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Michelle Rodriguez: Black Actors must be “Trashy and Black” to get an Oscar

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When thinking down the line of Hollywood actresses of color who’ve made an indelible impact on current films, Michelle Rodriguez probably doesn’t register on anybody’s radar; at least not enough so, that she’d be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So when Vulture caught up with the actress at an amfAR event at Cannes this past week, the actress had just come from a screening of the controversial Lee Daniels directed film, The Paperboy— (which has been garnering unfavorable reviews by critics) — and expressed her appreciation for the film…

“I say fuck them because they don’t get it”, the actress opined. “He’s so good at keeping me entertained. When I don’t like the dialogue, I’m amused by the visuals. And when I don’t like the visuals, I’m amused by the dialogue. It’s always switching up senses. I’m intrigued by his ability to capture me in a theater. It’s not easy to capture me in a theater — I’m ADD like that.”

When prodded about a scene in which Nicole Kidman apparently pees on actor Zac Efron  to soothe a jellyfish sting, Michelle waxed philosophical about the politics surrounding Black actresses and actors who’ve been nominated for and/or won film awards…

“I fucking loved it. One of my friends said, ‘She’s going to get nominated for an Oscar for that.’ I was like, ‘Nah, man. She’s not black!’ I laugh, but it’s also very sad. It makes me want to cry. But I really believe. You have to be trashy and black to get nominated. You can’t just be trashy.”  (Source)

It didn’t take long for Michelle’s public gaffe to start circulating those Black pockets of the social media realm.  Re-tweeted and re-posted on Twitter and Facebook, Black bloggers and pop-culture critics were not amused and immediately took offense; but doesn’t Michelle Rodriguez present a very good point about the worth of Black actors and actresses (or anyone in that industry, of color)  in Hollywood? As a woman of color, navigating the landscape of the Hollywood machine, Michelle herself has been typecast since making her debut in Girlfight, whether she’d be inclined to agree with that very obvious point or not, so on some level perhaps she speaks a very honest (albeit it an unfiltered and somewhat tactless) truth.

Consider some of the voices of displeasure when Octavia Spencer nabbed an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role (playing a sassy domestic) in The Help. And most of us couldn’t even fathom Viola Davis emphatically defending having played a maid in the same movie.  Some of our sistren and brethren still harbor the bitter aftertaste Halle Berry’s 2002 Oscar win  for her turn in Monster’s Ball left in our mouths… the same evening Denzel  won for playing a corrupt and unscrupulous police officer in Training Day, to which he quipped, “Two birds in one night, huh?” during his acceptance speech. Box office numbers for movies that are  rife with racial and/or ethnic stereotypes don’t lie… because ofttimes, we’re the ones rushing out to the theaters to see them. We aren’t running out in droves to see highly nuanced and thought-provoking films about us, written and directed by us.

Michelle Rodriguez

In a sometimes tense Black social media sphere, where certain ones us hurl accusatory epithets like Mammy, Ghetto Queen,  Sapphire and thug towards entertainers who portray such roles, directors (both Black and non-Black, who help steer actors in those roles), and towards everyday people who don’t convey modes of behavior befitting the ideals and expectations of an upwardly mobile person of color; I get and understand the exasperation and desire to see better images of ourselves on the big screen and to see better behavior modeled by some folks in our community.  So in essence, isn’t Michelle Rodriguez mimicking a truth we often voice out loud about ourselves?  One commenter who actually agreed with Michelle’s assessment, wrote on Facebook…

The “black and trashy” are the most recognized and talked about which tends to silence all the valuing nominations into the backdrop or a footnote. What she speaks of are not absolutes but are of the most resonating nominations.”

What say you? Is Michelle Rodriguez’s comment about rewards for “Black and Trashy” roles a dig at Black actors or a critique of Hollywood’s perpetuation of racial stereotypes?

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Written by:

Published on: May 31, 2012

Filled Under: Culture, Entertainment, Race, Uncategorized

Views: 1884

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  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

    Of course Michelle is right. What most people don’t know is that the majority of Academy members are White men over the age of 60. So as you might expect there are certain ways they like to see Black people on film.

    Those 60+ year old White men like to see Black people as servants, whores, thugs or being saved by good White people. If you want an Oscar then make your film or roles fit those models,

    • http://twitter.com/Coffey0072 Coffey

       @Val:disqus ,

      As I read other perspectives about what Michelle said, I went from totally agreeing to what she said, to being on the fence about it due to her delivery and intent.

      Some folks suggested that she didn’t say it in the spirit of solidarity, and was just speaking haphazardly into the wind, not really intending to be political… and in some respects, those are valid points. However, Michelle isn’t really known for being an especially articulate celebrity or as an advocate for human interest issues (not to my knowledge anyway). She did commiserate over Hollywood’s knack for relegating Black actors to and then lauding stereotypically racist roles… saying it made her want to “cry”, so perhaps she was critiquing how Hollywood and the Academy treats and rewards its Black actors, and not Black actors who’ve won awards for playing those roles, themselves.

