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'The Oscar Is the Icing; We've Got to Get a Cake'

March 08, 1997

Among the 20 major acting nominations in this year's Oscars, one went to an African American and one to a black actress in a foreign film. None were Latino. A similar dearth last year prompted a protest led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, but the reaction this year was more muted. MAKI BECKER talked with students in performing arts programs, both high school and college, about how the lack of minority nominees affects their career expectations.


USC School of Film and Television

The Oscars are always about what's hot at the moment. I don't place too much value on them. There is no definite standard so I take it with a grain of salt.

I don't think race should be an issue in the Oscar nominations. But it does play a role in every facet of filmmaking.

I'm not going to say every black film is good. Some of them aren't that good. There are some great African American movies. But there are movies like "Booty Call." These are not great films. If they were nominated just because they were black movies, that wouldn't be right.

I want to make dramas--social and political films. But I want to have options. I don't want to be pigeonholed. I don't want to be told, "You have to make films about the 'hood."

The Oscar nomination is like the icing on the cake. Black people, we don't even have the cake. We've got to get a cake. We need to have more black films. There are a lot of black voices out there.



Van Nuys High School performing arts magnet

I feel there are a lot of talented minorities out there. The problem is getting good material to work with. There's not a lot of it out there. In my case, they mostly want you to do comedy and things like that.

I think Samuel Jackson [in 'A Time to Kill'] did a very good job. I think Angela Basset [in 'Waiting to Exhale'] did a marvelous job.

I don't think the fact that only one minority actor was nominated will discourage me. I think it'll only make me better as an actor.

I'm into doing a lot of romantic roles, any kind of love stories. I'm also very good at playing psychotic.

I have different sides.



Van Nuys performing arts magnet

When I was a little girl, I never really told people that I wanted to be an actor. I was always so afraid. And when I watched those pure blond people in TV, I thought that I wasn't going to be able to be an actor.

But now, I've decided it's a risk I'm going to take. I hope I will be able to make it as an actor. I like to act. Especially as a villain. It's so easy for me to slip into character. And I like to make people laugh.

In a way, it makes me mad that so few minorities are nominated. But it makes me think that I want to work harder. To be successful, it's about having the talent and basically being a good actor.



L.A. County High School for the Arts

My feelings on the Academy Awards are kind of mixed. I am a minority and I do feel that minorities were kind of jilted.

There are a lot of good movies out there, not just by African American people, but Hispanics, too.

In another sense, films in general don't always cater to minorities.

On the part of minority filmmakers, in some situations, I think they should take a stronger stand to glorify their own races. Minority filmmakers tend to stay on what happened in the past and about things that went wrong. But we should band together and show that we can be business people or lawyers or whatever and make feel-good movies. We should show the world that we are not stereotypical.

I want to make movies that are not just black movies--not just about slaves and gang violence.



UCLA, graduate student in film production

I don't feel represented in the films I see and I feel that it's a great loss. There is so much beauty and dimension to cultures other than the dominant ones represented in mainstream movies.

I do think stories about minorities can be made into mainstream films. There are really only a handful of stories and they are just refracted differently in each culture. They are universal stories about honesty and integrity, heroism and courage. I think that if the people in power would have the patience to listen to the stories and investigate, they will find them just as moving and universal. But it's just getting them to take the risk.

I sit right on the fence. I'm an American first, but I am of Mexican descent. I grew up wrapped in the American flag, but I feel I want to promote my [Latino] culture. To show the beauty of it and to share it, so that other people like myself can identify with it. At the same time, I don't want to be pigeonholed just as a "Latino filmmaker."

But I'm very hopeful for the future. I really believe that as we grow in numbers and as we rise up the pyramid, I think a lot more Latino filmmakers will be assimilated into the industry. I think eventually it will balance out


The Nominees: Whose Role Models?

Best Actress

Brenda Blethyn

Diane Keaton

Frances McDormand

Kristin Scott Thomas

Emily Watson Caption


Best Actor

Tom Cruise

Ralph Fiennes

Woody Harrelson

Geoffrey Rush

Billy Bob Thornton


Supporting Actress

Joan Allen

Lauren Bacall

Juliette Binoche

Barbara Hershey

Marianne Jean-Baptiste


Supporting Actor:

Cuba Gooding Jr.

William H. Macy

Armin Mueller-Stahl

Edward Norton

James Woods

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