Consistent with what many would want the Academy Awards to actually be, a diverse group of New Yorkers came together at Harlem’s Shrine World Music Venue on Feb. 28 to celebrate the year in Hollywood film and pay homage to movies made by or with Black actors, writers and directors.
Officially called the “Harlem Oscar Boycott Party,” it was the brainchild of writer, producer and co-owner of cultsha.com Christine Scott and filmmaker Nedhege Ptah. Attendees and the community at large were able to vote for their picks using an online feedback platform called Ideacoil, which was created by brothers and engineers Price-Mars Delly and Laurent Delly. Scott, who is Caucasian-American and said she agreed this type of event was needed.
“When I heard the nominations announced and I heard for the second year in a row films made by or about or with people of color were not included, I thought it was a travesty in some respects because there were so many films this year that were worthy of nomination. Last year when Ava DuVernay was not nominated for ‘Selma,’ I felt there was an injustice done. Then this year when certain films were not nominated, I thought that it was an obvious disregard for the creative influence that Black filmmakers, artists and actors contribute to Hollywood.”
The afternoon ceremony was no staid affair, with plenty of R&B and hip-hop pumping and down-home Caribbean and soul food on the menu.
As part of the festivities, Ptah’s film “Dodo Titi,” about a Caribbean nanny’s dignified struggle to uphold her cultural traditions, was screened. The focus remained on taking a stand and having fun while doing so. Party attendee and Harlem resident Uygar Dogan commented, “I thought it was a bit curious how not even one African-American artist was nominated for an Oscar this year because there have been some amazing movies made this year. I decided OK, there is one place I can come and make my voice heard.”
Kathy Bayer, a co-producer of “Dodo Titi,” also shared her thoughts. Asked if events like these amounted to a new type of segregation as some detractors might argue, she replied, “In terms of segregation, the situation is we are segregated. We can’t pretend we’re not so what are we gonna do to fight it? It’s not really working to just try and get together and talk about it. It’s not happening. That’s why there has to be actions like this, and I just think that unless people start to take action, nothing’s gonna change, and I feel that we all have to get out there and support whether it affects us directly or not.”
Bayer added, “I also feel that there are a lot of really excellent actors and really excellent films that were not included in the Oscars this year. Top quality writing, acting, producing and directing. There’s too many qualified people, and this is too obvious an exclusion.”
Addressing another argument used by some, event host Lisa Durden, herself a producer and TV personality, gave a passionate response to questions regarding those who feel that Blacks are asking for awards based on race as opposed to merit.
“I’m not gonna say that every single film that we were in was great. But not every single film that white folks produced, that white folks were in, was good, but they got nominated. So let’s get down with the real get down. We’ve only gotten 32 Oscars on 88 years in all categories. And let’s get real clear, who goes to the movies? Black people, Latinos, people of color. We are the ones making all the movies big.” As of last year’s Academy Awards, a total of 2,947 awards have been given since the ceremony’s inception.
Ptah, who first came up with the idea of the Harlem Oscar Boycott Party, explained her reasoning behind it.
“It’s just galvanizing the community around this important topic that’s happening in the industry. I really believe what Ava DuVernay is saying. Let’s stop talking about diversity. It’s about inclusion.”
Regarding the statuettes given to the winners, Ptah explained that they are called (incidentally) Ptahs, not Oscars.
“Instead of us giving them the Oscar, we’re gonna take it back to its essence, back to its roots. We’re gonna call it the Ptah Award and are gonna send these awards to the actors and directors that the community voted for.”
Ptah, according to Wikipedia, was an Egyptian deity thought to be God of the arts, among other things. Many have alleged that the statuette traditionally distributed to winners at the Academy Awards was derived from representations of this god. Nedhege Ptah indicated that she felt the event was indicative of a new level of consciousness about diversity issues.
“It’s not only Black people here. As you can see, it’s an inclusion of folks. It’s not the Black folks that are concerned about the boycott, but it’s also white folks. The fight is not so much we’re doing the Ptah Awards just focusing on Black films, but it is if somebody gives you a lemon, you gotta make lemonade. If somebody closes a door on you, you gotta open another door.”
And the winners of the first ever Ptah Awards were:
Best Actor or Actress: Will Smith, “Concussion”
Best Supporting Actor or Actress: Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”
Best Director: Ryan Coogler, “Creed”
Best Picture: “Beasts of No Nation: