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Like many other Blacks watching Sunday’s Golden Globes, I grimaced as award after award went to one white actor after another until the very end — when 12 Years A Slave would go on to collect honors for Best Motion Picture, Drama. It was as if the Hollywood Foreign Press told director Steve McQueen and his brilliant cast, “You can’t have any sides or the biscuit, but here’s the big piece of chicken.” Nonetheless, I was happy because a movie of that magnitude and all those apart of it deserved to be recognized.

Yet, I noticed this sentiment was met with the assertion that somehow such a feeling is rooted in the yearning of white validation. It’s a similar little theory now being peddled in the wake of disappointment over Fruitvale Station securing virtually no recognition in this year’s awards season. Some of this is an easily understood defense mechanism. Many of us are well aware that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences isn’t exactly known for rewarding people of color and their contributions to film, and when they do, it’s for reprising familiar tropes.

Though 12 Years A Slave may be hard to watch for people Black and white alike, for many whites, they view the film with a sense of redemption. As in, “Look how far we’ve come.” However, Fruitvale Station is a reminder that the hatred of Black people is not something that ought to be discussed in past tense. We are no longer in literal shackles, but we suffer from other societal ills (by design), and when we do try to improve our situations, we can easily be taken out in an act of state-sponsored violence.

Director Ryan Coogler and the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan, offer a more nuanced view of the caricatures of Black manhood we’re often presented and it serves as a reminder that America collectively maintains very little reward for Black life. That’s a harder pill to swallow for the Academy and others. Even so, one could argue that the fault of Fruitvale Station’s snub lies with the Weinstein Co. who made several strategic errors – the film’s way too early release date and seemingly little effort to maintain the buzz in the wake of a highly contested awards season, etc. The Oscar snub sadly seemed like a forgone conclusion and little was done to thwart that.

Nevertheless, my disappointment in Fruitvale Station not getting any Oscar nominations should not be denigrated by some ridiculous idea that I’m groveling for a white co-sign. I’m very much an outspoken advocate about the temperature of the white man’s ice not being any cooler than anyone else’s. I don’t believe mainstream equates better, but I do feel if an award show purports to be inclusive it should reflect that. And just because it has yet to meet that standard does not mean I should stop trying to hold them to it. The same goes for others who share this opinion.

Thus, when I say it would’ve be nice to see Coolger nominated for Best Original Screenplay or Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress or Michael B. Jordan for Best Actor, I mean just that. It would’ve been nice. Not “needed” and not life altering, but nice. For no other reason than good artistry ought to be recognized – particularly by a prestigious and purportedly all encompassing organization. If you find that groveling for white approval, I feel sorry for you. I also hope someone gets you the gift of nuance for your birthday.

Michael Arceneaux is from the land of Beyoncé, but now lives in the city of Master Splinters. Follow him at @youngsinick.

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  • Aria Wilson

    Hmmmm….

    I have found there are largely two ways folks look at this:

    A) Black folks need to stop whining about not being included in mostly-White functions, award shows, etc…because we don’t need “White validation” to know our stuff is up to par…it shows insecurity and desperation by Black folks….

    Or

    B) Black folks need to keep fighting against being excluded for our works when they are just as good(if not better) than many “mainstream” offerings. Fighting exclusion, as we have done for decades in this country, does not equate to “groveling for White validation”, but for demanding our successes be recognized nationally just like the successes of others.

    To my chagrin…I actually agree with both sides to an extent. Go figure.

    • Guest1234

      I agree with you, and it’s an interesting question. The added complication I feel is this: American culture is the most powerful cultural influence in the history of mankind. And African Americans BUILT IT! Why should we build this country’s cultural status and power only to let someone steal it and say we were never here?!?!

      It’s not about white validation as much as it is about taking what our forebearers have rightfully built, and DEMANDING that they (and by extension we) receive what is justly ours, which is the power of what we built.

      They want to take our music, our stories, our art, our culture, our beauty and write us out of it, and appropriate the power of all that it generates built for themselves, all the while happily writing us entirely out of the picture. THEN they wanna make awards shows viewed by people all over the world to solidify the lie (that they built this culture, and we had not a damn thing to do with it). It’s bullshit to the highest degree, and an outright theft of our power.

      Thus I understand the desire to take back our throne as the best and only original creators of American art culture. I see nothing wrong with that. It’s a tough position to take, and an exhausting battle to fight, but our ancestors and forebearers deserve at least that much from us.

    • Aria Wilson

      “It’s not about white validation as much as it is about taking what our forebearers have rightfully built, and DEMANDING that they (and by extension we) receive what is justly ours, which is the power of what we built.”

