Growing up, watching award shows with my mom was one of my favourite pastimes. I loved seeing the celebrities in their custom couture outfits, celebrating the performances they spent time perfecting. I wanted to witness the artists being recognized for their hard work – even though that wasn’t always the case.
During awards season every year, I would see the same outrage from celebrities and fans alike: Black people don’t get the awards or even the nominations that we deserve. It’s a conversation I can't seem to escape, especially on social media, where there are hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite, created in 2015 to address the lack of diversity in The Academy. I know that these awards are not for Black people; award shows were created by white people, and the nominees and winners are chosen by a panel mainly composed of white people. Even though Black artists know that this racial discrimination is happening, people still put in a lot of energy into trying to change this system that is not set up for us to succeed.
I don’t know when I stopped caring about what the industry deemed to be superior. It could have been when Beyoncé lost the Grammy for Album of the Year – once again to an artist that I had never heard of. Maybe it was when Kanye West stormed the stage at the 2009 VMAs to express his opinion on how he felt about Beyonce losing to Taylor Swift. It led me to think about why he got on stage to say “Beyonce had the best music video of all time.” I recognize it was his opinion, one held by a majority of people at the time, however, as we’ve seen over time, that is not enough in the entertainment industry. Even if you’re perfect, you’re not always going to win. Kanye West knew this; he had experienced it for himself two years prior in 2007, when the VMAs snubbed him for seven awards that he believed he deserved. He was caught on video ranting about his lack of wins right after the award show. I have to wonder if he thought anything would be different two years later. Clearly, he was upset over being snubbed, but getting the awards wouldn’t change anything; he’s still one of the biggest artists in the world, recognized for his greatness every day. All this being said, he continues to support the VMAs by still attending and participating.
I understand why celebrities avoid award shows. Will Smith boycotted the Grammys in 1989 when they refused to play the award for Best Rap Performance on television, showing that they didn’t appreciate the rap category enough to televise it. He also kept the same energy for the Oscar Awards in 2016, protesting the lack of diversity in the nominees despite them deserving nominations.
As much as I applaud Will Smith and other artists for taking stands for what they believe is right, there’s still not much difference in how award shows operate now. We are still outraged every year, feeling like we’re being passed over and unappreciated, so I have to wonder why we focus so much attention on what we don’t have, forgetting what we do have. In 1989, Will Smith won the category of Best Rap Album at the Soul Train Awards. This amazing accolade should be the focus of our energy, not the award shows that choose to ignore us time and time again.
More recently, I’ve witnessed the disappointment of those following the Golden Globe nominees, with the main source of controversy being that Emily in Paris was nominated over Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. The negative response to I May Destroy You’s lack of nominations displays how we tend to focus on when we’re neglected. I May Destroy You was nominated for 3 NAACP Awards. Why can't we turn our attention there? It’s tiring how we beg to be included when we already have platforms out there, like the Soul Train Awards, the BET Awards, and the NAACP Awards, which already award us for our greatness. We shouldn’t need the recognition and acceptance of people who don't participate or understand our culture. If we put more of an emphasis on the importance of our award shows, Black artists might finally feel more fulfilled.
Written by Jada Lowe