#OscarsSoBlack: African American nominees the Oscar judges missed

6158021-movie-award-icon-in-blackIn honor of this year’s #BoycottTheOscars movement, which director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith launched due to the lack of (any) black nominees at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony airing Sunday, February 28, 2016, at 7pm, here is a list of African Americans who did an outstanding job in various film categories throughout the years, just to give the Academy judges a little nudge.

Listed in the order of the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

 


Marlon Wayans as Tyrone C. Love in Requiem for a Dream (2000) I don’t wanna be runnin’ the streets my whole life with my sneakers all ripped up and my nose runnin’ down to my chin.

After gaining a reputation for his appearance in spoof comedies like Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking your Juice in the Hood (1996) and the beloved sitcom The Wayans Bros., actor Marlon Wayans took a gutsy career turn in his role as Tyrone C. Love in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), delivering his most powerful performance to date.

Don’t let the supporting actor tag fool you—Tyrone C. Love is no “magical negro.” Tyrone and protagonist Harry (Jared Leto) are friends who stick closer than brothers, fully endorsing one another’s bad habits and welcoming the consequences of each other’s actions.  Wayans adds soul that this masterpiece of a psych thriller would otherwise be lacking (see, for example, the deleted scene above).

Despite widespread critical success, the film scored only one Oscar nomination—for Ellen Burstyn’s character, a well-deserved recognition, but criminally under-appreciative in terms of the remaining cast.

Who won instead? Perhaps Marlon Wayans wouldn’t have fit in to 2000’s Best Supporting Actor lineup, which was an array of older nominees; the award went to Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro for his role in Traffic.

Laurence Fishburne as Furious Styles in Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Fishburne received one Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ike Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do with It. Before that, he wowed audiences early in his career as Furious Styles, the hood-wise, street-smart daddy of character Tre Styles. He deserved at least a nod for that famous gentrification monologue, if nothing else.

Who won instead? Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

 

Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julia in Death Proof (2007) Black men and a whole lotta motherfuckin’ white men have had plenty of fun adoring my ass. I don’t want their teeth marks on my butt for nothing.

Sydney Tamiia Poitier as Jungle Julia, the sexy, trash-talking radio DJ with a machete mouth and legs that go on forever, is the stuff of wet dreams. An iconic soul sister, Jungle Julia represents power, independence, and boldness. Somehow, she simultaneously maintains a laid-back poisethe epitome of cool.

Chances are if you haven’t seen Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof then you haven’t seen Poitier—and that’s a crying shame. Despite the film’s mixed reception, and Tarantino’s own acknowledgement that Death Proof was his “worst,” it still reached cult status; what Tarantino’s B-movie lacked in plot development, it made up for in character depth, cheap thrills, and cheeky dialogue. And boy can Poitier deliver a line!

Who won instead? Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

 

Best Achievement in Cinematography

 


Bradford Young—Selma (2014)

Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma received a Best Picture nomination, but it desperately deserved to be recognized for its extraordinary cinematography. Cinematographer Bradford Young was expected to receive said recognition, but of course, was snubbed. Witness the scene that won me over in the cinematography department.

Who won instead? Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman

Ernest R. Dickerson—Do The Right Thing (1989)

A visual masterpiece, Do The Right Thing has a color scheme that is so powerful, you can feel the summer heat of the Brooklyn ghetto beaming at you through your screen. Cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson, a frequent collaborator of Spike Lee, worked all kinds of magic with this one, and the film became a trendsetter in its use of vibrant colors to represent the ghetto in a simultaneously haunting and nostalgic way.

Who won instead?  Freddie Francis, Glory

 

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

 

Refugee Camp All-Stars feat. Lauryn Hill – The Sweetest Thing, Love Jones (1997)

Who won instead? James Horner/Will Jennings, “My Heart Will Go On,” Titanic. Sigh.


Cynthia Erivo – Fly Before You Fall, Beyond the Lights (2014)

Who won instead? John Legend/Common, “Glory,” Selma.

 

Best Original Screenplay

 

Steve McQueen—Shame (2011)

Writer-director Steve McQueen can best be recognized for his 2013 slavery epic 12 Years a Slave, which took home the statue for Best Picture… but this was about slavery.

But many have never even heard of his 2011 film Shame, which he also wrote, and for which star Michael Fassbender received an acting nod. Extremely overlooked, Shame is one of the first stories to depict sex addiction in an authentically unflattering light, and as such, well deserved a nomination for its very original screenplay.

Who won instead? Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Chris Rock—Top Five (2014)

Top Five is what I like to call Chris Rock’s directorial debut—that is to say, the first film that proves Rock to be an auteur. You can smell Chris Rock all over the story, which is a good thing, but the excellent thing is the film’s dialogue, writing I never knew he was even capable of, and the connection and undying chemistry that it creates between main characters Andre Allen and Chelsea Brown.

Who won instead? Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

 


Quentin Tarantino—Jackie Brown (1997)

Any fan of Tarantino’s is well aware the man doesn’t need help writing—so when Tarantino chooses to adapt a novel into a screenplay, chances are it’s a book worth reading. Elmore Leonard, once cited by Stephen King as “the great American writer,” is the author of Rum Punch, the novel that Jackie Brown is based on. Neither Leonard nor Tarantino are African-American, but the film itself is an obvious and endearing homage to the Blaxploitation flicks of the 70’s, and certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination for its unique and witty screenplay.

Who won instead? L.A. Confidential, adapted for the screen by Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson

 

Achievement in Directing

 

Ava DuVernay—Selma (2014)

Ava DuVernay was widely expected to receive a directing nomination for Selma, which would have made her the first African-American female to even receive a nomination in the category, and only the fifth female overall to be nominated throughout the Academy’s 87 years of ceremonies.

She didn’t.

