Meaghan McDonough ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In case you’ve been under a rock for the past day or two: Oscar nominations came out and people are not happy about it. For the second year in a row, white people have dominated the nominations in all major categories, with no actors of color being nominated, and only one director of color (Alejandro G. Iñárritu) nominated for his film. White writers were nominated for screenplays written about black characters, white actors were nominated in films starring people of color, and some movies were straight up forgotten about—despite being Cannes and Sundance nominees. While it’s usually argued that there are just not enough films made by, for, or about people of color, this awards season seems to highlight the real truth: there are films out there, but they’re just being ignored.
Below are 9 films featuring people of color that are 100% worth watching, whether the Academy thinks so or not.
The lack of props to the AAFCA’s 2016 winner for Best Screenplay has been a thing of disappointment since the film came out this summer. Dope follows Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a black high school geek living in LA’s Inglewood neighborhood, on a journey of self-actualization through unconventional (yet some how familiar) trials of growing up. It’s a sort of Ferris Bueller’s Day off meets The Warriors crossed with Boyz n the Hood. Written and directed by Nigerian-American Rick Famuyiwa and outfitted with fresh, funny, and honest performances by Moore, Kiersey Clemons, A$AP Rocky—among many others—Dope is the perfect coming of age story for a post-Trayvon Martin world.
Read Emertainment Monthly’s full review of Dope here.
Straight Outta Compton
With it’s (unintended) meme-based advertising and biopic base, Straight Outta Compton surely seemed to be the clear black-representation for the Academy to pick up on, much like Selma was for last year’s awards. A Dr. Dre and Ice Cube produced film about the rise of rap group NWA and their contribution to the hip-hop revolution of the 1980s, Straight Outta Compton is brimming with black actors, black narratives, and hell, black music that the Academy ought to be noting. Just as Jamie Foxx called out the Globes for the snub in the Best Score category, one can only hope Chris Rock is planning to do the same as the host of the Academy Awards. Besides the music, F. Gary Gray’s directing makes the performances of up-and-comers O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell shine in these iconic roles.
Read Emertainment Monthly’s full review of Straight Outta Compton here.
With a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor In A Motion Picture – Drama, Will Smith seemed like he was poised to be on the Academy Awards list for Best Actor after his role in Concussion. A biopic following the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), a Pittsburgh pathologist who discovers the potential health concerns for football players that experience multiple concussions, and his fight against the NFL. Even from the trailer, one can tell that Will Smith is giving the performance of his career. And even if this seems like it’s going to be the year Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets his Oscar, there’s no good excuse for keeping a talent like Will Smith off the list. The lack of nominations for Concussion is almost suspicious: does the idea of a black, genius, immigrant fighting the goliath system of the NFL hit a little too close to home for the goliath system that is the Academy? Whatever the case, this is a truly obvious and disappointing snub, especially since Smith was awarded Best Actor by the AAFCA.
Beasts of No Nation
While the Golden Globes have seemingly given up on their purist cable-and-big-screen only nominations, the Academy is apparently still holding out. Beasts of No Nation, whose Idris Elba received both Golden Globe and BAFTA nods, is a Netflix original movie following the experiences of a child soldier fighting in a civil war. Directed by Japanese-Swedish-American Emmy Winner Cary Fukunaga, the film contains expert performances by Elba as well as the lead, young Abraham Atta (as child soldier Agu). If Leo DiCaprio really wants to give speeches about the plights of indigenous communities, maybe he should offer a plug for Beasts of No Nation, which works tirelessly to expose one of Africa’s largest issues.
Directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, Creed reboots the Rocky franchise in a long-overdue but well-earned way. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the out-of-wedlock son of Apollo Creed who falls into boxing despite the protests of his adoptive mother. Seeking the help of Rocky Balboa, Adonis trains to live up to his father’s legacy. With stunning cinematography and directorial choices by Coogler and awe-inspiring performances by both Jordan and supporting actress Tessa Thompson, there were plenty of people of color to pick from for nominees. However, the Academy only offered a nod to Sylvester Stallone, who is almost surely only being nominated because he hasn’t received any awards recognition from the Academy since 1977. Despite this, Creed shines as a feel good sports film that revitalizes an old but good tale of the underdog boxer.
Filmed entirely on an iPhone 5s, Tangerine is the innovative, current, and heart-warming film telling the story of a black, trans woman where the actress playing her is actually a black, trans woman. Aided by friend and fellow trans woman Alexandra (Mya Taylor), sex worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) spends Christmas Eve hunting down the pimp who broke her heart. Tangerine is critically acclaimed—strangely simple and new and wonderfully unforgettable—and yet completely left by the wayside by the Academy. How can it make sense to ignore a film so touching, that used as low-budget a camera (an iPhone!) as they could get, that had such stunning performances? Especially in a year when trans issues came to the forefront of media?
Spike Lee’s latest film, Chi-Raq—a timely adaptation of a Greek comedy set against the background of modern day Chicago—is just the latest of Lee’s films to be left behind by the Academy. Though Lee is one of this year’s honorary award recipients, it’s starting to look as if Lee will never receive a Oscar for his directing, producing or writing contributions. Never mind Lee’s masterful directorial choices in adapting a classic Greek play to the screen; the performance of Lysistrata by Teyonah Parris is both grounded and mercurial, carrying almost the entire movie on it’s back. Like many of the movies mentioned before this, the most important factor in this movie that is noteworthy is the time at which it comes out: in a year filled with black issues, this is a movie that tries to remind viewers to laugh at the ridiculousness of life.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Last but not least, how could any list of movies from this year be complete without mentioning Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Starring Nigerian-British actor John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, with support from Guatemalan-Cuban actor Oscar Isaac, the movie is critically acclaimed and popular enough to prove that casting actors of color works! It’s the top-earning movie of all time! Despite being a fun and fast-paced action flick that rejuvenates the Star Wars franchise, the acting in it—especially by Boyega and Isaac—is certainly noteworthy. Usually not the Academy’s taste, but then again, neither is a dramedy like The Martian or a post-apocalyptic blockbuster like Mad Max: Fury Road. This, by all accounts, seemed like it would get some love from the Academy. But the only nominations it earned were for editing, effects, and Best Original Score—nothing to do with the beloved stars of the film.
Read Emertainment Monthly’s full review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens here.
Magic Mike XXL
This summer’s strippers-take-a-road trip-sequel to 2012’s Magic Mike stirred up a lot of debates, mostly concerning whether or not it could be considered the most feminist movie of the year. Though Mad Max: Fury Road was a primarily female cast that told a story of strong women fighting against a world wrought with toxic masculinity, Magic Mike XXL brought a few things to the table that Mad Max, in all its bluster, left behind in the dust of Fury Road. Thought Magic Mike XXL’s main cast is made up entirely of men (notably not all white, though), a major supporting character who makes the movie brilliant is played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and the background characters are women of all ages, races, and sizes. The film focuses on men making women feel good and asking what they want, making women feel sexy without sexualizing them. This appreciation of women combined with the extensive narration and power player fierceness of Jada Pinkett Smith make the movie a worthy competitor with Mad Max: Fury Road, and should have earned Smith a nom for Best Supporting Actress.
Read Emertainment Monthly’s full review of Magic Mike XXL here.
Any of these movies are worthy of at least one nomination, though many of them are worth much more than that. Still, it seems that if we’re waiting on equal treatment in Hollywood, we’re going to have to keep waiting. Even so, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy and support the movies we got!
The 88th Annual Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, February 28th on ABC. A full list of the nominees can be found here.