In a 2.29 N.Y. Times piece about diversity concerns and the gradual implementation of new AMPAS voting rules, Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply state the following: “The academy has only a few months to repair damaged processes, internal relationships and its public image before the next Oscar season descends in late summer, bringing with it a chilling prospect: What if voters, even after a planned purge of inactive members, again snub actors of color?”
The purge will take a while to fully kick in, but in terms of the upcoming 2016 Oscar season Barnes and Cieply are essentially asking “what if Academy voters aren’t as impressed with Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation as many who attended the 2016 Sundance Film Festival were?”
Nation and possibly one other film — Barry Jenkins‘ Moonlight, a Plan B/A24 project about “black queer youth amid the temptations of the Miami drug trade” — are the only 2016 films made by and primarily starring African-Americans that seem to have, at least nominally, the markings of award-season contenders.
The only other film with an African-American theme and a sizable cast of African-American players is Gary Ross‘s The Free State of Jones (STX, 5.13), but this is basically a drama about a white savior — a true story of a Mississippi farmer, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), who leads an armed rebellion against the Confederacy and marries a former slave, Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
There’s also Jeff Nichols‘ Loving, a late ’50s-era drama about a real-life interracial marriage that briefly resulted in Mildred and Richard Loving (Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton) being sentenced to prison in Virginia.
Please check out HE’s just-posted 2016 Oscar Balloon — a rundown of over 55 films that may eventually register as awards fodder or at least as adult-friendly, review-driven fare. If I’m missing a black-centric film of any dimension — African-American focused, performed or created — please advise.
I’ve made no secret of my view that The Birth of a Nation is not all that great. Many critics (including BBC.com’s Owen Gleiberman, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn) agree with me. During the pre-party at last weekend’s Spirit Awards a pair of astute observers (a film festival honcho, a distribution chief) told me they also agree with my view. Trust me — the Sundance reception was out of whack with reality.
That said, The Birth of a Nation will almost certainly be Best Picture-nominated (along with a potential Best Director nominaton for Parker, although I honestly don’t believe that he’s delivered a good enough film to warrant such an honor) and more than likely strike a chord among ticket buyers. Nobody has clue #1 what Moonlight will be or whether it will be received as an award-calibre thing, but to answer Barnes and Cieply, the chance that Academy voters might again snub actors of color is certainly a possibility.
We’re only talking, remember, about three or four films out of 55, and Parker’s has already been dismissed by a certain sector.
From my 1.25.16 review: “The Birth of a Nation delivers a myth that many out there will want to see and cheer, but don’t kid yourself about how good and satisfying this film is. It’s mostly a mediocre exercise in deification and sanctimony. I loved the rebellion as much as the next guy but it takes way too long to arrive — 90 minutes.
“Parker, the director, writer and star, sank seven years of his life into this film, and invested as much heart, love and spiritual light into the narrative as he could. But the bottom line is that he’s more into making sure that the audience reveres the halo around Nat Turner’s head and less into crafting a movie that really grabs and gets you, or at least pulls you in with the harsh realism, riveting performances and narrative, atmospheric discipline that made Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years A Slave an undisputed masterpiece.
“As noted, Parker doesn’t seem to even respect the fact that he needs to deliver the historic rebellion (obviously the crucial element with horribly oppressed African-Americans hatcheting white slave-owners to our considerable satisfaction) within a reasonable time frame, which would be 45 minutes to an hour, tops. Kirk Douglas and his fellows broke out of Peter Ustinov‘s gladiator training school around the 45-minute mark.”