I’ll be honest. I wasn’t looking forward to the Oscars this year. I didn’t watch too many movies this year so I didn’t expect to get most of the jokes or care about many of the nominations. But I had to watch, I told myself. It’s un-American not to do so, right? And I had to cheer on Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis.
And I’m so glad I did. Not because the show was amazing. It wasn’t. (Sorry, Billy Crystal.) But because by the end of the night I was feeling quite proud to be me. Let me explain.
I was very disappointed that Davis didn’t win for best actress, but Spencer took home the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in The Help and I clapped and jumped up and down when her name was called. She’s only the fifth black woman to win this award, but the excitement I felt was about much more than race. Spencer is from Alabama and she even gave a shout out to the Yellowhammer State in her acceptance speech. And as silly as it sounds, in that moment I felt like a member of my family was on that stage.
To top things off, the short documentary The Barber of Birmingham was also up for an Academy Award and even though the film didn’t win it felt good to see my city’s name and James Armstrong’s face on the screen.
The Barber of Birmingham is about a local barber whose shop was not only a place to get a haircut but also a place to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. Armstrong was a civil rights “foot soldier” and the walls of his shop were like a museum. I know this not from the documentary, but because I spent many Saturdays in Armstrong’s shop when I was a child. He and my grandmother, who was also very involved in the civil rights movement, were great friends. (Fun fact: Armstrong gave my little brother his first haircut.) When she stopped by his shop to talk about the ol’ days I’d often tag along.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t eager to visit his shop for a chance to be surrounded by history. I was unaware of how blessed I was to know him and to be my granny’s grandbaby. I just wanted to go because Armstrong would give me a few dollars if I swept up hair for him.
But now I know better. And The Barber of Birmingham is just another reason I’m so proud to be from my Sweet Home Alabama.