It was a night at the Oscars that African-Americans really shined as their contributions to the artistic world were justly rewarded. Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his compelling performance as Juan in the film Moonlight. He certainly made history in 2017, for he became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award. Viola Davis won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her magnificent portrayal of Rose Maxson in the movie Fences adapted from August Wilson’s critically acclaimed play. The dramatic and profound film, Moonlight, about the conflicts of a boy growing up and turning into a man, won the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture.
This year’s Oscar ceremony was a far cry from the 2017 Oscars. The 2016 Oscars were deemed as being too white, for most of the Oscar nominees were white and not people of color. In 2016, there were many stories circulating the internet that there was prejudice when they chose the Oscar nominees. In fact, Will Smith gave an Oscar worthy performance in the 2015 film Concussion, for his portrayal of Nigerian-born doctor Bennet Omalu, yet he was not even nominated for an Oscar. Along with many other African American actors and actresses, he boycotted the Oscars to fight the injustice.
At least 2017, was a redemption for African Americans, as well many other minorities, for there were Oscar nominees as well as Oscar winners who were black. Even before winning an Oscar, Viola Davis and Ali Mahershala were already revered actors for their roles on the big screen as well as on the small screen.
Viola Davis, who attended the famous Julliard School of Performing Arts, already had a knack for acting ever since she was a young girl. On the small screen, she certainly stood out from other actors as she played the role of Professor Annalise Keating in the hit mystery series How to Get Away with Murder. Since her portrayal of Annalise Keating was so captivating, she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2014.
When Davis received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress in the Film Doubt, where she gave an absorbing performance playing a mom whose son was allegedly abused by a priest, she also excelled in the big screen. In addition to winning an Academy Award for her role as Rose Maxson for the movie Fences, she also won a Golden Globe Award.
Like Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali, who acquired a love of acting from his father who was also an actor, was brilliant on the big screen as well as on the small screen. Ali became famous for his role as Remy Danton in the hit political show House of Cards. For his outstanding performance as Remy Danton in House of Cards, he received an Emmy nomination in 2013.
The first film that Ali worked in was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). After his debut in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, many other opportunities on the big screen followed such as Crossing Over (2009), Predators (2010), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), Wronged Man (2010), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part I (2014) and Hidden Figures (2017).
Of course, Ali’s best acting performance was in the dramatic 2017 film Moonlight. In a complex role in which art truly imitated life, Ali gave a moving performance as Juan, a drug dealer, who takes on the role of being a father figure to a boy, who grows up in a very tough environment, in Miami. This film is so powerful that actors do not even need words to show how they feel as the story is also told through the images.
Ironically the movie, Moonlight, the Oscar-winning Best Picture for 2017, made it’s debut pretty close to the film Fences. One of the dreams of August Wilson, who was a renowned African American playwright, was to turn his play Fences into a movie. He certainly worked very hard on many drafts to transform his play into a screenplay that was fit for a movie, but Fences was never turned into a movie during his lifetime. Wilson’s dream became a reality after his death. As for the film Fences, it did well at the box office, making $35 million.
There are certainly similarities between both films. Both Fences, as well as Moonlight, are about African-American families who face conflicts and overcome them using the indomitable power of the human spirit as well as a strong family bond that holds them together. Even though these families are black, their story is universal as it can refer to a family of any ethnicity. As much as Wilson was a notable playwright, he was also an activist who wanted to see African-Americans, as well as other minorities, succeed in the artistic world. He would have been so proud if he had seen Viola Davis win the Oscar Best Supporting Actress for the film Fences. He would have beamed if he had seen Mahersala Ali win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the film Moonlight. As for those fences, they are slowly starting to come down.
[Featured Image by Christopher Polk/Getty Images]