The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘acting

I found this interview with the multi-talented actress, Sandra Oh so inspirational. She talks about keeping herself engaged and inspired as an actress even when she wasn’t getting the kind of work she wanted. In the end, as creatives, we only control how we partner with the creative process and what we produce. In addition, she talks about how important it is for creators from marginalized communities to believe that we can be the heroines in our own stories–even if that isn’t always mirrored around us.

Check it out:

I always watch the Oscars with a critical eye. It signals to me a kind of subterranean commentary about race and gender (always interconnected and complex). It reflects back to us what stories and actors have been valued—a cultural state of the union, one might say. I learned at an early age that films are a powerful medium that communicate social norms and expectations, ideology and privilege. By the time I was ten, I was well-schooled in raising critical questions about the nature of images about race and gender that were presented before me for blind acceptance. As an adult, I’m still critical and usually not thrilled with most of the main fare of Hollywood offerings of female and/or people of color characters.

I haven’t watched the Oscars since 2006. At that time, I was eagerly rooting for Helen Mirren (as Best Actress for The Queen) and Forest Whittaker (as Best Actor for The King of Scotland) to win which they did. I remember that my shouts of enthusiasm, when their names were called, caught the attention of my neighbors that were at the small party gathered. There were a few other women there but I was the only African American person in attendance. They may or may not have shared my excitement for this moment. Helen Mirren is one of the smartest and substantive leading women. I have been smitten with her work since seeing her in The Comfort of Strangers. She seems to be rewriting the rules for older actresses with her sexiness, intensity and daring. I love Whittaker’s range and have been following his career closely since Ghost Dog. And, he’s devoted to Kundalini yoga which is pretty cool. Both of their wins felt significant.

There were some big firsts last night: Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director and Best Picture (The Hurt Locker). I still have a clipping from Elle Magazine that did a feature on her in the early 1990s. Although I probably will never direct a film, her visibility and work as a director inspired me as a creative person and as a woman to what’s possible. I hope that her win will translate into more and varied doors being opened for women directors.

While, I am also thrilled that Monique won for best supporting actress (the fourth African American to win) and Geoffrey Fletcher breaks new ground for winning an Oscar for Best Writing (Adapted screenplay) for Precious, I have to say that I am a bit underwhelmed at the representation offered up to us on Oscar night.
Having not watched the awards for four years, I don’t think I’ve missed that much from what I saw during the awards. It has gotten a bit better from when I was a teenager when it was a rare occurrence that people of color were nominated for anything at all. Now, it seems there is at least one African American actor nominated in a major role during every Oscar cycle. And, this year there was an African American nominated in several categories (six, I think out of almost 20 awards—an avalanche).

Although I’m completely underwhelmed by Hollywood, this does not mean that I don’t acknowledge that there has been that thing called ‘progress’ moving at a glacial rate. Progress measured by the growing number of African American directors including the Hudlin Brothers, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Tyler Perry. And, of course, we can measure progress in the kinds of films that more African American actors are cast in –a broader array of both supporting and lead roles (still very slim, however, for actresses of color). I guess after watching the Academy Awards (almost 4 hours), I have to ask myself: Is this is as good as it gets for Hollywood and diversity? I’m wondering why moviemaking still hasn’t caught up to the reality of our American communities. Where are all the richly textured films about Caribbean Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, etc? I’ve talked about African American actors but where are the actors of various racial and ethnic backgrounds in Hollywood films? And, what about behind the scenes? For such a talented and creative community, I’ve come to expect very little from Hollywood as a whole and have been rarely surprised.

I know there are many who will say that this was a great year for African Americans in film and who will say just wait—there will be more. OK, but does that mean I should drop into the Oscars in 2 or 10 years? Just how long will it take for things to change demonstrably, I wonder?

Pesky questions that roll around in my head from time to time: I lived through the glut of 1980s black/white buddy movies (in sports and police dramas-e.g. Lethal Weapon, etc) and am sick to death of this liberal equality male bonding formula. Will Hollywood ever move beyond this formula (besides the Rush Hour movies)?

Can we tell African American and white women’s stories outside of the caring black maid (or nurse), caring white woman/child/mistress of the house formula (i.e. Clara’s Heart, The Secret Life of Bees)?

Where are the African American geek films?

Can we see more female directed movies in all genres?

Where is all that ‘untraditional casting’ in films that the civil rights movement fought for so many years ago? Why do we still have almost exclusively white casts in so many major Hollywood films (even in fantasy and science fiction genres)?

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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