Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Steve McQueen, Sarah Paulson and Michael Fassbender. Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The disappointment online was palpable. High-profile African Americans revealed their increasing displeasure on Twitter throughout the evening. MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid tweeted “@TheReidReport If the mark of a great film is that it demands that you never, ever forget it, 12 Years a Slave should have swept tonight. #GoldenGlobes”
So if 12 Years a Slave ultimately won the night’s major award, is there a legitimate reason for critics of color, and others, to be concerned?
In a word: absolutely.
While many have argued that 2013 turned out to be one of the strongest years for leading men in recent memory, with a number of compelling best actor performances across the spectrum, there is not a self-respecting critic on the planet who would pretend that Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in American Hustle and Lupita Nyong’o’s performance were in the same league.
Furthermore, having seen both films (and being personally partial to crime capers) I must say that the fact that American Hustle is being positioned as on par with 12 Years a Slaveis, to put it mildly, perplexing. One is moderately entertaining. The other is cinematically extraordinary. One will be remembered as an important work 20 years from now. The other may not be remembered at all.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t consider 12 Years a Slave easy to watch, or the definition of a fun night out. But it is a masterpiece. For that reason, I hope Anna Holmes, founder of the women’s site Jezebel, ends up being right.
Of course it is worth noting that the Golden Globes are not always a crystal ball when it comes to foreshadowing Oscar winners. But after the Globes’ outcomes, I can’t help bracing myself for a repeat of 1986. That was the year that The Color Purplewas nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and failed to win any.
Of course, in 1986, the Academy didn’t have to worry about the wrath of social media, or more specifically the wrath of black Twitter. As Jamelle Bouie of the Daily Beast tweeted after 12 Years a Slave was named best motion picture: @jbouie “And the Hollywood Foreign Press breathes a quiet sigh as it narrowly escapes the wrath of#blacktwitter.”
But some, including radio host Al Butler, wondered aloud if sometimes we as African Americans get too upset about the wrong things, tweeting, @ALBDamn “Before y’all start, I loved #12YearsASlave and I’m not shading the movie, just how we sometimes overreact to certain achievements #Obama.”
He’s right that a race for best picture may not be as important as a race for the presidency, but part of why President Obama was able to win the presidency in the first place was because how black Americans were depicted in media had evolved enough so that certain white Americans, who may have once been afraid to vote for someone who looked like Obama, no longer were.
As managing editor of The Root Lyne Pitts concluded following the Golden Globes ceremony, “If we keep looking to the mainstream for our validation we will continue to be disappointed.”
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