Sunday, February 26, 2006

My Fondest Oscar Memories: 1993 Denzel gets robbed

Other than Thanksgiving and Morehouse-Spelman homecoming, Oscar week is the biggest week of my life. In recognition of Oscar week, I will write a memory or two from specific Oscar telecasts or Oscar campaigns of certain films.

I was a senior in highschool at the Lakehill Preparatory School in the East Dallas enclave known as Lakewood in March of 1993. Already accepted at Howard University, Hampton and Dillard, I was 3-3 and had decided to enroll at Howard in the fall and study film production. Back in 1993, the Oscars were held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Hollywood on the fifth Monday in March.

I was very excited about this year's telecast because I was absolutely certain that for the first time in history, an African American man would win the Oscar for Best Actor. How could Denzel not win for his performance as Malcolm X? Notice I didn't write 'in Malcolm X', but rather 'as.' He did it with a depth and warmth that made the audience accept him when he was a thief, admire him in prison, be charmed by him as a minister, and follow him as a legendary fighter for equality and freedom. I went to see the picture on opening day with my co-best friend, Hampton Cude, and we both left the theater changed people. Flash back to the Oscars...

By late March, basketball season was well over, so I had no excuse to not get home as soon as possible after school. I remember leaving Lakehill around 4 and making it home around 5. My mother asked me to run some errands for her up the street, which I did, and she made me a heaping plate of her world famous spaghetti while I was out. When I got back, I noticed that my 15 year old brother Jordan and my 10 year old sister Marjon were upstairs, and not downstairs, and that the den was unusually quiet. Mommy made them go upstairs to do their respective homework, so that I could watch the Oscars in peace. What a lady.

I finished my spaghetti, salad, french bread and sweet tea at the dinner table, finished my homework, and I was ready to watch the end of the red carpet on the new and fledglin E Network.

Before I knew it, the program had begun and there was my main man Billy Crystal, running the show. The opening number was dazzling, the stars were all there in their finery, and there wasn't a lapel or dress that was missing a red AIDS Awareness ribbon. Oh, how I miss 1993.

When the nominations had come out a few months earlier, I was already extremely peeved over the fact that Malcolm X was not nominated for more awards. On the now famous Saturday Night Live that Michael Jordan hosted and Public Enemy was the musical guest, the season opener of 1991, Spike mentioned on Nat X to Chris Rock that Malcolm X would be nominated for 10, count 'em 10 Academy Awards. I guess he meant ideally. But, he was right to think so. Sadly however, the Academy thought otherwise. In a year when Malcolm X should've been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Art Direction and Original Score, the film only garnered two nominations, one for Denzel and the other for Ruth Carter for Costume Design. Malcolm X was robbed...badly.

But, as African Americans in the early nineties, we suck that up don't we? We accept it and move on. It's kind of like in 1991 when arguably the greatest songwriter of his generation, Stevie Wonder writes 11 new songs for the Jungle Fever soundtrack, and none of them are nominated for an Oscar. Or in 1991 when Wesley Snipes is chilling and far too good as Nino Brown, and he gets no nomination at all. Or even this year, when Terrence Howard didn't get a nomination for 'Crash' as well as 'Hustle and Flow.' I'm digressing.

The gentlemen up for Best Actor were: Robert Downey, Jr. for Chaplin, Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven, Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, Stephen Rea for The Crying Game, and Denzel Washington for Malcolm X.

Honestly, I watched all of the performances of the nominees excepte for Mr. Downey's. Eastwood was menacing and tough in Unforgiven, and his role and the film in general truly was one of the best pictures I've ever seen. I understand why he was nominated and why the picture one Best Picture, however, he wasn't better than Denzel. Al Pacino phoned in his performance as a blind vet, and stammered through his lines and yelled, and said 'Ooh Aah', but he was no match for Denzel. Pacino himself had been robbed on Oscar night several times for both Godfathers, Serpico, Scarface, etc. Needless to say, he was no match for Denzel as Malcolm. Stephen Rea was refreshing in the gender bending Miramax feature, The Crying Game, but even through his accent, his facial expressions, his brief comedic trips, and everything else that the movie had going on, he didn't hold a candle to Mr. Washington's performance. But when they read the name of the winner, my heart plummeted. Mr. Pacino won the award. He won the old Oscar switcheroo. In other words, give it to the guy who should've won before, but we'll do it for another movie. I was heartbroken.

Later in the evening, a resplendent Denzel Washington presented an award with a gaunt and tired looking Tom Hanks. Both wore audaciously agregious tuxedos with morning coats that caught my eye. For prom, a few weeks away, I did everything I could to get a tux as close to the one that Denzel wore that night.

So, Denzel was robbed that night of Oscar gold, which would have been his second Oscar, and at the time was his third nomination. He would go on to be nominated for 1999's The Hurricane and win his Best Actor award for 2001's Training Day. All in all, by most accounts the greatest actor of his generation, Mr. Denzel Washington has five nominations and two awards, which isn't too shabby considering Oscar's sporadic history with honoring achievement at the right time.

But even the win in 2002 wasn't as satisfying as the win in 1993 would've been for his portrayal of the controversial, strong, and relevant African American leader, Malcolm X. I guess the Academy just wasn't ready for that.

I'm Joe and that's how I see it.


At Monday, February 27, 2006 12:55:00 PM , Anonymous Gen said...

Wow. You seem to have such a reflective nature...remembering details here and there and everywhere, lol. No doubt your memory is going to make you A LOT of money (per your upcoming book.)

BTW, when I think about Blacks and the Oscars, what sticks out to me most is the noticable distinction in how Halle accepted hers and Denzel accepted his. I read an article recently on "why some Blacks are sooo happy to be accepted by the 'white' man, while others seem to just know they're the ish and don't ache so much for approval from 'others.' It's obvious which one fits which category... (Hint: Denzel shoulda made Blacks really proud that day...)

Good post


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