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How to Win an Oscar If You’re Black

Michael Harriot Jan 14, 2020. 20 comments

The #OscarsSoWhite, they called the police on the BET Awards.

The #OscarsSoWhite, Pete Buttigieg was almost nominated for an award.

The #OscarsSoWhite, Cuba Gooding Jr. tried to marry his statue.

On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards and, as usual, they’re rooting for everybody white. Although the Oscar committee has touted its recent diversity efforts, no one really expected Hollywood’s most important awards show to reflect the makeup of its audiences.

That’s because white men run the studios and select the scripts. They hire the directors and cast the actors. They choose which films they will promote for awards season honors. The film industry is like the Democratic Party—it’s progressive, but it’s still controlled by white people who vote for white things. On paper, Kamala Harris was as qualified for the presidency as Eddie Murphy was for a Best Actor nod. But incellic white dudes stan for Joaquin Phoenix just as much as they love what Bernie Sanders stands for.

Whether you’re thinking of embarking on a career in the film industry, or are already a well-known star, it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever be nominated for an Academy Award. However, your chances of being nominated decrease substantially if you’re black. Historically, black people have only won 5.5 percent (20 of 362) of Oscars’ major awards (Best Actor or Actress; Best Supporting Actor or Actress; Best Director; Best Picture; Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay). That’s probably because black people have only been nominated for 3.6 percent of the Oscars in these categories (63 of 1,764).

Luckily, I’m here to help.

Using the data from previous nominees and winners, I have created a scientific approach for black people who are seeking to earn an Oscar nod. Because white people constantly move the goalposts, I can’t guarantee that these 8 steps will work. But I bet it works better than waiting for white Hollywood to come to its senses.

1. Be Oppressed

Because many white people only recognize negro humanity when black people are crying, you’re gonna have to be sad as fuck to win an Oscar. To be nominated, one has the choice of playing a slave (Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind; Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave; Denzel Washington in Glory) or a servant (Octavia Spencer in The Help; Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field; Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy). 

To be clear, the oppressor doesn’t have to be a white person but you should still be stuck in a hopeless situation. As long as you cry (Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple), die (Denzel in Malcolm X), or scream “Whyyyyyy,” (every important black role), you can get on the shortlist for a gold statue.

2. Keep It Real

I know what you’re thinking, but this has nothing to do with the authenticity of your acting. Black actors who played real-life characters account for more than one-third (36 percent) of black Oscar wins for acting. Only white people get to be fictional.

I truly believe that black actors don’t get recognition because Hollywood views nuanced black characters as a black person playing a black person. That’s why I don’t get why people consider Cate Blanchett to be such a great actress. She always plays someone who looks wistfully out of windows dreaming of a better life. Or maybe I’m thinking of Kate Winslet. Or Witherspoon. There is a Kate Witherspoon, right?

If there isn’t, there should be.

Denzel’s portrayal of Malcolm X lost the 1993 Best Actor award to Al Pacino, who just played a blind man who yelled a lot in Scent of a Woman. He’s still playing that character in every role. Angela Bassett didn’t win Best Actress when she embodied Tina Turner in What’s Love Gotta Do With It. Yet, somehow, Emma Stone won the Best Actress Oscar for La La Land, a movie about jazz that had no black people in it.

Now, that takes imagination.

3. Work With White People

Here is where the privilege of being the dominant culture comes in.

White people don’t consider their movies to be “white films.” However, a movie with an all-black cast is automatically categorized as a “black movie” and white audiences don’t go see those. Therefore, an obscure black film has almost no chance, while films like The Hurt Locker—the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner of all time—took home six Oscars.

That’s probably why no black director has ever won Best Director and Steve McQueen is the only black producer to ever win Best Picture (for 12 Years a Slave). Of course, Jordan Peele won Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, but I think that choice was wrong.

Everyone knows Get Out was a documentary.

4. Sing, Rap, or Dance

One of the easiest ways to get an Oscar nomination is to leverage one’s musical ability. Aside from the aforementioned Angela Bassett nomination, Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) won Oscars for music-based performances. There’s also an exploitable Oscar loophole.

More black people have been nominated for the Best Song Oscar than any other category. Plus, Prince and Herbie Hancock earned Oscars for scoring movies (Purple Rain and Round Midnight). So, even if you can’t emote in front of a camera, you still have a chance to win the gold statue.

Wait…did you think Common won an Oscar for acting?

5. Be Magic

A “magical negro” is a black person in a film who only exists to assist white people. It’s essentially the opposite of a white savior.

Yes, you can win an Oscar for this.

Magical negroes spontaneously appear so they sometimes don’t even bother to give them a last name! Half of the black nominees for Best Supporting Actress are just a collection of negro names like “Mammy,” “Patsey” and “Geechie.” At least they gave Oprah two names in The Color Purple—her name was “Miss Sophia.”

Whoopi Goldberg’s role in Ghost was perhaps the greatest Oscar role of all timea magical negro criminal who had to help a white woman.

