By Matt Neglia I just had the pleasure of watching Ava DuVernay’s latest film “13th” on Netflix and I cannot stress enough how much I urge you to stop reading this and go watch that right this very moment if you can. I also highly recommend running to your local theater if it is playing there and seeing it on the big screen as it truly packs a punch that you can only experience in the cinema. The reason I bring this up is because after two embarrassing years in a row where the Academy could not bring themselves to nominate a single person of color in all four of the acting races, this year seems to be the answer to that outcry known as #OscarsSoWhite. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that “13th” is going to win Ava DuVernay the Oscar for Best Documentary after being unfairly snubbed a few years ago in the Best Director category for directing “Selma.” She would become the first black woman to ever win the award and it would mark a huge step for any other black women in the industry looking to break down the barriers that years and years of tradition has built up in front of them. “13th” is so good (98% on Rotten Tomatoes with a Metacritic Rating of 91) that many have proclaimed it deserves to be in the Best Picture conversation. It would become the first documentary to ever crack the Best Picture lineup, a feet that animated and foreign films have been able to do in the past.
However, DuVernay’s powerful and well researched film on the 13th Amendment and its loophole in preserving some form of “slavery” within this country is not the only film this year that is taking a hard look at black lives within this country. Denzel Washington’s film “Fences” which he acts in and directs could be not only a Best Picture contender, but is currently in the hunt for wins in three categories (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress). Mike Nichol’s film “Loving” showcases the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who’s story of racial prejudice and injustice found its way to the Supreme Court and altered the constitution allowing for interracial marriages across the country. The film could be a contender in Best Picture, Best Actress for breakout star Ruth Negga and also land Nichols an Oscar nomination for screenplay. “Hidden Figures” is a film that will be released on Christmas Day which explores the role that colored women played in NASA’s space program anchored by a leading performance from Taraji P. Henson and supporting turns from Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) and recording artist Janelle Monae. And finally we have “Moonlight.” The indie darling from Barry Jenkins explores the life of a black man living in Florida who is having trouble coming to grips with his own sexuality in a world that glorifies its own perceived image of masculinity. It’s a heartbreaking and artfully well made film that features what may be quite possibly the best ensemble cast of the year with two very good performances from Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali.
So what does all of this mean? Well, if I’m being frank, it means that there is absolutely no way that we are heading towards another #OscarsSoWhite year. In fact, a large the winners of the Big 5 categories (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Supporting Actor & Supporting Actress) could all theoretically be people of color. The chance for the Oscars to do the right thing is there in awarding what is some of the best that cinema has to offer this year. The Emmys and the Tonys are already ahead of the curve in this area of including more diversity. The Oscars cannot be that far behind. If there is a repeat of the last two years, it will be catastrophic. I know we say that it cannot possibly happen, not with all of the work that the Academy has to choose from. But we have had our hearts broken by AMPAS before and we surely will again. Please check out the link here to see our current Oscar predictions and let us know who do you think has a shot at a nomination or a win this year.
You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @NextBestPicture