On the eve of the upcoming Academy Awards (Oscar) ceremony, we often reminisce on some of the more memorable moments that have stood the test of time and continue to resonate throughout pop culture. One of those moments was none other than the historic win for Halle Berry, 55. On March 24, 2002, exactly 20 years ago, Berry made history by becoming the first black woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Actress [in a Leading Role] for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove in the independent film, Monster’s Ball. During her very emotional acceptance speech, Berry noted the significance of the moment saying, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
In this press room interview post-ceremony, acquired by Entertainment Tonight, the X-Men star spoke further about the momentous occasion and what it means for actresses of color adding, “This moment although I’m standing here, I meant it, it’s really not just about me. You know it’s about so many people that went before me, that paved the way, and people who are fighting alongside with me and the ones that will come along, whose path will be indelibly easier because of everyone so it’s not really about me as much as it’s about so many other women of color who have tried to permeate this system for so many years and today this meant hope. That glass ceiling was broken wide open and that just feels good. For me and for all of them too.”
Unfortunately, that hope Halle spoke of hasn’t exactly come true in the way that she’d like as of this writing, she is still the first and only black woman to win the award. During a Q&A with AARP, Berry gave this transparent answer when asked if progress has been made since her win 20 years ago, “Definitely. When I won the Oscar 20 years ago, I didn’t see nearly as many faces of color in TV and film as I do now. There has been a 100 percent change. So while no other Black woman stands next to me [with a best actress Oscar] and it’s heartbreaking and I wish there were more, I also know that moment at the Oscars was inspiring and made people believe that anything was possible. Today you’ve got Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Viola Davis. I can go on and on. Women of color are doing things, and you know what? They’re doing things on their own terms, in their way. They’re daring to say, I deserve this. And I say to them, everybody loves an award. We all love when our industry says, you did a great job. But most people will never win an Academy Award or an Olympic gold medal or an MMA championship belt. That doesn’t mean the fight’s not worth it. It doesn’t mean you’re not winning. You’re working in ways you’d never dreamed of before and on projects that are reflective of you or your culture or your gender.”
Having moved past being just a leading lady, Halle has now added director to her resume, releasing her directorial debut, Bruised in November 2021. Berry not only directed the film, but she also produced and starred in it as well.
Abron’s Hot Take
It would be easy to blame this issue squarely on the Academy members and say that the fault rests squarely on their shoulders. One could argue that perhaps the voting members don’t find black actresses worthy enough to win this particular award but that would be intellectually dishonest if not a bit childish. Let’s look at this from a more nuanced perspective. The Academy simply votes based on performances. It is the responsibility of the movie studios and casting directors to hire actors and actresses in these leading roles that will put them on the Academy’s radar to be considered for an award nomination. Halle speaks to that in this interview at the Maker’s Conference in 2017.
So, it’s simple. If black actresses are being hired for strong, leading roles, at the same rate as their white counterparts, they stand a chance to be recognized by the Academy with an award nomination and perhaps even a win. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, even in 2022, there are still practices of biased casting that affect many actors of color, particularly women. Stories that should be universal are often told from a particular viewpoint and through a particular lens, which doesn’t always include different ethnic groups. It’s not enough to sprinkle a few individuals in for diversity purposes. One has to truly believe in the natural and normal makeup of society that is inclusive.
But this can’t be done alone. As with any fight to improve a system that disproportionally affects a group of people, allies are a necessity. That’s where the Academy comes in. Although they can’t force studios to hire black actresses just so they can vote for them for an award, perhaps they can express a stronger interest in wanting to see a full and diverse list of film performances throughout the year – to perhaps entice studios to be mindful of their casting practices – ensuring that every actor has a fair chance to be seen. Movie executives and agents can also take part in the cause – insisting that their clients across all genders and races are given a fair shot to audition for some of the biggest roles of the year – guaranteed to get awards buzz.
As it stands currently, there seems to be a once-in-a-decade opportunity for a black actress to land a leading role that garners her rave reviews and award recognition. However, things are slowly improving but that is mostly due to those same actresses who have decided not to wait on Hollywood and have instead taken hold of their careers. Now more than ever, we’re seeing more films produced and even directed by women of color. More opportunities are presenting themselves, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. In the meantime, I will enjoy the new wave of excellence and #blackgirlmagic that’s permeating the entertainment industry. Even if black actresses aren’t winning awards for leading roles, they sure as hell are winning at life in their LEAD-ership positions as producers, writers, and directors.