Who won instead? Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman.

F. Gary Gray—Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Straight Outta Compton debuted to tons of hype and critical acclaim from audiences of all colors and cinematic tastes, but when Oscar season came winding down, it unfortunately got lost in the masses. The film teemed with originality in terms of narrative structure, which was hugely responsible for its critical success, and thus should have earned director F. Gary Gray some sort of glance, at least, from Oscar judges, but the talented auteur went unnoticed.

Ryan Coogler—Creed (2015)

Creed, the sixth sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s love letter to Philadelphia, Rocky, is a more than worthy follow-up. What makes Ryan Coogler’s (Fruitvale Station, 2013) sophomore feature so beautiful is its focus not only on the narrative, but the bond he builds between the characters and the city, visually depicting its sense of brotherhood. It inspired me to fall in love with my hometown all over again.

Who will win instead? One of these guys: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (The Revenant), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Adam McKay (The Big Short), Lenny Abrahamson (Room).

 

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

 


Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville in I Am Legend (2008) God didn’t do this. We did.

The role of last-man-on-earth in a survival epic is a surefire way to earn street cred in the acting game. Few to no co-stars means little to no dialogue; an actor must rely on facial expression and gesture to carry the film, reminiscent of the silent film era. In a one-man show, speech just makes the task even harder: try delivering a two-and-a-half hour monologue without a single yawn from your audience.

Actors take the role for two reasons: name above the title and Oscar nods (take, for instance, two of this year’s nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant or Matt Damon in The Martian). And if an Oscar nomination could just fall into the lap of Tom Hanks for Cast Away, I don’t know why there would be a second thought about nominating Will Smith for a far superior role in a far superior film.

Smith’s stellar performance is what good acting is all about, what little dialogue there is consists of our psychotic hero talking to himself, his dog, or his zombie experiments, all of whom are unable to verbally respond. It isn’t until about three quarters in that Smith’s character interacts with another human post-zombie apocalypse. His lonely protagonist descends into insanity, and then, once discovering he isn’t as lonely as he originally thought, tries to pull himself back together for human interaction. It is a breathtaking transition to witness, and despite Smith’s two Oscar nominations (no wins) for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, his performance in I Am Legend is his best and most underrated to date.

Who won instead? Sean Penn, Milk

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren in The Hateful Eight (2015) Bringing desperate men in alive, is a good way to get yourself dead.

An onscreen powerhouse, Jackson dominates every rolehe is always the most prominent character in a film, whether or not he is the protagonist. His brash attitude and boisterous voice are so easily recognizable that he has been typecast as the bold, loud-mouthed brother.

Tarantino obviously sees more in Samuel L. The pair have been collaborating since Pulp Fiction (1994), and each release offers a totally different character for Jackson to master. Jackson deserves SEVERAL Oscars for his catalogue of Tarantino roles alone.

In Hateful Eight, Major Marquis Warren is a black American man living in the 1800s, trapped in a cabin with no one but whities and an untrustworthy Mexican. Instead of playing on white guilt and pointing out the obvious in an attempt for sympathy, he demands equality with his wits and his gun.

So why has Jackson only received one Oscar nomination throughout his 165-feature film career? That’s a question for the judges at the Academy, and reason enough to cause an uproar from audiences of all ethnicities.

Who will win instead? To quote the Major himself, I’m sho’ I don’t know. But one thing’s fo’ sho: he won’t be black. 2016’s lineup consists of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant),  Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), and Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs).

 

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

 


Halle Berry as Frankie Murdoch in Frankie & Alice (2010) Here’s what I do, baby. I close my eyes and let the music take me. Like I’m on the outside just watchin.’ Like I ain’t even there. Like I’m watchin’ myself from the outside.

Halle Berry delivers an undervalued performance as Frankie, an undiagnosed sufferer of multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder).  Berry was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Leading Actress for the role. But to this day, the seasoned star of 46 features has only one Oscar nomination, and that came in the film that featured that infamous sex scene where she is fully exposed on camera opposite Billy Bob Thornton.

Berry’s Oscar-winning turn in 2001′s Monster’s Ball was undeniably phenomenal, but it remains jarring that her recognition from the Academy came for a portrayal of a poor, uneducated Southern black woman. In Frankie & Alice, Berry bares all without baring skin; although her character spends her nights employed as a go-go dancer, she doesn’t appear nude in any scenes, and she still does an impressive job of getting down to the core(s) of her character.

Who won instead?  Natalie Portman, Black Swan

 

Best Motion Picture of the Year

 

Remember the Titans (2000)

Remember the Titans has all the ingredients of a Best Picture: moral lessons, ‘based on a true story,’ and Denzel Washington. A critical and commercial success, I was surprised to learn that a film like Titans wasn’t recognized for anything when films like The Blind Side easily caught the Academy’s attention.

What won instead?Gladiator, dir. Ridley Scott

Top Five (2014) dir. By Chris Rock

If you haven’t seen it, then do yourself a huge favor, because Top Five is Chris Rock’s ‘thank you letter’ to all his great inspirations, from New York, to Woody Allen, to the African American race. And perhaps my favorite aspect of the film: It has absolutely nothing to do with race. Maybe that’s why it seemed to go unnoticed; it appears that as black cinema begins to expand beyond the slavery epic, relying less on white guilt and more on pure talent and originality, the Academy judges grow more and more unconvinced, turning a blind eye to the burgeoning powerhouse that is black cinema.

What won instead? Birdman, dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

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About the author

Trish McFadden

Trish McFadden is a Philly-based writer and film enthusiast. A recipient of the 2015 Judith Stark Award for her short story Rain, her writing has been featured in Limited Editions magazine and her short films have been screened at the CUFF Film Festival; however, she is most proud of her expansive movie poster and DVD collection.