The Academy’s annual Governor’s Awards happened on Saturday night. So many of them showed up. They showed up because this is when you kiss the Academy’s ass. We are balls deep into award season now. And every opportunity counts. If you don’t show up, and when of your rivals shows up, you’re going to be hearing about it the next day.
In the midst of all the campaigning though, the official purpose of the Governor’s Awards is to honour those whose careers have elevated the art form. Harry Belafonte was the recipient of this year’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and his speech was a reminder to his peers, a reminder to all of Hollywood, that the work isn’t done, that the work should be a priority, that the work should be their duty – that Hollywood could be a game-changer: in advancing the best side of humanity, in advocating for and protecting the alienated and marginalised, in the fight for equality – gender equality, sexual equality, racial equality.
Belafonte walked alongside Dr King. At one point he bailed him out of prison. He was one of the first black actors to speak out against racially inequality in show business. He and Sidney Poitier, who joined him on stage near the end, are members of a very, very small group of mentors to black artists today who’ve benefited from their efforts, some of whom were in the audience: Chadwick Boseman, recently named Marvel’s Black Panther, the first black superhero; Steve McQueen, whose film 12 Years A Slave is the current Oscar Best Picture; and Chris Rock too who had the privilege of introducing Belafonte.
The Black Academy? Hardly. That’s hardly enough. Not when it was only in 1999 that the Director’s Guild of America changed the name of its highest honour from the DW Griffith Award to the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award. Griffith was the director of The Birth Of A Nation. That was only 15 years ago. Only 15 years ago! Belafonte delivered his comments in a room full of people – the Academy – that’s 94% white, 76% men, and averages 63 years old.
It’s a room that included Mark Wahlberg, now a major Hollywood power player, but who, at 15 years old, was charged with throwing rocks at black people and yelling racial insults at them. When he was 16 years old, he beat and blinded an Asian man. Click here if you were unaware of this.
What do you think was on Mark Wahlberg’s mind when Belafonte was speaking? Marky Mark once said that he feels terrible about the sh-t he did when he was younger. He admitted he thought about seeking out the man who lost an eye but never got around to it. But he’s fine. Because he’s become a good person now:
“It wasn’t until I really started doing good and doing right by other people, as well as myself, that I really started to feel that guilt go away. So I don’t have a problem going to sleep at night. I feel good when I wake up in the morning.”
For all his influence then, because he IS influential now in Hollywood, how will Mark Wahlberg be inspired by Harry Belafonte to change the game? Oh, I know. Another movie with Michael Bay.