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Awards Season Needs Detroit

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For the past three years the Oscars have been plagued with controversy over their lack of diversity and minority representation. It’s almost a tradition that #OscarsSoWhite overruns social media throughout February each year.

Recent films including 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight and 2015 nominee Selma have given an important platform for black and minority filmmakers, and the incessant calls for better representation in the Academy have in part been acted on. Cheryl Boone-Isaacs pledged a substantial improvement within the membership and in the two years since the difference is slowly beginning to show.

This year the debate will no doubt be spearheaded by another film, like Selma, set against the civil rights movement of the 1960s – Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit.

Detroit is a powerful drama based on the 1967 riots between the African American communities and the notoriously aggressive police force. With two brilliant performances from John Boyega and Will Poulter – who both deserve supporting actor consideration – the film hones in on one particular altercation at the Algiers hotel to present in stark, chilling reality the racial injustice that occurred right up until the end of the civil rights movement. However, far from being a historical drama, the relationship between African Americans and the authorities is one which has been thrust back into the spotlight in recent years after several high profile incidents.

The film displaces national modern day social issues so as to illicit shock without fear, to incite self-assessment without humiliation and to fuel an important debate at a time when the White House is seen more as an antagonist than a peacekeeper.

Though opinion among critics is divided and its campaign credibility dented, Detroit demands attention. The long scene which comprises the second act packs a real punch and hones in on the real enemy of segregation, that of ignorance. Poulter plays an inherently racist police officer whose questionable actions go unchallenged by fellow officers who turn a blind eye to injustice and find moral solace in the reactionary protection of African Americans, as opposed to the preventative confrontation of their white colleagues.

It’s an important story to tell that has obviously turned heads, though not always for the right reason. However, tent-poling a socially relevant narrative around two strong, high profile performances is why Detroit likely will get some awards recognition this season, punctuated by a great soundtrack and original song from The Roots.

This article, however, is not concerned so much with why it could win awards as why it should and, credibility and production value aside, Detroit is a film that matters right now.

Selma and Moonlight disrupted the Academy Awards for the right reasons. Ava DuVernay received an outpouring of support after her directorial snubbing, so much so that the following year’s exclusion of any people of colour from the acting nominations sparked a full blown controversy via #OscarsSoWhite. Following which, in 2017, Moonlight swept awards season with critical acclaim and, despite expectation that Damien Chazelle’s La La Land would convert many of its record nominations, took home Best Picture. Mahershala Ali also took the prize for Supporting Actor.

The three years between Selma and Moonlight will be defined through our collective condemnation and ultimate recognition and rectification of diversity issues within the Academy. Where Selma exposed a distinct bias towards white males, Moonlight demonstrated a capacity for change. Win or not, the exposure that a film made by people of colour received established a standard for which future generations of black filmmakers could aspire towards. “It is possible” was the clear message of these films, and one that was desperately needed.

Where both Selma and Moonlight created opportunity, Detroit offers the prospect of equality. It’s a narrative of racial, social injustice through the gaze of African American protagonists, told by white American filmmakers. An easy concept to condemn, but in reality a substantial step forward.

Kathryn Bigelow is the only female Oscar winning director and Mark Boal her screenwriter and co-producer. Both are white. Both are American. So is producer Megan Ellison. So is composer James Newton Howard. So are most of the crew. Does it matter? Should it matter?

It’s a complicated debate that will no doubt have passionate defenses from both sides. On the former are those that will staunchly oppose a narrative owned by African Americans to be told by a predominantly white crew. Then there are those who will argue that a good film is a good film, regardless of who’s behind the camera. For fear of sounding like an annoyingly non-committal politician, both arguments have merit. If Selma and Moonlight created opportunities for people of colour then why have they not been heavily involved in the production of a narrative that is born from their families, their history and their culture. However, if a necessary story is told in a powerful way that effectively conveys a admirable message, it should not matter who is telling the story; a film should speak for itself.

Allow me to break the fourth wall for a moment and declare my marginal support for the latter, albeit with caveats. To some extent the circumstance surrounding a film’s production is immaterial to the quality of the film, but it can massively affect our judgment – just ask Nate Parker.

The reason Detroit is much more important than Parker’s Birth of a Nation is rather than being a confrontational agenda film about African Americans by an African American, Bigelow’s film builds on the huge ideological gains made by Selma and Moonlight. It is not a film about African Americans by White Americans, it is a film about Americans by Americans. The story is all the more powerful because colour has not tainted the storytelling. The filmmakers have told a story about the victims of history fighting persecution against their victors.

This is a film about race, and that is imperative to the story.

The argument here is not about the story being told but the people telling it, and it is easier for us to write about what we know and to convey feelings we have felt. To bring to life a story never personally felt, never experienced and never directly understood with such conviction just because it’s the truth is an achievement not to be confused for ignorance.

Detroit succeeds where few other films can – not just in forcing acknowledgement of inequality, but in aiding the desegregation of perspective, and only when we’re capable of looking at history through an unfiltered lens can we begin to expand our cultural landscape with products of genuine equality.

