A remake of Harry Lennix’s column asking Will Smith to return his Oscar

Will Smith receives the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “King Richard” on stage during the 94th Annual Oscars at the Dolby Theater on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views are the author’s own. Read more opinions at Grio.

On Sunday, actor Harry Lennix wrote a guest column in Variety titled “Will Smith must return his Oscar to restore the award’s honor.” In the play, Lennix, a black actor himself, suggested that Smith send his best male trophy back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to “redeem the integrity” of the Oscars as a result of beating Chris Rock.

Lennix, a longtime member of the Academy, expressed in the column his dissatisfaction with Smith attacking Rock at the 94th Academy Awards. He took issue with the fact that Smith used God to rationalize the attack on Rock during his acceptance speech, and the Academy banned Smith for 10 years, which he called a “toothless” response.

Will Smith receives the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “King Richard” on stage during the 94th Annual Oscars at the Dolby Theater on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)

In the end, Lennix stated that Smith put a “stain” on the Academy and Oscars, and he had to return his award. He even wrote a false statement that Smith would have to offer if he sent his trophy back to the academy: “Out of respect for the 94 years of honor awarded to this award, I do not feel in good conscience worthy of being its guardian. “

Lennix’s rhetoric about the integrity of the Oscars is what stands out more than anything else. Lennix wrote that Smith’s slap deprived the Oscars of its “honor,” “grace,” and “prestige.” But does that price justify being put on this pedestal, given so much negative history around it?

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How could Smith have dyed something that was already stained? The integrity of the trophy was compromised long before Smith asked Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth.

The Oscars have not been an institution that has embraced the work and input of black filmmakers in general – or actors in particular. In its 94-year history, only six blacks have won best male lead or actress: Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker and Smith.

Overall, only 20 black actors in total have won Oscars throughout its history. The former, as well as Lou Gossett Jr., Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Monique, Hattie McDaniel, Mahershala Ali, Whoopi Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Hudson, Lupita Nyong’o, Regina King, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Daniel Kaluuya.

The fact that two white pre-teen girls (Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin) won Oscars before a black woman won best female lead speaks a lot. Is this the academy that Lennix is ​​trying to protect?

94th Annual Oscars - Show
Will Smith appears to slam Chris Rock on stage during the 94th annual Oscars at the Dolby Theater on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)

By 2020, only 19 percent of Oscar voters were colored, and 33 percent were women. This is despite the efforts the Academy has made to strengthen the diversity of its membership since the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016. Even with so many new additions, the Academy is still predominantly white and masculine.

It is no wonder that so many films that the Academy bothers to recognize, with stories of blacks and blacks, have found them in unpleasant surroundings. Lennix himself once spoke against Lee Daniels’ Butler in 2013, it called “historical porn” and said Daniel’s “ni ** erfieer” the original book, giving audiences “stupid, luddite, antediluvian ideas about black people.”

While Butleren was rejected at the Oscars in 2014, The Academy has chosen to celebrate black films and performances that are not so unlike it. Zero Black filmmakers have won Best Director, and the six directors who have been nominated were for films that were distinctly about racism or black adversity.

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Since the Oscars have mainly paid attention to black films that focus on blackness, when white films do not have to deal with whiteness, does that not detract from the integrity of the award?

Let us now talk about the ceremony itself and some of the disturbing acts it has witnessed. The story of McDaniel, the first African-American Oscar winner who was unable to attend the ceremony, and that she had her speech of thanks written to her, is as infamous as it is tragic. Did it not remove the integrity of the price?

Lennix wrote that Smith’s return of his Oscar is the “only hope of a justified grace”, after his slap put a “stain” on the Academy and the award. Well, how did he feel when Adrian Brody kissed Halle Berry without permission at the 2003 Academy Awards, when he won Best Male Lead for Pianists? Was it an act of mercy or an act of abuse? If Brody did it on the street or in a restaurant, would it have been sweet or intrusive and disrespectful?

One glaring problem Lennix has with Smith’s “serious moral failure” is that King Richard actor used God to rationalize his actions. Although Smith’s actions were in fact “purely human”, what would he call the answer to Sacheen Littlefeather’s presence at the 1973 Oscars?

Marlon Brando won his second Oscar for his role in The Godfather, and deserved it. Instead of basking in the glory of his victory among Hollywood’s elites, he sent activist Littlefeather, in full regalia of his Native American dress, to explain that he would not accept the price of protest.

This was a selfless act, a small sacrifice as an attempt to draw attention to a crisis that afflicted deselected Indians. Was it applauded? None.

Actor and Oscar winner John Wayne was so determined to physically remove Littlefeather from the stage that he had to be restrained by force. Not to be outdone, Oscar winner Clint Eastwood made a thinly veiled joke at Littlefeather’s expense immediately after her departure: “I do not know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys who have been shot in all of John Ford’s westerns over the years. . “

Lennix said that up until the slap in the face, much of the 94th Oscar case was “often profane.” What is more profane than two white male actors who gained their fame by recreating violence and humiliating Indians on the big screen, only to do so again in real life on Hollywood’s biggest night? Where was the honor that night?

Just a year ago, the Academy replaced Best Picture as the evening’s final award with Best Male Lead. The world expected this to be a step to highlight the late Chadwick Boseman as we waited to see him win best male posthumously for Ma Rainey’s black bottom. But he did not win. Anthony Hopkins did.

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Boseman won both the Screen Actors Guild Award and the Golden Globe for his role. Over the past 30 years, 24 out of the 30 men who won the Golden Globe for best male lead won it later at the Oscars the same year. Why would they change that award to hold on after years of best film if Boseman would not win? If it was meant as a wrong or a passive-aggressive practical joke, it was far more offensive than Rocks GI Jane joke.

Many believe – whether or not Smith was entitled to beat Rock to defend his wife – that during a television ceremony it was not the place to do so. But why would Smith have to return his Oscar to restore its integrity when so many events have already sucked it out? If Harvey Weinstein, a convicted sexual predator, gets to keep his, why not Smith?

This is not gaslighting or what-with-ism in an attempt to divert attention from Smith’s actions. Given all this history of what the academy has allowed over the years, shouldn’t the 94th Academy Awards actually be due for a moment like this?

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