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Oscars 2002 Monday, 25 March, 2002, 20:35 GMT
Black equality battle 'just begun'
Denzel Washington and Halle Berry
Triumphant win for Washington and Berry
By Marsha Prescod, contributing editor Black Filmmaker Magazine

It was terrific news, Halle Berry winning the best actress Oscar - the first black actress in the 74-year history of the awards.

Civil Rights and its attendant upheavals came and went more than 30 years ago but the US is still at the stage of counting black firsts.

Berry herself said the real celebration would come when black actresses and actors up for the major awards were so commonplace that race was not an issue.

Poitier made history

In the run up to the awards, there was talk about politics rearing its head because there were two black best actor nominees and one black best actress contender.

It was observed that only one black man - Sidney Poitier - had ever won that award some 40 years before.

It was whispered that the academy might be embarrassed into giving the awards to Berry and Denzel Washington as a form of redress.

No doubt such theories will continue to be aired.

Dynamics

But the academy's voters are not noted for being embarrassed that easily on race issues.

Otherwise, Cicely Tyson would have won the best actress award for Sounder in the 1970s, as would Diana Ross for Lady Sings the Blues.

Diana Ross
Ross: Great in Lady Sings the Blues

Great actors like the late Adolf Ceasar would have been nominated for better performances than the one he gave in The Colour Purple.

And besides, Washington already had a best supporting actor Oscar for Glory and multiple nominations.

People were looking at the wrong dynamics when it came to the question of whether Berrry had a chance.

It's was a combination of race and gender that was operating against her, and her predecessors such as Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge, to whom she paid tribute.

Non-existent

Poitier- honoured so movingly at the Oscars - opened doors, but primarily for black males as leading men.

Until recently, black females had only the memory of Hattie McDaniels and her best supporting actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind and Whoopi Goldberg's for Ghost.

 Hattie McDaniels
Hattie McDaniels: Her win is a distant memory

Goldie Hawn said in First Wives Club that there were only three ages/roles for actresses in Hollywood. Sex Symbol, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.

And she was talking about the situation for white actresses .

Berry's win means her fees will go up, but meaty roles for black actresses will remain almost non-existent.

Roles where you can show off your acting ability are pretty scarce even for white actresses and Julia Roberts has first choice.

Backward

So, the future's looking brighter, but there's a long way to go. And yet, compared to the situation in the UK for black actors and actresses, the US is Nirvana.

There is no equivalent award for best supporting actor/actress, or best actor/actress for blacks in the UK.

Secret and Lies
Secret and Lies: Marrianne Jean-Baptiste (left) was awarded in France

The French recognised a black artiste when the UK industry did not when at Cannes they honoured Marrianne Jean-Baptiste from Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies.

The UK film industry went so far as to fly over a bunch of young British thespians to Cannes a couple of years ago, touting them as the Best of British without including a black artiste among them.

Yet, the UK has its equivalents of Poitier, Berry and Washington.

In the 1950s and 60s there was Earl Cameron and Errol John. Now the UK has the likes of Eamon Walker and Alphonsia Emmanuel.

Walker has had to go to the US to get film roles such as his role in Unbreakable.

And despite appearing in Peter's Friends, Emmanuel has not been able to establish a UK film career.

When films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill are made, black actors and actresses in the UK are not cast.

And if they are not cast, then they cannot compete for awards.

Despite the arrival of the 21st Century, race is an impediment for black film talent in the UK, in a way that has almost ceased in the US.

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