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Breaking the Hollywood Race Barrier: Did the 74th Annual Academy Awards Really Open Anydoors?

March 27, 2002


Yesterday on Democracy Now! we began a long and sometimes heated discussion about race, representation, and theentertainment industry. The discussion came just a day Halle Berry became the first African American woman to earnan Academy Award for best actress. She won for her role in "Monster’s Ball", in which she played a grief-strickenmother who becomes involved with her husband’s racist executioner. Just minutes after her big win, Denzel Washingtonwon the award for best actor for his role as a corrupt LA cop in the movie "Training Day." It was only the secondtime in Oscar history that an African American man had won that award. The first was Sidney Poitier, who was alsohonored at this year’s Oscars for his brilliant and barrier-breaking career in film.

Well, we continue now with our discussion of Sunday’s Academy Awards. Did they really open any doors? And what kindof alternative does the world of independent film really offer to mainstream Hollywood? We begin with actress RubyDee, a pioneer in the struggle to break down Hollywood’s race-barrier.


  • Ruby Dee, stage, film and TV actress, published novelist, poet and columnist for the AmsterdamNews. Dee won acclaim on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s ground-breaking "A Raisin in the Sun" in 1959, and wenton to work with Sidney Poitier in several films and Broadway productions. She played Mother Sister in Spike Lee’s "Dothe Right Thing" and the soft-hearted mother in Lee’s "Jungle Fever." Dee and her husband and frequent co-star OssieDavis are longtime activists in the civil rights movement.
  • Dr. Clara Rodriguez, Professor, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Fordham University. She is theauthor of ??Latin Looks: Images of Latinos and Latinas in U.S. Media and ??Changing Race: Latinos, the Censusand the History of Ethnicity in the United States.
  • Jack Shaheen, media critic and author of ??Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.
  • Michele Wallace, feminist scholar, author, and professor of English at the City College of New York. Sheis the author of the ground-breaking ??Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, which was published in 1979.She was just 26. Other books she has written since include ??Black Popular Culture, and ??InvisibilityBlues. She also has a forthcoming book with Duke University Press called ??Dark Designs: Race, Gender andVisual Culture.
  • Richard Wesley, assistant professor of screenwriting and playwriting in the Department of Dramatic Writingat NYU. He wrote the screenplay for "Uptown Saturday Night" and the follow-up film "Lets Do It Again," both starringSidney Poitier and Bill Cosby.
  • Armond White, Film critic, New York Press. He is formerly head of the New York Film Critics’ Circle. He is the author of ??The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture that Shook the World.

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