Wil Haygood: Racism and The Academy Awards

Feb 23, 2017

Wil Haygood's work inspired the 2013 film "The Butler"
Credit Allan Wolper for WBGO

Author Wil Haygood believes that Hollywood is finally becoming emancipated.

Haygood had accused the Academy Awards in 2014 of being “culturally  biased” against African American actors and filmmakers when it declined to give a single nomination to the critically praised ,The Butler, the story based on the life of Eugene Allen, a black butler in the White House who served eight presidents.

Haygood wrote the Washington Post profile of Allen that inspired the movie, was an associate producer of the film, and wrote The Butler: A Witness to History, a New York Times best seller that accompanied the production.

But this year the Academy awarded three nominations to films with black themes and six nominations to black actors, led by Denzel Washington and Ruth Negga, along with four nominations to black directors of documentaries.

“I think that Butler emancipated Hollywood, and helped get recognition to the talent out there of people of color,” Haygood said in an interview. “The doors are certainly opening up for men and women to create the kind of material that gets get attention. It was awesome.”

Hollywood was buffeted with charges of racism that preceded this year’s nominations that social media advanced with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, a reference to the fact that all the acting nominees the past two years have been white.      

Haygood pointed out that Oprah Winfrey, who won critical acclaim for her portrayal of Eugene Allen’s wife in Butler won a BAFTA nomination, from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, even though she was snubbed by the American academy.

“If the movie was up this year, Butler would have won six or seven Academy Awards,” he said. The cast for the movie, besides Oprah Winfrey, included Forest Whitaker, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and was directed  Lee Daniels.

Haygood resigned three years ago from the Washington Post to accept an appointment as a Distinguished Scholar at Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, his alma mater. He is the author of seven books, including biographies of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Click above to hear the Conversations with Allan Wolper featuring Wil Haygood.

Original Air Date: May 6, 2014