When asked by Gayle King during CBS’s Sunday Morning, how he handles the chatter about his marriage to his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, 50, Will Smith, 53, said “I’ve decided that chatter about my life can be of a benefit to people.” He went on to say, “Chatter is the first stage to having a real conversation.” But perhaps what was the most perplexing part of the interview was when Gayle mentioned how both Will and Jada have discussed how they navigated infidelity in the past, to which Will replied, “There’s never been infidelity in our marriage. Jada and I talk about everything, and we have never surprised one another with anything ever.”
Why that might be perplexing you may wonder is because it wasn’t too long ago, when R&B singer, August Alsina gave credence to what many have long speculated, which was that the Hollywood power couple had an open marriage. In his 2020 interview with Angela Yee, Alsina revealed that he and Jada had an affair. The two were photographed often during vacations and in 2017, attended the BET awards together. August even appeared as a guest on Jada’s Red Table Talk in 2018. The public surmised that the two had been more than friends as most of their photos and time spent together did not include Will. In the interview, Alsina said, “I totally gave myself to that relationship for years of my life. I devoted myself to it, I gave my full self to it — so much so to the point that I can die right now and be okay with knowing that I truly gave myself to somebody.” He also said that Will was aware of their relationship and had given him permission to pursue Jada romantically, “I actually sat down with Will and had a conversation ... He gave me his blessing.”
The interview sparked major attention and both Jada and Will addressed the issue on Red Table Talk. During the conversation, the Smiths mentioned that Alsina became a family friend, initially coming to them for help with his own personal problems. Jada and Will were on the outs at that time, and the two separated as a result. Jada shared that she and the “I Luv This S***,” crooner became “really good friends,” and that friendship later turned into an “entanglement.” She said the lesson she learned from her experience is that you can’t help heal others as a means to heal yourself. They concluded their talk by saying in unison, “We ride together, we die together, bad marriage for life.”
Will and Jada married in 1997 and together, share two children, son Jaden, 23, and daughter Willow, 21. Jada is also the bonus mom to Will’s eldest child, Trey, 29, from his first marriage to Sheree Zampino.
Abron’s Hot Take
At the time of this writing, we are in awards season and Will Smith has had a steady winning streak. Picking up the golden globe, critic’s choice, BAFTA, SAG, and NAACP Image Award for his leading role in King Richard, he’s the clear frontrunner to win the Oscar later this month (which I’m excited about!) I mention this because it is during this time when nominated actors do heavy press tours and pretty much campaign for their nominated films to win big during the season. Mr. Smith is not immune to this form of promotion. So, I can’t help but think that the interview with Gayle was just another form of said promotion; however, this bombshell statement is both odd if not very confusing.
On the surface, the Smith family seemingly had it all. Dominating the movie, tv, music, and even sports arena, they were everywhere and “winning,” according to Will as he details the family’s thriving success in his memoir, Will which is also a New York Times best-seller (and a very good read by the way). But he also shares a moment in the book when he and Jada decided to separate due to having reached a breaking point within their union, and ultimately deciding to find their own happiness as individuals and then return to the marriage, fully happy.
During that episode of Red Table Talk, when they addressed the Alsina allegations, it was easily inferred or implied that Jada had a relationship with August outside of her marriage to Will. That by all accounts is considered cheating or an act of infidelity. By Jada’s own words, she and August were in an entanglement which is defined as “a complicated or compromising relationship or situation.” A synonym for the word is an “affair.” Now, Will is saying that there has never been infidelity in their marriage which leads many to assume that their relationship is in fact an open one and that Will most likely knew about Jada’s relationship with August back when it began. How else do you justify your spouse having an outside relationship?