This is why the Oscars need Detroit, and this is why you should watch it.

Awards News

Black Panther Aiming For Best Picture, Not Best Popular, According To Chadwick Boseman

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It’s Hollywood’s worst-kept secret; Marvel Studios’ chief Kevin Feige wants an Oscar. And not just a technical Oscar either. Following in the footsteps of Walt Disney, Feige’s ultimate goal is for one of his movies to win Best Picture. With Black Panther being a cultural juggernaut, the producer-extraordinaire sees it as his best chance yet and has reportedly hired veteran award strategist Cynthia Schwartz’s company – Strategy PR – to push for the nomination.

However, The Academy themselves threw a spanner in the works last month, when they announced the introduction of a brand new category at next year’s awards ceremony: Best Achievement in Popular Film. With Black Panther presently the highest-grossing film of the year domestically, and the second-highest internationally, it’s the clear favourite to win in the new category (at least, to the best of everyone’s knowledge – The Academy have, frustratingly, refused to define the new award). However according to King T’Challa himself, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, that’s not the goal.

“We don’t know what [Best Popular] is, so I don’t know whether to be happy about it or not,” Boseman told The Hollywood Reporter, “What I can say is that there’s no campaign for Popular Film; like, if there’s a campaign, it’s for Best Picture, and that’s all there is to it.”

“A good movie is a good movie,” the Get On Up star continued, “and clearly it doesn’t matter how much money a movie makes in order for it to be ‘a good movie’ because if [it did], the movies that get nominated and win [predominantly low-grossing, highly-praised art-house fare] wouldn’t get nominated; and if it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter on both sides. For my money, the only thing that matters is the level of difficulty.”

“What we did was very difficult. We created a world, we created a culture … we had to create a religion, a spirituality, a politics; we had to create an accent; we had to pull from different cultures to create clothing styles and hair styles. It’s very much like a period piece. … So, as far as that’s concerned, I dare any movie to try to compare to the difficulty of this one. And the fact that so many people liked it — if you just say it’s [only] popular, that’s elitist.”

Chadwick has a point – the gross of a film has never, and should not, affect a film’s chances at winning Best Picture. However, whilst The Academy has made clear that a film can be nominated for both Best Film and Best Popular (frustrating many members who have then rightfully asked what the point is), they have somewhat written themselves into a corner when it comes to Black Panther. See, through a very specific sequence of events, The Academy have manufactured a situation where the most likely events to play out on the night will be Damien Chazelle’s buzzy First Man, a movie with an all-white cast and crew, winning Best Picture… whilst the all-black cast and crew of Black Panther accept the new ‘separate but equal’ award for Best Achievement in Popular Film. Yikes.

Black Panther is available on Digital, DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K now, and is rated 12A.

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Awards News

Danny DeVito To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award At The San Sebastian Film Festival

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Batman Returns star Danny DeVito is set to receive the coveted Donostia Award, honouring him for his career achievements, at the sixty-sixth annual San Sebastian Film Festival this September.

“The award recognizes a career of almost five decades related to acting in theatre, film and television, telling stories as an actor, producer and director,” the Spanish festival’s organisers said in a statement, “The Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner is known for his roles in television series Taxi and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and movies such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment, Romancing The Stone, Twins, Ruthless People, and Tin Men.”

“He has also directed – and starred in – hugely emblematic films, including The War of the Roses (1989), Hoffa (1992), Death to Smoochy (2002), Throw Momma From the Train (1987), Curmudgeons (2016), Duplex (2003), The Ratings Game (1984), and The World’s Greatest Lover (1977).”

The San Sebastian Film Festival will run from the 21st to the 29th of September. Danny DeVito can next be heard in animated children’s flick Smallfoot, which will premiere on the 23rd at the Festival.

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Oscars 2018

THE BURDEN OF OSCAR: POLITICS AND FILM.

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2017 was not overly kind to Hollywood. A drop in cinema audiences. Dismal summer box office. Increasing competition from the rise of Netflix and compelling television shows. Decreasing ratings for movie awards shows. Justice League.
And please, nobody even mention Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.

In short it all went a bit Pete Tong for La La Land last year.
In fact the La La Land /Moonlight mix up at the Oscars in February now seems a rare bright spot in the 2017 tinsel town calendar. Reading out the wrong best picture winner? Light relief! Oh, how we can laugh now at a ‘wrong envelope mishap’ in the wake of #metoo and #sheknew

So, where and when did the rot start?
I’d suggest November 2016. On 8th November to be precise. Hollywood was tux and gown ready to celebrate the presidential victory of the woman whose campaign many A listers had funded to the tune of millions. However, 60 million Americans had a different plan. Enter the Donald!
The rest is outrage history.

Hollywood has since used Twitter, late night chat shows the press and most of all, awards shows to bash Trump……….and by association the 60 million who voted for him. 60 million potential movie fans.

