As the Academy Awards got underway Sunday night, Oscar host Chris Rock wasted no time bringing up the biggest controversy that the Oscars faced this year:. “Hey, if you want black nominees every year, you need to just have black categories.”
Many black actors boycotted the Oscars this year in protest of the absence of black actors or filmmakers in the list of nominees. In Harlem, though, many business owners hosted a party of their own dubbed the, #HarlemOscarBoycott. The event at the Shrine World Music Venue, held from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., drew people of all races.
“If you’re denying actors, directors, filmmakers, writers, set designers of color acknowledgement, you really are at some point denying their humanity because art is an expression of humanity.” said Moikgantsi Kgama, who was one of the sponsors for the event. “[This Oscar Boycott Party] is a movement.”
The sign-up sheet filled up quickly as guests poured in to celebrate. Photos of black artists adorned the walls and ceiling of the venue, music boomed and trailers of some movies featuring black artists flashed on the screen behind the stage, including clips from “Beasts of No Nation,” “Concussion,” and “Chi-Raq.”
At this event, the results were in the hands of the people, not the Hollywood elite. The winners would get to take home a Ptah award instead of the Oscar. The Ptah is an Egyptian deity and according to Nadhege Ptah, one of the organizers of the event. Ptah, who also happens to have the same name as the award that the group crafted, the Oscar, a gold statue of a naked man, actually is a borrowed image from African history. “If you’re gonna take the symbol that actually came from the continent of Africa, and the films that were snubbed were black films, and our roots are in Africa, let’s take it to the essence and give them the Ptah awards,” she explained.
The event was clearly a protest, but it was also a party. There were no angry tones. Just high spirits and good food. People danced to the DJ’s tunes, chatted and munched on nachos, fries, chicken wings and all kinds of drinks. But the topic of conversation clearly was the lack of black representation at the Oscars.
“When something is political, you gotta get political,” said Lisa Durden, the host of the show. Durden went around the room constantly filming herself with guests at the party for live Facebook and Periscope videos.
Ptah’s son turned up the volume a few notches higher as he played a Djembe drum, an African percussion instrument, and his younger sister danced along. “Not just the adults but the children were empowered,” said Ptah. “We collectively came for something that is unfortunate but we made it fortunate for everybody.”
At the end of the afternoon, it was time to open the envelopes and hand out the Ptah awards. With due drumrolls, the best actor award went to Will Smith for “Concussion,” Ryan Coogler was awarded the best director award for “Creed.” And “Beasts of No Nation” landed Ptah awards for best supporting actor, Idris Elba, and for best picture.
Organizer Ptah hinted that this year’s Oscar boycott may grow into something bigger next year. “If we collect the money, maybe we can set up a scholarship fund to give to a filmmaker. So a small idea is now turning into a bigger idea,” she said. “So you wouldn’t open a door, we found another door. You gave us lemons, we made lemonade.”