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Actress and comedienne Mo'nique celebrates her Oscar for a Best Performance by an Actress. (AFP/Getty Images)

Mo'Nique's Oscar Win Stirs Debate Within Black Community

Mar 8, 2010

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Michel Martin

Did you stay up late to watch the Oscars?

Every year, I tell myself I am going to act on the good sense I was born with and GO TO BED because:

1) I need the sleep

2) I can read about it later

3) I can watch at least some of it later

4) All I really care about is what the women are wearing (who am I kidding, and please refer to #2).

And then every year I do the same thing, and watch anyway.

This year, though I had a good reason to watch — in part, because I had actually managed to see a number of the contenders (not Avatar — I just have not had four hours out of my life to get there: three hours in running time, plus travel time to get there. I'll admit it. Sorry. I still keep waiting for Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris to baby sit) — and because there was the whole historic aspect of the thing.

There was the whole Hillary-Bill/Obama overlay to the Best Director's race. Think about it: Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for The Hurt Locker; she was formerly married to James Cameron, who was nominated for Avatar and they were both in the same category as Lee Daniels who was nominated for Precious, only the second African-American to make it to the best director nomination. And you can take it too far, but there is clearly politics involved — a sense of "Isn't it about time?" — along with the question of excellence, however defined.

Having been a judge for many awards in my own field — for the Emmys (because I have one), for the Joan Barone (because I have one), and for a number of others, I know that I vote based on any number of criteria, including what I want to see more of, such as more street-level reporting, more individual effort, or to encourage the underdog, or uncommon courage, or technical brilliance.

So that's one reason I wanted to watch. What did the Academy Awards voters want to see more of?

Our Monday discussion:

Why does the Academy love Black people in pain?

Mo'Nique's riveting portrayal of Mary, the abusive mother of Precious (played by Hollywood breakout star Gabourey Sidibe), was certainly the kind that gets attention. I don't think anyone begrudges her that statue. But one issue that people are talking about is the one that Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux writes about in her recent column.

She says, "While I am glad for Mo'nique's victory, I did not relish the Precious story of welfare pathology making it to the screen. Why not more positive roles for African-American women?"

Our guest Reginald Hudlin, himself a Hollywood player, told us this isn't a black issue but, well, a Hollywood thing. Remember, all the white women playing prostitutes who were winning awards a while back? And let's face it, the bad guy gives you so much more to work with.

I'm no film expert. Just putting it out there.

Now, I need some caffeine.

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