This Sunday, Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. The African-American community has a vested interest in this year’s awards race with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer up for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their roles as domestic workers in the period drama The Help.
As tough as it is for a black actor or actress to make the Oscar short list, it’s even harder to walk away with the golden statuette. In the Academy’s history, only 11 awards have been given to black actors – not so surprising when you consider that 94% Oscar-voting members are white, and 77% of them male.
Below are a list of 8 stellar performances in black film that went unrewarded or unnoticed.
Angela Bassett & Laurence Fishburne: “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
This 1993 biopic based on the turbulent life of Ike and Tina Turner easily showcased the best performances that year. Angela Bassett brought the iconic singer to life, and even whipped her body into tip-top shape to match Tina’s killer physique. Fishburne brought the pain (literally) and didn’t hold back in displaying Ike’s despicable ways. The two electrified every scene they were in, but the Academy clearly wasn’t interested. Best Actress honors would go Holly Hunter playing a mute in The Piano and Tom Hanks swooped in for Best Actor as an AIDS-infected lawyer for Philadelphia.
Denzel Washington: “Malcolm X” and “The Hurricane”
You would be hard pressed to find anyone on the planet who doesn’t think Denzel Washington is one of the best – if not the best – actor of our generation. So it boggles the mind that the talented thespian only has 2 Oscar wins under his belt. In 1992, Washington teamed up with director Spike Lee for the epic biopic Malcolm X. Washington perfectly nailed his portrayal of the charismatic civil rights leader and public opinion was that Washington was a sure pick for Best Actor that year. Jaws literally dropped the night of the Oscar telecast when Al Pacino won for playing a blind war vet in the sappy Scent of A Woman. The Academy would snub Washington again 7 years later when his performance in The Hurricane would be usurped by Kevin Spacey for American Beauty.
Djimon Hounsou: “Blood Diamond”
The model-turned-actor gave a raw and moving performance in 1997 as the leader of a group of escaped slaves in Amistad. In 2006, Hounsou starred opposite Leonardio DiCaprio in the political thriller Blood Diamond. What could have been a big budget PSA on the moral wrongs of the African diamond trade was elevated by Hounsou’s gripping performance. He was the heart and soul of the movie, as a man desperate to save his family. While Hounsou got a Best Supporting actor nod, the Oscar would go to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine.
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