6. Lose Your “Black Girl Magic”

If you’re a black woman, you might as well take your pride and flush it down the toilet. Here is a list of Oscar-winning roles for black women:

  • An enslaved woman (Hattie McDaniel/Gone With the Wind)
  • A fake psychic who turns out to be a real psychic (Whoopi Goldberg/Ghost)
  • A spurned singer (Jennifer Hudson/Dreamgirls)
  • An abusive mother (Mo’Nique/Precious)
  • A maid (Octavia Spencer/The Help)
  • An enslaved woman (Lupita Nyong’o/12 Years a Slave)
  • A frustrated wife (Viola Davis/Fences)
  • A mother whose son is incarcerated (Regina King/If Beale Street Could Talk)

Or, worst-case scenario, you gotta have sex with Billy Bob Thorton (Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball) and pretend to enjoy it.

7. Be Saved

Even if you’re sad, depressed and nonfictional, if your Oscar-worthy film has a happy ending, you’re going to have to allow a white person to save you.

White savior films are an Oscar staple. Brad Pitt emancipated Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Green Book was basically a movie about how a dumb white dude teaches his intelligent, talented black boss a valuable lesson about life. Perhaps the most disturbing example of white savior-ism in film history was in Monster’s Ball, when Halle Berry discovers that her new white lover sent her husband to death row, but forgives him because he brings home ice cream.

White people must always be the hero. Even in Selma, a movie about how white people beat and disenfranchised black people in America, the white president was still the hero.

8. White Tears Must Flow

Sometimes, there will be a film or performance so heartwarming, touching or well-made that white people will briefly have a moment where they see black people as almost human. Moonlight did this, and so did If Beale Street Could Talk, garnering Best Supporting role nods for Mahershala Ali and Regina King.

Conversely, Precious was so depressing that voters cast the ballot for it out of fear they’d have to watch it again.


Using these eight principles, I believe I have created the perfect vehicle for an Oscar-winning film, a science fiction/period drama/action movie simply called: The Harriet Tubman Time Machine

Cate Witherspoon plays Becky Whiteman, a theoretical physicist for a defense contractor. Becky is forced to move back to her hometown when her father has a crippling heart stroke and becomes an octoplegic (two times worse than a quadriplegic.) To assist with the care of her disabled father, Becky hires her sassy childhood friend, LaTasha Lakeisha Jenkins (played by Meghan Thee Stallion), who is now a nurse, leaving Becky time to perfect the patent for her teleportation/time-traveling/air-fryer device— the only thing that can save the family farm from being repossessed.

LaTasha and Becky were stars in the same STEM program growing up but when they were 12, Becky switched the name on Latasha’s science fair project and won a scholarship to the State Institute of Technology, while LaTasha had to go to community college and major in diaper-changing. They eventually made up and became friends, but throughout Becky’s entire career, she has called up LaTasha pretending to be her friend but actually pumping LaTasha’s brilliant mind for scientific knowledge.

One day, someone from work shows up and tells Becky there’s trouble. Apparently, a slave trader from the 1850s is going back and forth in time, kidnapping black people in the present and enslaving them in the past. Becky tells them she only has time for her father and slams the door in their face.

The next day, Becky discovers that someone has kidnapped all six of LaTasha’s children. Could it be the time enslavers? Becky feels terrible but she knows that she can’t stop the time enslavers. She spills the beans to LaTasha, and after LaTasha whips Becky’s ass for 45-50 minutes, she informs Becky of their plan:

They must create an interdimensional underground railroad.

But first, they’re going to need some help.

Issa Rae co-stars as Harriet Tubman, the guide, who enlists some of her best historical friends:

John David Washington plays Frederick Douglass, the strategist. Derek Luke plays Nat Turner, the war counselor. Yahya Abdul-Mateen plays Toussaint L’Ouverture, the general. Brian Tyree Henry plays Marcus Garvey, the getaway driver. Marsai Martin plays Ruby Bridges, the infiltrator. And Mahershala Ali plays Nelson Mandela, the munitions expert. (Every movie must have an explosives expert. It’s the law.)

Leonardo DiCaprio also has a cameo as the time-traveling slave trader but he dies in the first scene.

I won’t tell the entire plot, but the last scene consists of Rosa Parks (Alexandra Shipp) loading the rescued victims into the air fryer/time machine. As Nat begs people to please save a seat up front for Rosa, Becky gives a heartwarming monologue to the enslaved people they must leave behind. A tear slowly falls down her face as she finally realizes the 400-year-old struggle that LaTasha had to overcome. She looks at the human cargo one last time and, as they speed through a black hole back to the present, Becky smiles, knowing she saved countless souls. Plus, she secretly filed a patent for the air-fryer/teleportation/time machine, blocking LaTasha from collecting a dime and making Becky a billionaire.

Even though she won’t get any of the patent money, LaTasha still learned a valuable lesson about the true value of white allies.

Fin.

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