor for UK-born Nigerian Ejoifor; and Best Supporting Actress for Mexican-born Kenyan Nyong’o. Captain Phillips, a film inspired by the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, received six nods including Best Supporting Actor for Abdi, who was born in Somali. However missing from the nominations were expected favorites like Oprah Winfrey, Forest Whitaker and Michel B Jordan from the films Fruitvale Station and The Butler. Many critics are calling the lack of critical nominations for both films (as well as Mandela) Oscar-snubs. And like those critics, Hardwick meme’s implies that Hollywood has a bias in favor of native-born blacks. But what is not clear from the meme is why though?

In the post on his blog entitled, Black is the New Black, which was posted in the thread’s comment section, Hardwick gives moe insight to his theory. Particularly mentioning an actress friend, who was advised recently by an agent to start speaking in a British accent “in order to increase her chances of getting a job.” Hardwick further supports his theory by pointing out how so-called blue eyed soul artists like Justin Timberlake receive awards for singing and dancing like black folks even as black artists find themselves excluded from those same award venues. And Mindy Kaling having her own television series when “Saturday Night Live” dragged its feet on hiring its first black comediennes in five years. He also cites President Barack Obama, particularly how folks tended to emphasizes his foreign black half as the reason why he was “not like the rest of us” lowly Negros. His point is that while these folks are dark, or even black, they are not a substitute for American black experience, even as the general society seeks to make them so. He also writes:

“…You see, when dark skin is linked to the legacy of slavery, murder and oppression, it makes certain people feel bad, guilty and dare I say, afraid. And in this happy ass age of false perfection, no one with any affluence wants to feel bad for one second about anything, ever. So, a dark Indian girl is preferable to a Black American woman, a British black man is not so worrisome as one born here, or a Black American descendant of slaves is worse than say, a half-white descendant of an African national who was raised by white people in Hawaii.

Are you kidding me?

How thin is the knife that splits that hair?

But I will not lay this at the feet of others. If our image is devalued or not valued at all, we can blame ourselves for that, if we don’t stand up to it. If we want to give everyone a pass who steals our sh*t, denigrates our images and feeds us their idea of who we should be, then it’s our fault. If the director and star of a Oscar-bound slave movie are black but not the descendants of slaves should we care that they are telling our story? If we are quick to deny others in our race or the idea of race itself to gain what we think is an advantage, then again it’s on us.

There is no doubt that Hollywood in general appears to be under a foreign invasion and this does not exclude Black Hollywood. Many British actors and actresses in particular have spoken quite candidly about the inability to find work in the UK and having to come to the States, just to find consistent jobs. And it would be naïve to say that a black with a “unique” background gives on a branding edge. Dare I say Idris Elba is no finer than any other above average Negro man walking around the streets of America but that accent, and “exotic” roots combined with his above average looks likely increases his appeal with many in his fan base.

However, the bulk of Black Hollywood is still very much African American, which means that the fear of a takeover is presumptuous at best. And outside of Idris Elba and now Chiwetel Ejiofor, there are very few African actors or actresses, who have become household names. And quite frankly, what “advantage,” as Hardwick called it, are these non-American born blacks receiving anyway? A couple of trophies? A head nod of approval from institutions with peculiar records of inclusion? More opportunities to play stereotypical and often problematic characters (No disrespect to Barkhad Abdi, but I was not here for a film glorifying the Western worlds continued imperialism of the East African coastlines)? We shouldn’t be quibbling with each other over crumbs, which happen to dribbles down from the hierarchic top. Instead we should be building cross-continental bridges and working together to create our own while abolishing the very racist system, which seeks to divide and conquer us, no matter from which part of the world we originate. It just does not make sense – political, economically and even culturally – that during a time of globalization and technology, communities of black folks with resources and vast knowledge are still operating in isolation of each other.

Not to mention the whole weirdness of referring to the Academy Awards as the final say in where the line of blackness should be drawn or even the debate in what we as black folks should call ourselves. I mean, have we seen some of the black representations they felt were Oscar-worthy? Hell, until Hollywood and Black Hollywood combined apologize to all of South Africa for Jennifer “Effie-in-every-role” Hudson’s performance as Winnie Mandela, we really don’t have anything to complain about.

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