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Cynthia Erivo's Loss

by Jasmine Ledesma


Amy Sussman/Getty Images


Beneath a waxing, teeth white moon, the most celebrated stars of Hollywood sat in the velvet of the grand Dolby Theatre last night for the much anticipated 2020 Oscars. Before this, they nervously mingled on the red carpet, stopping every few feet for photographs or to discuss past and future projects. The air was undoubtedly filled with a sense of magical prestige, the mystery of who would be rewarded weighing on everyone’s minds. Among the many nominated was Cynthia Erivos, award winning actress and singer-songwriter. She dazzled the red carpet with her ​wedding cake white silk dress​ and matching heels. Even her nails impressed, with one hand sporting swirls reminiscent of Van Gogh’s starry night, the other dotted with crystals to form the Northern Star constellation.

It has been a whirlwind of a year for Erivo.

Returning from winning a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in 2017, she spent most of the last year shooting for various projects such as her role in HBO’s miniseries​ The Outsider, an episode of American Idol and, most importantly, the film Harriett for which she was nominated for two Oscar awards. Not only did Erivo star as the titular character but she also wrote an original song for the film which granted her an additional nomination for Best Original Song alongside Best Actress.

Harriett, directed by Missouri native Kasi Lemmons, is a biopic centered around abolitionist Harriett Tubman. At just a few minutes over two hours long, the film graciously follows Tubman as she attempts to free slaves via the Underground Railroad. This has been Lemmons’ highest grossing film as of yet, bringing in a staggering 11 million over the opening weekend, much more than originally thought. Generally, it was received quite well by critics and audiences, receiving an overall score of ​73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes​, and a 97 percent among audiences. Erivo was praised as the shining light of the film, reassuring its place between a simple retelling of history and a piece of art still very much relevant in our modern day. The New York Times writes, “​“​Harriet,” directed by Kasi Lemmons​ and anchored by Cynthia Erivo’s precise and passionate performance in the title role, might not be exactly what my correspondent had in mind, but it is a rousing and powerful drama, respectful of both the historical record and the cravings of modern audiences.”

Nonetheless, Erivo more than deserved the nomination.

Erivo’s Best Actress nomination put her alongside household names such as Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, Renee Zellweger and Saoirse Ronan, each woman having played roles discussed much throughout the year. Erivo was the only black woman to be nominated. Not only for Best Actress but for anything else. There were no other black nominees this year aside from Erivo. This pattern of discrimination seems more deliberate than not. The Academy does not seem to want to appreciate black actors, however talented, if they are not playing a slave in some way shape or form. There is no excuse.

The award for Best Actress, in a surprising turn of events, eventually went to Renee Zellweger for her role as Judy Garland in another biopic titled Judy. In her award speech, a beaming Zellweger began, of course, by complimenting her fellow nominees. As she went on, after thanking her husband of 25 years, she thanked, “​My immigrant folks who came here with nothing but each other and a belief in the American dream,” and with a shake of the award, “How about this?”

While perhaps not intentional, this comment seems a bit out of place in the context of her film. A blonde, blue eyed Texas native, who is Zellweger sharing the victory with? Perhaps she sees herself as an inspiration. If I can do it, you can do it. It’s so easy, isn’t it? The decision to reward Zellweger over Erivo, especially within the current political landscape, is an odd one. It feels neglectful. It is neglectful. Earlier in the night, dressed gorgeously in a golden, glittery, crowned outfit, Erivo performed the song she wrote for Harriett herself, titled, ​“Stand Up.” ​ Her wonderful, striking voice filled the theatre as she sang the words, ​ “I do what I can when I can while I can for my people / while the clouds roll back and the stars fill the night.”

The standing ovation spoke louder than anything else.


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