mlk biopic

One time during the whitewashing controversy over “Star Trek Into Darkness” some hardcore Cumberbatch fan told me they didn’t understand the big deal because “Ben is a good enough actor that I wouldn’t even object if he played Martin Luther King” and now I’m haunted by periodic nightmarish visions of the alternate universe with an MLK biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch, especially when I see commercials for ScarJo’s “ghost in the shell”

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Pararmount has revealed a first look at Ava DuVernay’s upcoming film Selma, telling the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (David Oyelowo) historic struggle to secure voting rights for all people - a dangerous and terrifying campaign that culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and led to President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This is our first look at Oyelowo (The Butler, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as Dr. King as well as some of the supporting members of the cast including (see below) Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King. Additional cast members include Keith Stanfield, Andre Holland, Omar J. Dorsey, Tessa Thompson, Colman Domingo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi and Stephan James.

Paramount has already set a December 25 release for the film.

Addressing the Nonsense That is #OscarsSoWhite

I don’t like political correctness. At all. As a matter of fact, I hate it. Our society has been poisoned by it. Finding something to be angry about to feed our victimhood and seeking social justice only puts sugar-coated padding on that tough thing we call life. Life ain’t easy and it’s not supposed to be. 

Let’s turn to the controversy that’s currently rocking Hollywood. For two years in a row, the Academy nominated 20 white actors in each of the four acting categories and nominated almost all white male directors (with the exception of Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu nominated back-to-back for Birdman and The Revenant). 

The #OscarSoWhite movement began last year when, just like this year, all 20 acting nominations went to white actors and almost all of the directing nominations went to white men. However, it was a bit more jarring last year than this year because Selma, the highly-praised MLK biopic, did earn a Best Picture nomination, but was snubbed in every category except for Best Original Song, which went on to win the Oscar. 

This year, there were several films that received awards recognition, just not in the major Oscar categories. Straight Outta Compton, the critically-acclaimed biopic of the famous rap group N.W.A., scored one nomination for Best Original Screenplay but was shut out elsewhere. Creed, a continuation of the Rocky franchise, received one nomination for Best Supporting Actor (a heavy favorite for Sylvester Stallone to win btw), but director Ryan Coogler and lead actor Michael B. Jordan were left out. Idris Elba received numerous nominations for his performance in Netflix’s debut film Beasts of No Nation but failed to be acknowledged by the Academy. Other minority actors snubbed include Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina), and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and May Taylor (Tangerine). 

I understand the frustrations of folks that minority actors and filmmakers aren’t represented among this year’s nominees, but I also believe their frustrations are very misguided. 

For those who aren’t in the industry or know much about what goes into it, there are lots of politics in Hollywood, particularly when it comes to the Oscars. Believe it or not, there is lots of campaigning and self-promotion that goes into the voting process. Many awards analysts believe Selma’s too little too late campaigning and missing deadlines to prior award ceremonies led to the directing and acting snubs at the Oscars. 

However, many vocal critics of the #OscarsSoWhite movement point to the fact that the Academy is 93% white and 76% male. And while the black female Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs made an attempt to invite much younger and diverse members last year, the efforts were apparently not enough. Whether she will admit it or not, those statistics reflect the white and male dominated industry. This also means that great films featuring minority actors and filmmakers are not all that common due to financial risks that they pose at the box office. Of course there are exceptions like this year’s Straight Outta Compton and Creed, grossing $200 and $108 million respectively, or 2011′s The Help, which earned over $216 million at the box office, but they were still perceived as gambles by white studio execs. 

If people want to see more diverse nominees, particularly in the acting categories, they cannot wait for these studios to produce such projects. Wealthy filmmakers of color like Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and Will Smith have enough money to develop their own studios and produce their own films. They need to represent themselves in the cinema landscape if the Hollywood establishment continues not to. 

In a perfect world, the Academy would acknowledge a diverse group of actors and filmmakers so that every minority feels acknowledged in one way or another, but this isn’t the US Census. The nominees don’t have to reflect the current population. They earn their nominations for the outstanding performances and the wonderful filmmaking they provide throughout the year. And those individuals shouldn’t be punished just because they happen to be white. Injecting an “affirmative action”-like expectation into the Oscars only lowers standards because Academy members no longer vote on talent but on skin color and gender. We’re not lowering the NBA standards so we can see more white basketball players on the court. Talent alone should drive an individual’s success.

It’s also unfair to suggest that Academy members only vote based on race. It is insulting to both white and non-white members alike to say that white members would only vote for white filmmakers and inviting non-white members would only support non-white filmmakers. Whites can vote for blacks and blacks and vote for whites. 

Let’s not forget, just two short years ago, 12 Years a Slave swept the Oscars. The Academy decided to award the film Best Picture, award Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress, award John Ridley for Best Adapted Screenplay, and nominate Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor and Steve McQueen for Best Director. 

This was the same Academy that’s 93% white and 76% male. 

[Some Fun Facts: the Best Director award that year went to Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity. The last time a white director won was in 2012 for The Artist (French director Michel Hazanavicius) and the last time a white American male director won was in 2008 for No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Cohen).]

Finally, the harsh reality for some folks is that the current batch of nominees were perhaps the best of the best in 2015. Was Will Smith (Concussion) more worthy of a nomination over Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)? Probably not. Did Creed director Ryan Coogler deserve a directing nomination over George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), and Adam McKay (The Big Short)? Not necessarily.  And their snubs may not have made so many headlines, but there were several white actors and filmmakers that were not nominated including Johnny Depp (Black Mass), Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy), Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, Trumbo) and Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria) along with directors Ridley Scott (The Martian), Todd Haynes (Carol), J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies), and David O. Russell (Joy). 

The truth is, this issue isn’t literally black and white. There are a ton of factors that go into these nominations, from awards campaigning, the stiff competition that exists, to the lack of films featuring diverse subjects. 

In a society that has been poisoned by political correctness, we must look beyond the skin color of others and appreciate their contribution to the world of cinema. Whatever happened to that childhood lesson of, “It’s what’s inside that counts”?