      I *will* say with certainty that I wish she were a little more concise with her comment, and while she may not have meant it in the spirit of solidarity with Black actors, I can’t totally disregard what she said, since it holds some merit of truth and since many of US have complained about the same, exact thing.

      I also can’t disregard the fact that she *loved* “The Paperboy”, which is directed by Lee Daniels and she seems to respect his work. But Lee Daniels is also known for framing his Black characters (especially the women) in an unfavorable light. I mean, he did produce and direct “Precious” and Monique won an Oscar for that role… and that too was considered to be “Black and Trashy”, so I’d be curious to see how she’d address that aspect of Lee’s work.

  • http://www.depravedmindset.com jujube

    I read it to be saying that it is not considered “laudable” or even “acceptable” for a white actress to play a trashy character, and therefore a portrayal of “white trash” will not garner positive attention from the Academy, while it is considered “normal”, “realistic’ and even “heroic” for a Black actor/actress to play a character that is dysfunctional, and thus awards are given for negative portrayals of Black people, but not of whites.

    • http://twitter.com/Coffey0072 Coffey

      The most recent instance (that I can think of), where a White actress was rewarded for her portrayal of a dysfunctional,”white trash” character, was Charlize Theron’s role in “Monster” and even *still* that was a biopic  about someone’s life and it was considered to be a highly complex role. Charlize’s depiction of Aileen Wuornos “humanized” the serial killer, according to some critics.

      Unfortunately, even when awarded, Black actresses and actors don’t get empathy, per se, for playing those sorts of damaged roles (fictional or non-fictional character); as much as they just reinforce stereotypes for most film-goers (and the people who continue to crank out these sorts of one-dimensional, monolithic characters). It’s never as simple as “humanizing” a  dysfunctional character… i.e. Gabourey Sidibe’s protrayal of Precious Jones in “Precious”, because folks are *still* smarting from that visual and story of abuse and it makes me wonder if it’s because seeing someone who was overweight with dark skin unsettled folks.

      I’m also left wondering if Lee Daniels took an exploitative approach to directing the movie. I notice he trots out every horrible trope about Black women, in the movies I’ve seen of his. I read the book “PUSH”, and so was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed and … cheated… by the film’s rendition… particularly since Daniels made one of the film’s heroines, someone with lighter-skin(when in fact, she was darker, w/ deadlocks, in the book… but I digress).

      Black actors don’t get that type of praise, when playing those sorts of characters. So I agree about the awards being given for the *ability* to portray and bring to life gritty and negative tropes and stereotypes about Black folks, than it is for humanizing or presenting a complex character.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s a two-way street. Yeah, it’s a problem that we’re typecast into these rather monolithic roles, but at the same time, in some cases, I feel as though we tend to censor the kind of images we want to see. A story set in Antebellum/Jim Crow South in a lily white neighborhood is obviously going to touch on certain kinds of imagery indicative of that social era. My only real problem with The Help was how historically inaccurate and sanitized it was in some cases; not to forget it being based on the lives of actual Black maids who in this case were grossly exploited by the author.

    I think the bigger problem comes in overall representation beyond the roles actors of color are playing, especially if you’re not a big name actor. If it’s not a comedy, it’s a melodramatic film, historical film, or in other cases, a low budget action film. In some cases, it’s tolerable, but in others, I feel there’s such an oversaturation of the image that it’s now become customary to write these roles for us, even among our own writers and directors. There’s a need for the gritty side most certainly, but there’s a point – as she suggests in her criticism – when we have to realize that it’s past time for depictions that don’t constantly put our race or some exaggerated social issue at the forefront. When that’s the limit, we’re just playing into the white gaze.

    • http://twitter.com/Coffey0072 Coffey

       All of this! -> “I feel there’s such an oversaturation of the image that it’s now become
      customary to write these roles for us, even among our own writers and
      directors. There’s a need for the gritty side most certainly, but
      there’s a point – as she suggests in her criticism – when we have to
      realize that it’s past time for depictions that don’t constantly put our
      race or some exaggerated social issue at the forefront.”

      –Great insight @Mwatuanghi:disqus.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks. I’m just tired of every other Oscar-winning Black film, director, actor, etc. centering around some major social issue or “edgy” portrayal.  When is our Inception coming? 

  • http://www.tracyreneejones.com Tracy Renee Jones

    Oh, look…the old gang is all here……

    I don’t know what to say, Jersey City residents’s (as Michelle is..) aren’t known to be so filtered,. 
    See, a mother fucka like me understood what she was saying. Hollywood don’t give a fuck about blacks unless we pimping, or hoeing and shuffling, which is THEIR realistic depiction of us. Chile, bye…Fuck the Academy Awards, son. 

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I’m dropping by!

  • Reggie

    It would seem that Michelle has a point.  It would be nice to have one of us get an Oscar when we weren’t in the role of a domestic or a hoochie.  Still, I’m glad that those that have gotten them got them.  It’s better than the alternative.

  • Fellini

    They’re all in it together. The roles that are offered are offensive and yet the actor accepts those roles because they they want to “make” it at any cost. Even if it’s dehumanizing. And we the people of color go to the theaters in droves to see those movies. We are all to blame.