I'm sure you can tell where I'm going with this. In the time that Robert Osborne has been gone from TCM, I have seen less representation of African Americans in TCM segments that air in between films. Rarely have we been guest hosts or guest programmers in the last couple of years. There's no Black contributor on the red carpet for TCM Film Festival. I started to wonder if TCM upper management knows that Black folks watch the channel. In late December last year, musician Michael Feinstein was a guest host. He presented THE DOLLY SISTERS, a 1940s Fox musical. Feinstein cheerfully told us to be prepared for the surreal "Powder, Lipstick and Rogue" number. I was thinking that he should also prepare us for "The Darktown Strutters' Ball" number with poor Betty Grable and June Haver in blackface and dressed as pickaninnies. The following month, there was poor William Holden in blackface for a musical number at the open of FATHER IS A BACHELOR (1950). Then there was a white man rubbing a black man's head for good luck in 1932's THE SPORTS PARADE starring Joel McCrea. That how Hollywood was then. But times have changed.
This coming April marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the first and only time the Oscars ceremony telecast was postponed. Gregory Peck announced the Academy's 1968 postponement. Dr. King's untimely, tragic death and funeral occurred around the same time the Oscars had been scheduled to air. When the Oscars were held, the winner for Best Picture was a film that starred a friend of Dr. King's -- one who attended the now-famous March on Washington. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, a murder mystery and racial drama starring Sidney Poitier, won for Best Picture and Best Actor (Rod Steiger).
This month, history was made at the Oscars. Jordan Peele became the first African American to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. GET OUT was Peele's directorial debut. Like Orson Welles with CITIZEN KANE, Peele was an Oscar nominee for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Also like CITIZEN KANE, his GET OUT was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor.
BLACK PANTHER, written and directed by African American Ryan Coogler and starring a predominantly Black cast, is a hot Hollywood box office blockbuster. Ava DuVernay, one of the top Black women directors in the business currently, has A WRINKLE IN TIME in theaters.
In 2017, African American writer and director Barry Jenkins directed what turned out to be the real Oscar winner for Best Picture of the Year, MOONLIGHT. Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for FENCES, reigned as the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in all Oscar history. She has three nominations.
50 years after the release of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, diversity in Hollywood is still an issue. So much so, that one of the applause-worthy highlights of this year's ceremony was Oscar winner Frances McDormand telling us all about the "inclusion rider." She's been making movies for 35 years and just learned that there's now an agreement that can be signed assuring that a project will gender and race diversity in front of and behind the cameras. Think about it. The lack of diversity and inclusion was so severe that a contract had to be created to break through that barrier. Thank you so much for that news, Frances McDormand. The Best Director Oscar nominees list was a dream of race, gender and age diversity with Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele and (winner) Mexico's Guillermo del Toro.
TCM has had a monthly Guest Programmer night. Before we meet the guest programmer, an intro video plays with a montage of previous guest programmers. None of the African American talents that sat with Robert Osborne has a moment in that montage. There's no Black representation. Nothing against the folks we do see -- like Michael J. Fox, Conan O'Brien, singer Chris Isaak, Bill Hader and Cher. But what about the African American stars we saw with Robert Osborne as guest programmers -- like Spike Lee, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, Oscar nominee Diahann Carroll and Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg? Alec Baldwin hosted "The Essentials" on Saturdays. Baldwin never had an African American talent as a guest co-host.
This month, TCM added two new hosts. Its host roster is now Ben Mankiewicz...
Trust me on this -- I am not the only African American who loves classic films. And I am not the only one who would appreciate seeing more African American representation in the discussion about films, new and classic, on TV.
For you to watch later, if you have time, here's my live 1999 interview of screen legend Tony Curtis. I worked for Fox5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK and Mr. Curtis came to promote his special appearance on TCM. A TCM executive was in the studio with us and watched our interview.
Thanks for your time and enjoy your weekend.