      @Guest1234,

      Agreed. The above sums it up nicely. Thanks for your response.

    • Jo

      @Guest1234 Black people didn’t build American culture. Last time I checked whites invented movies and Hollywood fool. Outside of music and dance blacks have contributed little to American culture.

  • Lauren

    Hit the nail on the head.

  • Afro Scented

    Michael B. Jordan for best actor was the only nomination I could see going to ‘Fruitvale Station.’ But I did feel that the first half of the film tried to “humanize” his character for a white audience (the real victim being someone they would not, and in fact did not, otherwise care about). It was a little too much of a social agenda, as opposed to the bluntness of ’12 Years a Slave’ (minus Brad Pitt as the anticipated white savoir, giving the white liberals in the audience someone other than ‘master’ to actually identify with). This was especially true sitting in a theater knowing that in about 40 more mins the sniffling coming from the white women crying in the corner would become intolerable.

    • simplyme

      I 100% agree. As much as I agree with the author and as much as the true story was heartbreaking I don’t believe the movie really deserved any awards. There was a bit too much pandering with their depiction of him. And the acting overall was not stellar… just one poor actor can ruin a movie. I think the girl who played Sophina did a wonderful job…I cried when she cried.

  • Ain’t got time for all this

    See this is my problem with black critics and the black naysayers sometimes. “12 Years a Slave” had a black screenwriter, black director, great black actors, and black production people. Winning an award means these people can feed their families using their craft. Do you know how hard it is for a Lupita to get a movie? Do you know how hard it is for a black screenwriter to get a script or director to get a film that is not about a black man in drag? It is not about white validation. It is the same thing as me going to my boss and saying you need to give me a raise because I am smart, worthy and better than all the people in this office. That raise can help me send my future kids to college. Not every black person can quit their job and start a business and not depend on the white man. I would be terrible at my own business. Terrible. So stop bashing black people for wanting a piece of the pie. Also, the fact that “12 Years” was about slavery was not a plus for them at all. Do you know how hard it was for them to get $. Only Brad Pitt ended up taking the risk. It is a risk because it is not guaranteed that white people would go see it and a risk because black people would shame it like they did “Color Purple”. ENOUGH! These are black artists who are working their butt off to do something good and this movie was excellent. You will see many films where the subject matter makes you uncomfortable but the point is that great artists are behind it. The Oscars are a tough crowd. There are many white films who deserve the recognition but don’t make the cut. I mean Tom Hanks and Robert Redford were left out of nominations. Leonardo DiCaprio has never won an Oscar for his work. It is a tough crowd and we are making it tougher for black artists if we keep criticizing their work for all white people to see. Stop it. It is not like this movie is Soul Plane people. Also, if you are not ready to fight for a white audience with your art in mainstream America then don’t fight for it but let other black people fight for their right to have their movies seen by all people just like anyone else. Stop limiting them. Otherwise, shell out the money and pay for these black artists to make their films and send their kids to school. Y’all are super trippin’!

  • In honor of Solomon & my ancestors

    Where do people get this idea that white people are comfortable with “12 Years A Slave”? Did none of you see the movie? I can’t think of a greater indictment of white violence against another race of people than that. They are not comfortable. If they were, this movie would have made more money. Only the expected white liberals who were going to go anyway went to see it. You know darn sure half of white Alabama did not and will not see this film. Nothing easy about this film. It was an amazing film and anyone who can do better, raise your hand? Yup, no one.

    • Afro Scented

      It was limited release and did actually make quite a deal of money. I believe it turned a 30 million profit at the box office. This surprised me as I too had assumed it would not (and was not expected to) turn a profit. But to your lager point: white liberals are quite comfortable with the film in large part because of what the author alluded to. They get to celebrate their ‘progress’ ( as in ‘yay, look at me, I don’t hate black people!’). This is in no small part because they are allowed to distance themselves from the uncomfortable brutality on screen via Brad Pitt. The film was brilliant and pretty much followed the book, and McQueen is a genius so I don’t have a problem with it. But I knew exactly how white people were going to react before I even saw it. That’s just how race plays in Hollywood and America at large.

    • In honor of Solomon & my ancestors

      Why bash white Liberals though? If we do, then we are not offering people the opportunity to evolve. White Liberals risked their loves to march with us in Selma and fought with us against Apartheid. It is not fair to assume all of them are doing it out of guilt. We are human at the end and maybe white liberals who appreciated this movie did so because it is a great movie. Believe me I have very annoying White Liberal friends but I also have white friends who are genuine and just good people. To say they like this film out of guilt is to take away from this film’s power, imho.