White Night, Black Lives

The latest Oscars ceremony has seen an increase in pro-diversity statements and emphasized the creativity of the paths of actors who are … white.

Ok, I will admit, in spite of everything, I watched the Oscars ceremony, whose nominees were all white, counting on the Hollywood spirit of second chances. I was glad that I did (despite the time, from 2 to 6 a.m.) because of an unbridled Chris Rock, who spoke about the “white people’s choice awards” in his introductory speech, as well as about the real problem: Beyond the nominations and prizes, there is only a small number of major roles and relevant films for black actors; there is inequality in terms of the opportunities out there. [For example], after his triumph in “Ray,” how many interesting characters have there been for the talented Jamie Foxx to play? But that wasn’t the end of it; while we could fear that the matter had been sorted out in the introduction and then swept under the carpet, the evening saw an increase in pro-diversity declarations (including from the president of the academy) and numerous, sometimes brutal, parodies: Whoopi Goldberg sweeping up in the background of a scene with Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy,” the bosses at NASA hesitating about paying to bring a black astronaut back from Mars, Chris Rock interviewing the inhabitants of Compton on the outskirts of Los Angeles about their favorite films, which had nothing to do with the films selected at the Oscars.

And what a pleasure to see “Mad Max” (George Miller), the biggest film of 2015, stealing all kinds of prizes, especially best costume, awarded to a perfect hippie who traumatized the public. And although it was not a race issue, it was also a shame that Charlize Theron was not even nominated for best actress as the one-armed bandit Imperator Furiosa.

What is touching amongst the glamour parade at the Oscars is contemplating the career path of stars like Mark Ruffalo, who was great in “Spotlight” but also in “13 Going on 30”; Jennifer Garner in J.J. Abrams’ series “Alias” to “Dallas Buyers Club”; or Christian Bale, from “Batman” to films by Malick and “The Big Short.” For all these actors, from Jennifer Lawrence, already rewarded for an incredible variety of roles, to Tom Hanks, who was once again magnificent in “Bridge of Spies,” the sum of their characters, whether lead or supporting roles, creates a specific entity. In addition to their voice, their way of being, their expressivity, it’s this “persona” made up of the whole of their previous and future incarnations. Stanley Cavell notes that “the actor is the subject of the camera, emphasizing that this actor could (have) become other characters (that is, emphasizing the potentiality in human existence, the self’s journeying) as opposed to theater’s emphasizing that this character could (will) accept other actors.” It is this entity that we could call ethos, which makes us feel attached to the actors, which constitutes their work; the smallest role is just as important as those of director and writers, except for women who have always been able to excel in this field. Well-known black actors do not always have this possibility, the exceptions being without any doubt Laurence Fishburne and, of course, Morgan Freeman, who was symbolically chosen to close Sunday’s ceremony.

Of course, we are very happy that Leonardo [DiCaprio] has won an Oscar, for his fifth nomination, but fortunately, it is for this trajectory, this Leo entity, a mysterious union of ease and obscurity, from “Romeo & Juliet” and “Titanic” to “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “The Great Gatsby” — and not for his latest performance (that’s the word) in Iñárritu’s nature porn flick. This creativity of the flowing of stars and their capacity for “wearing” different personalities, which are visible on such occasions, includes series. These explore quite systematically the actors’ quality to make their past and future roles appear on the screen: “Dexter” would not be the same without “Six Feet Under,” nor “How I Met Your Mother” without “Buffy,” nor “The Affair” without “The Wire.” “American Crime,” a particularly remarkable series by John Ridley (and it’s on ABC, not even on cable, enabling us to reconcile elitism and what is mainstream) uses this power in a radical way: It’s an “anthology” series, like “True Detective,” i.e. with a new plot, setting and characters each season; however, “American Crime,” following a similar principle to that of the series for teenagers “American Horror Story,” takes the same actors and places them in a new situation as new characters. In Season 2, Felicity Huffman, Regina King, Timothy Hutton and Richard Cabral find themselves in a completely different social standing from Season 1. This device, which creates reflexivity in each character, enables explorations of class and race in all their toughness and asks the viewers to engage with this, making them directly aware of the plurality of points of view, such as the intolerable arbitrariness of racial segregation, which underlies the Hollywood controversies: “Black Lives Matter,” Chris Rock ironically reminded us at the end of the Oscars.

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