The 2016 Annual BET Awards on Sunday, June 26 will be remembered for a long time not for the usual showy Hollywood back-slapping and cheering – enjoyable for the most part though tiring and even boring – but for actor, Jesse Williams’ speech after receiving his Humanitarian Award.
With tickets for packages for the Los Angeles Microsoft Theater event going for as high as $4,500, the royalty of the entertainment world of African-Americans were in full attendance, and generally at these shows: the Oscars, Grammy, et cetera, while no awardee is really dictated to, the speeches are usually along the same pattern. Walking the red carpet, waiving to fans, entering the pavilion and exchanging banters with known faces, your name is called, you receive your award, you admire it and thank a lot of people: mom, producers … and many often start with God. In short, party time!
“Dr. Jackson Avery” of the American hit television series, Grey’s Anatomy, had other ideas although he did thank mom and dad whom he took along. He seemed well-prepared for his acceptance speech.
Williams’ impassioned speech might not have hit as hard as Marlon Brando’s when he rejected the Best Actor’s Oscar – he had designated Native American, Ms. Sacheen Littlefeather to give his speech at the 1973 Oscar Award – THAT would not be because of the depth or ramifications of the actor’s message. And while Ms. Littlefeather could not read Brando’s speech on stage because she had been threatened with arrest if she stayed on stage for more than 60 seconds, that speech was read to journalists backstage. Today in the age of the web, that memorable speech on activism resides online. [Link at the end of this essay.
Williams, an activist, suffered no such obstacle and used the big stage to bare his mind on the state of America today where racism, and its trademark violence against African-Americans which has led to the murder of many young males in the last couple of years, has seen a dramatic rise. Actually, the resurgence of racism started with Obama’s election to the presidency, a fact that brought out the worst in usually reactionary Republicans who, true to promise – threat, it was – have ensured that Obama has been hamstrung all the way even when it meant the government was almost shut down.
#BLACKLIVESMATTER, a movement started by some African-Americans to draw attention to the phenomenon of young unarmed African-American males losing their lives while in police custody, soon became a huge movement which drew even more racist reactions, including the formation of BLACKLIVESDONTMATTER and BLUELIVES MATTER! To racists who have been emboldened to come out of the wood works, a plaintive cry by a group was seen as an attack that needs counter-attack.
Many African-American celebrities have supported the #BLACKLIVESMATTER, and so have many White-Americans in different ways, including financial.
As America continues to encourage immigration with hundreds of thousands of LEGAL immigrants yearly, African-Americans see a deliberate systemic attempt to shunt them behind each new group despite the fact that America’s wealth that led to its power in the world could not have been without the contribution of free labor that slaves supplied. It is a historical fact that long after slavery, “Slavery by Another Name” played a huge role inn the wealth of corporations, iconic Coca-Cola not excluded.
I believe Williams speech situates well in the above circumstances, and I hope blog readers from outside the United States can see where the actor is coming from with a speech that may sound either uncalled for or even out-of-place at that setting. It has been published in many places but here is from Genius; the full essay can be accessed through a link at the bottom.
We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us. Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.
AND, finally –
Marlon Brando’s speech, a.k.a. “The Unfinished Oscar Speech”:
March 30, 1973‘THE GODFATHER’That Unfinished Oscar SpeechBy MARLON BRANDO
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ”Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.”
When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. Link to the full essay is at the end.
That eventful March 1973 Academy Award Ceremony was the first I ever watched. In Gainesville, Florida, our first introduction to American life in 1970, we did not own a television set until we moved to Washington, D.C. in January 1973. TOLA.
If you enjoyed this, you may wish to check out the two essays below as well as the full Jesse Williams’ speech and Marlon Brando’s impassioned speech as regards the plight of Native-Americans in a land that was originally theirs.
THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 2016. 6:30 p.m. [GMT]