Samuel L. Jackson, one of the greatest actors of his generation, as reported at Mediaite last night:
“I voted for Barack because he was black,” Jackson revealed. “‘Cuz that’s why other folks vote for other people — because they look like them.”
“That’s American politics, pure and simple,” Jackson added. “[Obama’s] message didn’t mean sh*t to me. In the end, he’s a politician. I just hoped he would do some of what he said he was gonna do. I know politicians say sh*t; they lie. ’Cuz they want to get elected.”
This reminded me of Touré’s broadside in Time a week and a half ago in which his headline asked, “Is The Help the Most Loathsome Movie in America?” He concluded his vicious hit job against my wife’s favorite film of the year by advocating for Viola Davis to receive the Best Actress Oscar even though he believes her performance does not deserve it:
Many are rooting for Davis to win Best Actress while rooting against The Help for other major awards, an interesting bit of intellectual Twister. It’s hard to divorce the two. But you can: you don’t win an Oscar just for your performance in a film. Academy Awards are not purely meritocratic: they reflect on your body of work and popularity in Hollywood as well as the role in question. I found Spencer’s performance to be impressive, as it showed great subtlety and range. She leaped from a quiet demeanor to electrified while striking back at the empire to sweetly overwhelmed when her character is finally treated humanely. But Davis is another issue. Her career has been strong, her talent is immense, and she plays a courageous character — but the role of Aibileen does not give her much of a chance to turn in an extraordinary performance. In the movie’s final scene, she rises to the occasion with dignified defiance toward evil women and then quickly pivots to show melancholic tenderness to a child. Yet for most of the film, she’s in an emotional straitjacket, giving us understated dignity while doing the classic black actor’s segregation dance: stiff demeanor, quiet voice, body and mind, always nonthreatening. Davis is given less of a chance to make an acting transformation than Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady or Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn. In The Help, Davis shows less emotional range than Spencer and evinces less acting power than she did in her brief but awesome part in Doubt. Davis is one of Hollywood’s best actresses, but this is not a superlative Davis performance. Still, I can’t help but root for the sister.
A large part of the Oscar exercise is about Hollywood’s selling itself to the world. The major acting awards can anoint new superstars, moving people from stars (or barely knowns) into the firmament. The Best Actress race is truly Davis vs. Streep, and to give another Oscar to Streep would only reaffirm what everyone already knows: that she is one of the greatest actresses of all time. To give the Oscar to Davis would transform her career and, to some extent, transform Hollywood by creating a new superstar. And that’s good for business. A vote for Streep is a vote for the status quo. A vote for Davis is a vote for a changed future. Wouldn’t that be something, if Davis played a maid and ended up changing the world — of Hollywood?
Oh if only it were so simple to change the world. Elect someone president. Give an actress an award.
Here’s the problem: we’ve already tried this before and it doesn’t work.
(I’m tired of conservatives always reflexively arguing the moral case first in seemingly everything, as though that might actually be effective at changing anyone’s immoral mind. This post is not going to be dedicated to pointing out the obvious racism and immorality of Jackson and Touré’s statement. Instead, let’s just lay the facts on the table: affirmative action in any field, in any form, DOES NOT ACTUALLY IMPROVE THE LIVES OF THOSE IT IS INTENDED TO HELP.)
One obvious name does not appear in Touré’s article: Halle Berry, the first black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress. Did Berry receiving the Oscar change anything? When she won it for 2001’s Monster’s Ball she was already by any definition “a new superstar.” The previous year she played Storm in the first X-Men movie and that same year she co-starred with John Travolta in the action-thriller Swordfish. And did the Oscar “transform” her career? In the last decade she’s mostly had a series of flops interrupted by two X-Men sequels. (Though 2005’s Their Eyes Were Watching God scored her Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.)
I wonder… if Berry had not won Best Actress, would she have perhaps been motivated to work harder and do more challenging work instead of just spending a decade cranking out forgettable (and even humiliating) genre films? Does an unearned award help someone in the long run? (Rhetorical question.)
And what of Viola Davis, the supposed beneficiary of Touré’s campaign for a nakedly transparent Affirmative Action Academy Award? Davis has already been — by any reasonable definition — a “superstar” for a decade. She first made waves on critics’ radar with 2002’s period drama Far From Heaven. Since then she’s been one of the busiest actresses in Hollywood, with 18 more major film roles (and that’s not even counting all her TV appearances.)
Touré: Viola Davis’s acting career is doing just fine. She’s 46 years old and I’m looking forward to seeing her best performances decades from now. Let’s cheer her on then when she really deserves it.
And perhaps those intent on voting for folks “because they look like them” should pick who they nominate better. After all, there are black, self-made-millionaire, former rocket scientists available. That’s a more substantive resume than Alinskyite community organizer and constitutional law “senior lecturer.”
Ann Coulter knew the right button to push on this subject at CPAC to provoke RightWingWatch to make the clip of her so accessible:
David Swindle is the associate editor of PJ Media and writes a post each day on news and politics at PJ Tatler and culture and entertainment at PJ Lifestyle. He can be contacted with feedback and story tips at DaveSwindlePJM[@]gmail.com and on Twitter @DaveSwindle. He enforces commenting guidelines on his posts — rude, off topic and ad hominem comments will be deleted.