By Adam Howard, theGrio.com (Article originally published on theGrio.com.)
While movie industry insiders are anxiously awaiting the results of the contentious race for best picture (will the Ben Affleck snub help “Argo” overpower the “Lincoln“ juggernaut?), most African-Americans tuning to the Academy Awards this Sunday will be hoping to see some black history being made.
For instance, if Denzel Washington, who is nominated for his fourth best actor award, were to pull off an unlikely win for his fantastic performance as an alcohol and drug addicted pilot in “Flight,” he would cement his status as the most honored black actor in Hollywood history.
However, the emphasis should be on the word unlikely, because if there is a category that is totally sewn up, it’s this one.
Daniel Day-Lewis has taken virtually every precursor honor for his remarkable recreation of Abraham Lincoln, and there is no doubt he will take home an unprecedented third best actor trophy on Oscar night.
Still, for Washington, who was arguably overlooked for his stellar role in “American Gangster“ in 2007, this nomination marks a welcome return to the Academy’s fold after an absence of more than a decade.
The more likely potential winner of color may just be the youngest best actress nominee ever, “Beasts of the Southern Wild“ star Quvenzhané Wallis.
The adorable 9-year-old has certainly charmed the Hollywood establishment and although her nomination was initially viewed as a reward unto itself, prognosticators have not ruled out a potential upset of frontrunners Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook“) and Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty“).
Then again, Wallis must compete with another sentimental favorite,”Amour‘s” Emmanuelle Riva, who happens to be the oldest best actress nominee ever at age 88.
Wallis’ nomination also has received some backlash from critics who believe her performance (which was captured when she was only 6 years old) really is a triumph of directing, and not a true reflection of her talents.
“Acting requires some intentionality on the part of the actor, some conscious effort to adopt a persona other than his or her own. Even adult actors who get criticized for ‘playing themselves’ are engaged in a series of more or less conscious decisions about how best to be themselves onscreen. A young child, meanwhile, likely isn’t thinking at all about how to be herself, let alone a character. She’s a kid, and she just ‘is,’” wrote The Atlantic‘s Scott MacDonald back in December before she was nominated.
“She’s hugely magnetic, and she commands the screen to an extent most adult performers could only dream of. But what she does in “Beasts” is not acting. What she’s doing is being a great camera subject,” he added.
However, African-American writer Dyna Nyma counters MacDonald on the blog PolicyMic: “Children are not just passive subjects. Even at a young age, they already possess the ability to play. Even in every day life they are able to create artificial environments, and indulge in illusions without getting lost in them. Furthermore, in an interview, in June 2012, Wallis, in her own words distinguishes herself from Hushpuppy. By doing so she shows that, despite her young age, children can adopt a persona and more or less act, contrary to what MacDonald thinks.”
As the debate over whether or not Wallis is worthy of recognition continues, the wild card in the Oscar race remains “Django Unchained.”
Despite being one of the most influential filmmakers of his or any era, Quentin Tarantino has never won a best director Oscar and he isn’t even nominated this year. Yet he is the frontrunner for best original screenplay (which may raise eyebrows due to his film’s ubiquitous use of the n-word) and with the best supporting actor race relatively wide open, Golden Globe winner Christoph Waltz may just win his second Academy Award for his role as Dr. King Schultz in the movie.
Sadly for many black movie fans, the hit slavery-themed film’s black stars, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, all went unrecognized by the Academy.
But what about the best picture race? That award goes to the film’s producers, which in the case of “Django” includes veteran black filmmaker Reginald Hudlin.
The “House Party“ director has been one of his film’s fiercest defenders in the face of criticism of the movie’s language, violence and interpretation of American history.
“We knew from the beginning that we were working with nitroglycerin,” Hudlin said in a recent Associated Press interview. “Was there a tremendous amount of discussion and conversation and analysis to make sure we were calibrating this thing exactly right? Absolutely. It was explosive material, but I always had confidence that as a team, we would deliver the right movie.”
“Django“ has become an enormous hit, grossing over $150 million in the U.S. alone, but it’s widely viewed as too provocative and polarizing to have a serious shot at the night’s biggest prize.
That award will likely go to either the Iranian hostage crisis thriller “Argo,” which has been on a roll as of late or “Lincoln,” which is the highest-grossing and most nominated film of the year.
For some black viewers it’s ironic that a film about the outlawing of slavery, which largely sidesteps the role of African-Americans in that struggle, would be the movie to triumph on Oscar night.
Still, that film has renewed interest in the historic fight for the 13th Amendment, and may have led to the state of Mississippi finally officially ratifying it just this year.
The 85th annual Academy Awards air Sunday, February 24th at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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