Some love the political content of awards shows. Some are infuriated by it. But for many the politics has just got old really quickly. All they want from their movie and tv stars is entertainment. Yet the one industry that has the power to bring polarised communities together isn’t managing it. Nor does the entertainment media help.

The dumbest question on the movie red carpet in 2017 was one that was repeated the most, earnestly each time as if it was something unbelievably profound: what do you think will Trump voters make of your film?
Alexander Payne when asked it at the Venice film festival was one of the few who refused to be baited. He said he hoped that he made films for everybody. Unfortunately for him, his film Downsizing didn’t exactly please everybody but at least he recognised that his role is as a filmmaker not political campaigner. Similarly, while other stars have lost fans due to their relentless political tirades, Frances McDormand has been gaining them by being funny, entertaining and making it clear that her politics are her private business. But Payne and McDormand are rare. Too many stars and filmmakers take the media bait or can’t resist lecturing the world on the cause du jour when it isn’t the time and place to do so.

That is the issue. There is a time and place to make earnest speeches, to berate, to demand change, to highlight injustice. The Oscars podium isn’t it.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Oscars. It was a terrific experience. It was everything I’d imagined the Oscars to be; glamorous, fun, starry and an escape from the norm. The dresses were colourful and gorgeous. The jokes were funny. Everyone was out to party!
Was it frivolous, unreal and superficial. Yep. And it was all the more wonderful for that because I’d come to the event from conducting a 15 day case in the High court about a paedophile ring. So I know about the real world, thank you. And so do the millions who watch the Oscars on television around the world. The Oscars is their escape from the real world, as it was mine.

Yes, the Oscars has always been political to a degree; Marlon Brando sending a Native American woman to collect his Oscar for The Godfather, Michael Moore leading the charge against President Bush and the Iraq war, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon highlighting Haiti and many more issues. But those were moments in a lengthy ceremony. The rest of the show remained light and fun. The atmosphere overall wasn’t somber, even funereal. In the last 3-4 years the politics has completely overshadowed the films and the film stars.

The Oscars now seems to be first about race, sexuality, political affiliation, hashtag movements with the actual work second.

The #oscarssowhite in 2016 campaign was the first year that I can remember when a cause dominated the coverage, pushing the films and actors in contention for the awards out of the limelight. But it has continued. Last year the subject was President Trump. This year it’s #metoo and #TimesUp.
Around Oscar time I get asked 3 main questions: which of the nominated films do I recommend? Who do I think will win? Who had the best dress?

The first suggests that being nominated/winning really does help a film’s box office. And since the Oscars is essentially an industry event at which the film business shows off its wares, that’s a good thing. The second shows that humans are a competitive lot at heart. It’s why we love sport. No one truly likes ‘participation prizes’. We want there to be a ‘best’ so we can endlessly argue about it for evermore afterwards.
And yes, the third question is every bit as legitimate as the first two. Hollywood is the epitome of glamour. Fashion is big business that employs many people. The Oscars brings the two together on a world stage. And yes, women get asked about their dresses because it’s what many people tune in to see. The men’s tuxedos are the same each year. They aren’t the draw.
Funnily, the questions that don’t crop up are ‘what does Chris Hemsworth think about Brexit’ or ‘ What are Rebel Wilson’s views on the fiscal crisis’.
Maybe, just maybe, people don’t really care.

As I write this, some media outlets are reporting that Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster will present the best actress award this year instead of Casey Affleck. He withdrew recently from the tradition of the previous best actor winner presenting the new best actress winner with her gong, most likely, because he didn’t want or need the media coverage that would have dogged him in respect of allegations of sexual misconduct which were subject to an agreement between him and two women. None of the trio are legally allowed to speak publicly about the agreement. No one outside their respective close circles and legal advisers knows what the terms of the agreement were. Affleck could have agreed terms because he’s guilty as hell and didn’t want a court trial to prove it. The women could have been lying through their teeth and didn’t want a court trial to prove it.

Or, you know, the truth could lie somewhere in the middle. As it often does. Point is, we will never know.

That, of course didn’t stop hysterical speculation last year on social media of what Casey Affleck was ‘definitely, absolutely, 100% guilty of” – because – wait for it- he always plays creepy guys on screen! And it wouldn’t have stopped it this year, specially in the wake of #metoo. So Affleck stepped aside.

If it’s true that Lawrence and Foster will replace him, has the Academy really thought it through? What’s the message here:

That it takes two women to replace one man?

That there are no men left in Hollywood who can even safely present a woman with an award?

That only women can present an award to a woman because gender segregation is where we’re at in 2018??!!

See, this is what happens when you add politics to the mix. You may think you’re doing something right but it can come out all wrong.

On Oscar night on Sunday, armed police and security guards will protect stars who will go on stage and speak passionately against guns. Actresses who cheered and gave standing ovations to convicted child rapist Roman Polanski will now speak passionately against sexual predators. The list is endless of hypocrisies Hollywood can be called out for, so the wise thing to do might be to leave politics outside the door and, you know, entertain on the biggest night of the glamour industry.

However, I’m not betting on it.

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