After last year’s racially driven Oscar season, I wrote about how I believed ‘The Birth of a Nation’ was gearing up for a big Academy Awards run, even before it was released to the public (you can read that here). The whole #OscarsSoWhite backlash was so apparent last year that I knew it would take a “black” movie to reap the benefits (if that’s what you want to call it) at the 2017 award show. Based on the notion that the Academy likes movies that deal with slavery lately (i.e. ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Django Unchained’) I, thus, immediately thought of ‘The Birth of a Nation’. The fact that it was also praised on the festival circuit helped too. But before the story of Nat Turner was even released into the theaters, the media went on a frenzy making it very hard for the movie to prosper by revealing scandalous (though it was already public knowledge) news about Nate Parker, the director, producer, writer and star of the movie. A rape case from 1999, that Parker was acquitted of, was brought to the forefront and definitely hindered sales at the box office, in the eyes of critics, the public and probably awards voters he was now a villain. I definitely don’t see any way any nominations are given to ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and since it’s probably because of how Parker was portrayed in the media, that’s unfortunate. BUT, if all that news wasn’t out there and it just didn’t get nominated because of the movie itself then that’s a different story. Although Parker did a good job with the movie, all around, at most I would say he deserves a Best Actor consideration.
While ‘The Birth of a Nation’, figuratively, dropped the ball, there’s already another “black” movie ready to take its place. ‘Moonlight’ is getting nothing but universal praise and is looked at as probably being a major player come Oscar night, February 26th, 2017. Many reviewers are calling it the best movie of 2016 and predictions are saying it is likely to take home nominations in some categories like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Cinematography. I don’t want to go out on another limb and say this movie will win all those awards because if it does get nominated, some other movie or performance might gain momentum around the time when the votes are placed or the racial theme that was the cloud around this year’s show might not reappear as heavy as I think it will. If the pressure to include more diversity isn’t there then some voters might not give a movie like ‘Moonlight’ a chance. But I just can’t see it getting shunned and not just because it’s a “black” movie (I mean literally. The people who I think are white in the movie are barely even noticeable and say nothing. So yeah, I’m not sure if they’re white or not) but because it’s simply a great movie.
‘Moonlight’ is the edgier version of ‘Boyhood’, in that it shares similar theatrical themes such as the growth of a young individual but Chiron (the main character in ‘Moonlight’) goes through tougher situations than that of Mason (the main character in ‘Boyhood’). I know ‘Boyhood’ was more of a long term project than ‘Moonlight’ was but I’m just saying they’re similar (Put an elaborate example of a tougher situation w/o revealing too much). But anyways, ‘Moonlight’ is an Oscar worthy movie because Barry Jenkins did a great job directing the movie and using different techniques to make the already personal story even more personal. On top of that, it has great performances across the board, a score that perfectly captures every scene, a great script and a relatable message for many people out there. It also has something else that I think will appeal to the Academy: a topic some people would claim to be controversial (i.e. the slavery element with ‘The Birth of a Nation’).
When anything in the media touches on homosexuality, it seems to be looked at as controversial for some reason (seriously y’all it’s 2016, almost 2017). But when it is touched on in a personal and realistic way, I have to give the movie credit because it did something well that I don’t get many opportunities to see touched on in the media. The sexuality of Chiron in ‘Moonlight’ plays a big role (but subtly) to the plot and the way his character develops. That type of “against-the-norm” plot device seems like the type stuff the Academy likes (if it is a part of a great movie). Just look at Jared Leto’s performance as a transgender women in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ in 2013 or Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in 2008 or Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in ‘Monster’ in 2003. Those all won Academy Awards, were great performances and received more attention because they weren’t your typical roles.‘Brokeback Mountain’ also dealt with homosexuality and was rewarded at the Oscars. Besides the topic of sexuality, I could use other topics to show how the Oscars like to reward movies that fall into the “against-the-norm” category. Just look at this year, with ‘The Revenant’ and the controversy around shooting that movie and how it fared Oscar night. So, unfortunately, something other than its great quality, could be a reason why ‘Moonlight’ will play a big part in next year’s Oscars.
To sum it all up, do I think ‘Moonlight’ will get some love from the Oscars because it is a good “black” movie? Yes. Is it because it deals with a topic some people might deem controversial? Yes. But in any other year that wasn’t surrounded by the loudest screams of diversity, do I think it would get the same love? Yes, because it’s a great raw and personal movie that deserves to be rewarded in these type of circles
(Photo Credit: http://www.impawards.com/2016/posters/moonlight.jpg; SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL; Paul Sheehan – http://www.goldderby.com/article/2016/telluride-film-festival-moonlight-oscars-2017-barry-jenkins-news-135790864/; Matt Lankes/IFC Films; Anne Marie Fox—Focus Features)