Actors Halle Berry, left, and Denzel Washington hold their Academy awards, the first time black actors received both best-actor and best-actress statues, during the Academy Awards in this March 24, 2002, file photo taken in Los Angeles. Nine months after their wins, 2002 has turned out to be a good year for African-American actors and themes in an industry perpetually rebuked for it's lack of racial diversity.
Black Actors Make Gains in Hollywood
Dec 18, 3:36 PM (ET)
By DAVID GERMAIN
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Halle Berry's tearful acceptance speech and Denzel Washington's nod to Sidney Poitier were just the beginning.
Nine months after their twin Oscars - the first time black actors swept the lead-role Academy Awards - 2002 has proved a year of gains for black actors in an industry perpetually rebuked for its lack of racial diversity.
Although one year does not necessarily signify long-term change - and the surge in better roles and breakout movies did not extend to black actresses - critics and performers say 2002 was a clear improvement.
After the awards and commercial success of Washington's "Training Day" and Berry's "Monster's Ball," the year saw high-profile films starring Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Wesley Snipes and Will Smith, who along with Washington had earned a best-actor nomination, for "Ali."
Smaller films with black themes also clicked with audiences, among them the smart romance "Brown Sugar," the "blaxploitation" spoof "Undercover Brother" and "Drumline," the tale of a Harlem drummer competing in a Southern marching band, which opened to solid receipts last weekend.
"It's a huge sign that diversity is here," Berry said in an interview to promote her latest film, "Die Another Day," in which she plays an ally to super-spy James Bond. "The cynical ones will say it hasn't arrived fast enough, but it is here. Real evolution and real change is slow. If it were to happen quickly, I don't think I'd feel that sure of it, because we could lose it as fast as we got it."
Washington began the year by following "Training Day" with another success, "John Q." And he's finishing it with his directing debut, "Antwone Fisher," based on the true story of a violent black sailor trying to work through the trauma he experienced as an abused child.
Newcomer Derek Luke gives a memorable performance in the title role, and Washington co-stars as his Navy psychiatrist.
Many black-themed films play largely in areas with large black populations, but Washington figures "Antwone Fisher" has a good shot everywhere.
"It's a universal story. It doesn't have to be about a black family. This could be about anybody. Pick your race, it doesn't matter. Abuse is color blind," Washington said. "I think we need to give audiences a little more credit. That they're not looking for black or not looking for white, but they're looking for good movies."
Cuba Gooding Jr., one of only six black actors to win an Oscar before Washington and Berry, scored a crossover success early this year with the family flick "Snow Dogs."
Ice Cube did the same with "Barbershop," and had two other films, "All About the Benjamins" and "Friday After Next," the third in his series of "Friday" comedies. All three movies were developed through Ice Cube's production company, which the rapper-turned-actor started to broaden his roles.
Except for "Barbershop," Ice Cube's films mainly have drawn black audiences. But more black actors, such as "Ali" star Smith, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, have developed mainstream followings.
"It's still a pretty select group. But having this select group getting more exposure now, it'll be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years," said Matt Alvarez, Ice Cube's producing partner. "Could the next Brad Pitt be somebody who's black? Will Hollywood be willing to accept that?"
That select group of black headliners was well represented in 2002. Snipes returned with "Blade 2." Smith had "Men in Black II." Lawrence delivered a hit concert film, "Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat," while Murphy was in three movies, though all bombed ("Showtime,""The Adventures of Pluto Nash" and "I Spy.")
Chris Rock had a turkey in "Bad Company," but Jackson co-starred in two hits, "Changing Lanes" and "XXX." Freeman co-starred in "The Sum of All Fears" and "High Crimes."
"I think I could say this has been a promising year but also a year of caution," said Sandra Evers-Manly, president of the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center. "For black women, it's not been that great of a year."
There were notable turns by Sanaa Lathan in "Brown Sugar" and Angela Bassett and Mary Alice in "Sunshine State," but black women were scarce on film beyond that.
Critics have a wait-and-see attitude about whether Hollywood will sustain the advances of 2002.
"Hollywood is so unpredictable. I might be sitting around next August going where's my 'Barbershop,' where's my 'Antwone Fisher'?" said Kamal Larsuel, one of the authors of the film guide "3 Black Chicks Review Flicks.""I'd like to see this go on a couple years in a row before I get excited."