- Everybody does and doesn't want to talk about this man's race. He's TJ Martin, Seattle native and 2012 Oscar-winning film director.
During last night's Oscars, I noticed a retweet by TJ Martin, the Seattle-born-and-raised co-director of Undefeated who, you may remember, won the Oscar for that full-length documentary film in 2012.
Martin was linking to a piece by Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson about the homogenous demographics of the Academy. The headline says it all: "Oscar Voters: 94% White, 76% Men, and an Average of 63 Years Old."
Thompson's story ends: "No black director has ever won an Oscar."
I Tweeted Thompson a link to Martin and to a news story from 2012. Martin's win (with co-director Dan Lindsay) became a big story because Martin was immediately—by the likes of Sean Combs, The Root, and others—dubbed the first black director to win an Oscar for a full-length film. (Maybe Thompson was referring specifically to the directing category? He didn't respond to the Tweet or clarify in the story.) Martin's father is white, his mother was black.
Would Thompson write "The United States has never had a black president"? What would Adrian Piper say?
I asked Martin about it, and he emailed:
Even when I was doing press rounds leading up to the Oscars it was really confusing for people to recognize that I was half black. Some people wanted to claim this as a historical moment, others didn't want to bother. I felt like it was an opportunity to point out our lack of imagination in recognizing a person of color can be mixed and no one wanted to have that conversation. It was either Black or not Black. The funny part is that some people still tell me "well, you're not fully Black so it doesn't count." Honestly, I'm just disappointed in major media publications in their inability to have a more in-depth conversation about race versus the obsession of having a headline that reads "first Black director..."
What was that terrible line last night about how the Oscars reward art that's neither black nor white but "radiant shades of gray"? Where were those other colors last night?