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Article: "A Seat At The Table": comments on the 2002 Oscars®
By Chris Utley

Copyright Chris Utley, 2002

On March 24, 2002 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, CA, history was made. For the first time in Academy Award® history, two African-American actors won the top acting prizes. Halle Berry won Best Actress for her performance in Monster's Ball and Denzel Washington won Best Actor for his performance in Training Day.

"2 Birds in One Night!!!"

In the words of Sam Cooke, "It's been a long time comin', but I know. A Change Gon' Come..."

OH YES IT HAS!

Of course, there are mixed emotions all around. Some of us are feeling tremendous joy and triumph. Some are feeling not so triumphant because of the roles that Halle and Denzel won their Oscars® for. Some have mistakenly made the assumption that the Oscars® were won BECAUSE of their skin color. Some are also saying that the Black community is making too much out of this. After all, Halle and Denzel didn't win because they were Black. They won because of their performances. The fact that they're Black actors should have little or nothing to do with this.

Some have predicted that this monumental achievement will ultimately lead to a breaking down of doors in Hollywood; which will lead to Black actors and actresses gaining more prestige roles. Some feel that this victory will not have a significant impact for Black actors in Hollywood.

I have no answer. I don't know how it's gonna impact the future. I don't know if this will mean we're going to see multiracial Oscar® competitions in the future. I don't know if this means that higher quality Black films will be greenlit and lesser quality Black films (hood movie shoot 'em ups, hip-hop flavored comedies, etc.) will (finally!) be laid to rest. But I do know this...

IT SURE FEELS DAMN GOOD TO FINALLY HAVE A SEAT AT THE TABLE!

And we have every right to celebrate, too! After years of struggle, labor, blood, sweat and tears in Hollywood, we have achieved that great place of honor. Those "nameless, faceless women (and men) of color" can now look down from Heaven and rest, for their labor has not been in vain. We finally have a place of honor at the table. Somewhere in Heaven, Oscar Micheaux is dancing and Dr. King is smiling. We have our place at the table. Somewhere on earth, Melvin Van Pebbles is raising his fist with pride. Two days later, Sidney Poitier is probably still beaming. Maybe even Spike Lee woke up Monday morning a little less angry. We finally get to sit at the table. The new standard has been set. The bar has been raised a little higher. Halle and Denzel have achieved the highest honor. Finally. The Brothers and Sisters have come to the table...

...Which, if you get right down to it, is all we've wanted as a people in the first place.

Not to dominate. Not to separate. Not even solely to integrate. But to sit at America's table of honor with pride. That's why Lena and Sidney and Malcolm and Martin kept on pushing. That's why we endured slavery, grandfather clauses and the Civil Rights movement. That's why our grandmothers cried and grandfathers died. It was never about being "the man" or beating "the man." All we ever wanted, to paraphrase the late, great Robin Harris, was to be "the man...sitting next to the man!"

Now when they mention Newman, Redford, Cruise, Mel and Hanks, they HAVE to mention Denzel! When they talk about Julia and Meryl Streep and Katherine Hepburn, now they have to mention Halle! For the rest of their lives, when we see their faces in a movie trailer, we shall hear the announcer say "Academy Award® Winner Denzel Washington. Academy Award® Winner Halle Berry." And pride and dignity shall swell in our hearts.

Halle was right...it is so much bigger than her. It's about standing tall. Shoulder to shoulder. Face to face.

Let us rejoice. Let us cry. Let us celebrate. It's come down to this moment. This proud and shining moment. Thank you God for allowing The Academy the chance to honor us. At last, we get to have A Seat At The Table.


-Chris Utley (christopher.utley@phs.com)



More "Beyond The Screen" articles by Chris Utley


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