Oscars Optics

Rating: NNNNNdenzel washington and halle Berry -- glorious to watch, but what does it mean?It means America still has a.

Rating: NNNNN

denzel washington and halle Berry — glorious to watch, but what does it mean?

It means America still has a long way to go. We’re still living in the era of black firsts, and we’ll go to our graves that way.

It means that for the 74 years they’ve been handing out Academy Awards, there hasn’t been enough interest in writing black characters, enough courage to cast black, enough money to back black stories, enough opportunity for black people to get the training and experience to become the actors to take those roles.

And even if all that were in place, we’d still need enough marketing money and clout to mount successful Oscar campaigns, and enough Academy voters willing and able to recognize their work. At one time or another, each step has been blocked.

What does Denzel-and-Halle mean? It means the world still has a long way to go, too, because the resistance to black faces in global markets determines what movies African-American stars get to make.

And, this year, it means the competition wasn’t attractive enough. The field was mostly actors who’d already won Oscars (Sissy Spacek), or aren’t well liked (Sean Penn), or are foreigners (Judi Dench), or are foreigners who aren’t well liked and have already won Oscars. Like Russell Crowe.

Denzel, meanwhile, has become effortlessly regal. Even when he plays a brutal, scheming monster, he still comes off as an American prince. That’s the problem with his performance in Training Day, but it’s also what endears him to the Academy.

And Halle, in the run-up to the awards, embodied an irresistible mix of grit and gratitude. She gave a strong performance in Monster’s Ball and she wanted it so badly. How could you not give it to her?

But above all, what Denzel-and-Halle means is that America wants to be whole now, and African-American entertainers are among its chief redeemers. Monday through Friday it’s Oprah. At the Grammys last month it was Alicia Keys.

And on Sunday night, Sidney Poitier, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington.

There’s a trace of September 11 in this year’s Oscar wins. It’s a return of entertainment-industry liberalism, the voice that says, “We’re all Americans.” Hollywood has to show the world — and the terrorists — that the U.S. is a fair, democratic, good country where every gorgeous, talented, grateful entertainer has an equal shot at winning the big prize, even if she or he is black. We have to heal.

But in America, healing is another word for circling the wagons.


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