/ 8 March 2023

Age is proving to be just a number as black excellence prevails in film

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 26: (EDITOR’S NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white. Color version is available.) Ariana DeBose attends the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on February 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/FilmMagic)

The wind of change has been blowing in favour black actors in Hollywood.  

It was just seven years ago when the Twitter campaign #OscarsSoWhite was trending, igniting conversations on inclusivity and calling for more people of colour to receive recognition in an industry that’s plagued by racism. 

What sparked the social uproar was not a single black actor was nominated for an Oscar at the 2016 award ceremony even though the likes of  Micheal B Jordan in Creed and Corey Hawkins in Straight Out Of Compton had both delivered stellar performances. 

Despite only four black actors being nominated for the Oscars in 2022 as opposed to nine in 2021, it would be remiss to not not point that out. It’s a stride in the right direction nonetheless.

The four nominees in 2022 were Denzel Washintong, Will Smith, Ariana DeBose and Aunjanue Ellis. Two women, two men. Now that’s what we call equality. Never mind the Oscars’ sorry excuse for representation, one interesting trend is the growing recognition of older women of colour in the film industry.  

Aunjanue Ellis was 53 when she received her first nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in Motion Picture for her portrayal of tennis legends Venus and Serena William’s mother, Oracene “Brandy” Price, in the film King Richard. 

In an interview with Variety the actress said many people in the industry had been observing her career and her accomplishments.   

“I think people have been watching my professional life for a long time and witnessing the heartbreaks that I thought were kind of my own. But I think there were people who wanted things to happen for me,” Ellis said.

And she’s not the only more seasoned artist of colour in film that’s been gaining attention and recognition over the past few years. Viola Davis had people in tears when she accepted a Best Supporting Actress award at the 89th Oscars in 2017.

It was for her role in the movie Fences, in which she plays Rose Lee Maxson, a compassionate African American woman well-known in her community for caring for older people and mentoring young women.  

Sporting a red dress and a pixie cut, the actress thanked her family and industry colleagues when she received the award.  

“There’s one place where all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, ‘what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola’? And I say, ‘exhume those bodies, exhume those stories’. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams come to fruition. Those that fell in love and lost. I became an artist and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life,” says an emotional Davis. 

Although not the first black female performer to win an Oscar, that was Hattie McDaniel in 1939 for her role as Mammy, in Gone With the Wind for Best Supporting Actress. But, at the age of 52, Davis became the first black actress to hold the Triple Crown of Acting for having a Tony, Oscar and Emmy award. Need I say black girl magic at its finest. And now she’s an EGOT after winning a Grammy for The Woman King

There’s also no conversation about mature black actresses in Hollywood in which Angela Bassett’s name is not heard. Her career dates back to the 1980s, when she appeared in small roles on The Cosby Show and Spencer For Hire. She was in her late twenties during that time but it wouldn’t be until the 1990s when her acting career really took off.

She appeared in films like Waiting To Exhale, Malcolm X, What’s Love Got To Do With It  and The Rosa Parks Story in the 2000s. The list could go on and so could her accolades.  

The actress, now 64, has been receiving major acknowledgment in Hollywood in recent years for her character Romonda, the queen mother, in Marvel’s superhero movie, Black Panther, in 2018 and the sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever released in 2022.     

Bassett took home a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for the second Black Panther film in 2022 and a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2019 for Outstanding Performance By a Cast in a Motion Picture for the first film. 

She’s also become the first actress to be nominated for a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at this year’s Oscars. Bassett could be taking home a Best Supporting Actress accolade for her role as Ramonda in the film.    

Speaking to Gayle King on CBS Mornings, Bassett said she was moved by the reception she received for her role in the movie and her nomination. 

“Queen Ramonda for me at its core is a representation of the strong women that I’ve had in my life, who’ve raised me.Of the strong women I see, my love for them, my appreciation of them,” Bassett said.  

It’s been roughly 29 years since the actress was nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for What’s Love Got To Do With It? in the best actress category. 

These black women are only a few seasoned performers who have demonstrated longevity, talent, perseverance and consistency in an industry that struggles to make room for black excellence.