Now, I love Will and Jada but if I’m being honest, the two have a tendency to doublespeak. Sometimes their statements leave you with more questions than answers. Of course, they owe nothing to the public but they’re also the ones willingly inviting said public into their relationship, sharing very intimate details that most people would argue, should be kept private. I don’t understand this latest attempt to explain their marriage. What is the truth here Will? Did Jada, in fact, have an affair with another man that you were clueless about, or were you aware of the ordeal but you two had an “understanding,” about privacy and discretion? That’s the million-dollar question and one we may never know the answer to.
But here's what I’ll say to Will and Jada… at this point, I think it would be highly prudent of you both to refrain from sharing any more details about your relationship. We the public don’t need to know such information. Keep it between you two. While I appreciate the effort to show that everything in Hollywood isn’t rosy all the time, I fail to see what the oversharing will accomplish other than making the public view you both so differently which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Do yourselves a favor and just get back to focusing on why we, the public fell in love with you both from the beginning and that was your immeasurable talent as actors. Trust me, you’ll lose nothing by keeping your private life private.
On Thursday, March 10th, actor, and singer Jussie Smollett, 39, was sentenced to 150 days in jail over false allegations that he was a victim of a hate crime. CNN reports that in addition to the jail time, the “Empire,” actor will serve 30-months of probation and was also ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago as well as a $25,000 fine for filing the false police report. The ruling comes after an extensive trial that stemmed from Smollett’s 2019 claim that he was the victim of a hate crime. In the initial report, Smollett alleged that he was attacked while in Chicago by two men who put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and yelled racist and homophobic slurs. Many celebrities came to his defense and the Chicago Police Department launched an official investigation. Their findings determined that Smollett had staged the attack himself and that the two attackers in question were Nigerian brothers, Abimbola Osundairo and Ola Osundairo. The brothers claimed that not only did Jussie orchestrate the entire plan of his attack, but that he had paid them to carry out the said attack in order to generate more publicity for himself.
Although he maintained his innocence, Jussie was ultimately charged with six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to police. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges. In December 2021, a jury convicted Jussie on five of the six counts of felony disorderly conduct where he faced up to three years in prison. During his official sentencing, the judge, James B. Linn lambasted Smollett saying, “You took some scabs off some healing wounds, and you ripped them apart and for one reason: you wanted to make yourself more famous.” He added, “You're not a victim of a racial hate crime, you're not a victim of a homophobic hate crime. You're just a charlatan pretending to be a victim of a hate crime, and that's shameful."
After receiving his sentence, Smollett pulled down his face mask and said to the judge and jury, “Your honor, I respect you and I respect the jury, but I did not do this.” He continued saying, “And I am not suicidal. And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself. And you must all know that.” As he was escorted out of the courtroom and into custody by the bailiff, he raised his fist and continued to proclaim his innocence. Jussie will serve out his sentence in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.
Abron’s Hot Take
Ok, Jussie let’s have a real conversation here. STOP. THE. MADNESS!!! This continued doubling, tripling, and quadrupling down about your “innocence,” is utterly ridiculous at this point. Now, I for one never gave my opinion on the matter when the story initially broke. Even after that disastrous, embarrassing, and cringy interview, he gave with Robin Roberts, I’ve always been more of a “wait and see what information we get first,” type of guy. As more and more details became available and it seemed like Jussie had, in fact, staged the attack himself, I hung my head in shame. Not for me but for him and for what this meant on a bigger scale. Because Jussie is both black and gay, he, as a celebrity and public figure, represents both groups that often face discrimination within society. Now that he’s created this fake story, his deplorable actions will now make it harder for actual victims of hate crimes to be believed. But more than that, his arrogance and narcissism are what is most problematic and sad. His effort to deny the obvious and proclaim that he did not stage this act and his unwillingness to take accountability for his actions further prove that he’s learned nothing from this ordeal and will most likely, never grow from this experience. I find that troubling. It is indicative that while he’s away for the next 5-months, he will not use this time to take corrective action. Moreover, this entire issue says to me, that even after Jussie completes his jail time – after he’s paid his fines and restitution, he will continue the victim narrative, and hold a grudge against society and the justice system for not believing him.
My hope is that he truly does some introspective work on himself, grows up, takes accountability, and pledges to be a better person. But, based on his outburst as he left the courtroom, still insisting that he’s innocent even after a police investigation, trial, and jury decision proved otherwise, I’m not so confident that will be the case.
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