The best aspect about America is its egalitarianism. The country respects and rewards the talented and the sincere. And despite serious racial issues, we saw America electing a black President, creating history.
And as Hollywood runs up to the Academy Awards on March 2, one of the questions is, will Steve McQueen be the first black director to win the Oscar. Interestingly, his 12 Years A Slave is all about the struggle of one black man to escape humiliating captivity he faces in the white man’s den.
At the moment, McQueen – though with an emotionally engaging film behind him – is not the favourite to walk away with the best director statuette. But if he does, he would be the first black helmer to actually clinch this Oscar, although there have been two other black directors who were nominated in the past. One of them was John Singleton for the 1992 Boyz n the Hood, and the other was Lee Daniels in 2009 for Precious.
McQueen’s win could be as historic as Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 triumph with The Hurt Locker. She was the first woman director to have won the best director Oscar.
In a way, McQueen’s nomination comes in a year when black moviemakers have done exceedingly well. Fruitvale Station – about a real incident where a black teenager was killed by the police in Oakland -- got the big prize at the Sundance Film Festival. And works like 42 (the black baseball player, Jackie Robinson biopic) and The Butler (probing the African American role in U.S. history) have been, along with 12 Years A Slave, lauded by critics.
On top of this, Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been talking about lack of diversity in the race for the Oscars.
Curiously, while black American helmers have done poorly, black actors have fared very well.
Hattie McDaniel was the first black actor to win an Oscar in a supporting role way back in 1939 for Gone with the Wind – that brilliant movie on the American Civil War adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s only novel.
During the 1960s, Sidney Poitier took the best actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field. He was remarkable as a handyman helping some nuns to raise a chapel in a desert. Black actors, however, had to wait 40 long years before the Oscar went to Denzel Washington – Training Day in 2001. That year came as double whammy for black artists. Halle Berry became the first black to win the best actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball.
More recently, the likes of Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and Viola Davis have been nominated for Academy Awards, and have won in some cases.
But no Oscar has ever rolled on to a black producer’s lap. Ditto, a black director. Will McQueen change this by beating his rivals?