2013 was a good year for black men in Hollywood. 12 Years a Slave, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Fruitvale Station, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom gave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, and Idris Elba, respectively, the roles of a lifetime. As the director and screenwriter of 12 Years, Steve McQueen and John Ridley reached new artistic and commercial heights, while Lee Daniels continues to contribute a black, queer, and wonderfully idiosyncratic sensibility to mainstream Hollywood. It's unfortunate that all four of the meaty leading roles discussed above have to be played by black actors -- it's not like a Harrison Ford could play Nelson Mandela -- but at least those roles were there.
Not so for black actresses last year, whose most buzz-worthy achievements in film -- Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave, Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station, and Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels' The Butler -- were all in supporting roles. (Needless to say, all played "strong women," but all were the victims, not the drivers, of the plot.)
The deplorable situation for black actresses is readily evident in the NAACP's Best Actress category: only two of the five nominees -- Jennifer Hudson in Winnie Mandela and Halle Berry in The Call -- actually played the protagonists of their respective movies. If the NAACP really wanted to advocate for black actresses, they could have just nominated Berry and Hudson as a way of protesting the limited opportunities afforded to women of color. (Alternately, they could have shown some love to Mother of George's Danai Gurira or Go for Sisters' LisaGay Hamilton.)
As usual, the women can be found in the nonfiction world. Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall's Call Me Kuchu, Shola Lynch's Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, and Yoruba Richen's The New Black are among the Best Documentary choices.
Scroll down for the female nominees and female-centric films nominated by the NAACP:
Angela Bassett, "Black Nativity"
Nicole Beharie, "42"
Halle Berry, "The Call"
Jennifer Hudson, "Winnie Mandela"
Kerry Washington, "Tyler Perry Presents Peeples"
Best Supporting Actress
Naomie Harris, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"
Octavia Spencer, "Fruitvale Station"
Oprah Winfrey, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Alfre Woodard, "12 Years a Slave"
Best International Film
"Call Me Kuchu" - Written and Direted by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall
Best Theatrical Documentary
"Call Me Kuchu" - Written and Directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall
"Free Angela and All Political Prisoners" - Directed by Shola Lynch
"The New Black" - Written and Directed by Yoruba Richen
"20 Feet from Stardom"