It was a memorable but not completely triumphant Oscar night for black actors as Forrest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson won trophies but Eddie Murphy lost in an upset.
As expected, Whitaker won best actor Sunday for his frightful yet charismatic performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Jennifer Hudson, a former “American Idol” contestant, scored the best supporting actress award for her debut performance in the musical “Dreamgirls.”
“Receiving this honor tonight tells me that it’s possible, it is possible for a kid from East Texas, raised in South Central L.A. and Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them and to have them happen,” Whitaker said as he accepted his award.
Murphy, also, was favored to win, but experienced a surprising loss early in the evening to Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”).
“I was definitely shocked. It makes you a little bit nervous,” Hudson said backstage. “You can never be too sure. He did an unbelievable job.”
Leading up to the Oscars, some speculated that the recent release of Murphy’s lowbrow, cross-dressing comedy “Norbit” would injure his Oscar prospects. The “Norbit” producers hesitated over releasing it in the middle of Murphy’s Oscar campaign, but director Brian Robbins said it was Murphy who insisted on releasing it on schedule.
Some also thought Murphy showed a slightly cavalier attitude about acting honors when he accepted a Screen Actors Guild award and lightly mocked earlier, earnest speeches.
“No, I’m sorry,” the 45-year-old comedian said after a moment, cracking up with laughter. “It’s just when the British people come and get the awards, it’s so smooth with their stuff. And I feel goofy up here, ’cause I don’t be winning stuff.”
Still, black actors took two of the four main acting awards, and other nominees included Will Smith and Djimon Hounsou.
“It’s a wonderful year to be an African-American actor,” Beyonce Knowles (who co-starred with Murphy and Hudson in “Dreamgirls”) said on the red carpet before the ceremony.
Although Jesse Jackson noted that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences includes only 110 African-Americans out of 5,830 members, such years have been increasingly frequent.
After a long history of the Academy Awards being a largely all-white affair (Chris Rock once called the Oscars a “million white man march”) this was the third year where multiple black actors won Oscars.
Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) and Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) memorably shattered the Oscars’ racial ceiling in 2002, the first time blacks won both lead-acting prizes. In 2005, Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) won Academy Awards, prompting Freeman to say: “It means that Hollywood is continuing to make history. We’re evolving with the rest of the world.”
The “rest of the world” was also notably present at this year’s Academy Awards — with nominees from Mexico, Japan, Africa, Germany and elsewhere.
“Such diversity in the room in a year where there’s been so many negative things said about people’s race, religion and sexual orientation,” said host Ellen DeGeneres. “And I want to put this out there: If there weren’t blacks, Jews or gays, there would be no Oscars.”