Yes, I’ll be cheering for these ladies and their projects — but admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of the Oscars, only the red carpet pre-show. The actresses who top my list rarely win, much less get nominated.
If I could rewrite Oscar history? Each of the ladies listed below would have been on the ballot for their outstanding performances…
Angela Bassett for Malcolm X (1992)
She breathed life into Betty Shabazz, portraying her as a quiet presence who loved her man, Minister Malcolm, and her family fiercely. Who can forget her haunting wail, “They killed him! They killed him!” as she held her dead husband’s body? Twenty years later, I still can’t watch that scene without crying.
Della Reese for Harlem Nights (1989)
Vera was the sassy madam “in charge of the girls” at Sugar Ray’s illegal 1920s casino. In that unforgettable comedic role, Reese stole scenes from her powerhouse male costars — pulling her razor on Eddie Murphy’s character Quick for calling her a liar, dressing down Redd Foxx’s Bennie for leaving “a swallow” of orange juice in the refrigerator, and duping Danny Aiello’s mob boss Cantone into believing “I’m an honest ho, and all my ho’s is honest.”
Kerry Washington for The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Kay, the youngest wife of Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin (Forrest Whitaker), was ostracized by her husband, but as played by Washington, she remained front and center for the audience. Washington adopted a convincing Ugandan accent for the role, and was heartbreaking as a lonely woman whose passionate affair leads to her violent downfall. Washington received BET and NAACP awards for her performance, but on Oscar nominations day, she was snubbed.
Queen Latifah for Set It Off (1996)
Cleopatra Sims was the unexpected brawn behind an all-female crew of bank robbers. Determined to get rich or die trying, Cleo busted a truck through a bank window and pulled a gun on her best friend. Her fateful ending included an OJ-esque police chase, then a Tony Montana-ish death in a hail of bullets. The Queen garnered a nod for Outstanding Lead Actress at the NAACP Image Awards, and a nod for Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards — but no Oscar love. RIP, Cleo.
Regina King for Ray (2004)
Margie Hendricks, a backup singer turned side-piece to Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx), was the ultimate ride-or-die chick. She used her hand-on-hip sass to increase her wages, threw shade to elbow her way into the lead mistress spot, and took on her man’s bad habits – drugs and alcohol — so they’d have more in common. King’s straight-no-chaser performance was recognized with a win at the NAACP Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture and a BET Award for Best Actress.
What are your favorite Oscar-snubbed performances by black actresses?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk