Focus Features Planning To Push "Pariah" Into 2012 Oscar Race; What Are Its Chances?

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 27, 2011 3:28 AM
15 Comments
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I suspected as much, given how late in the year Focus Features plans to release the film, despite its Sundance Film Festival debut in January, 8 months ago. And it's obviously definitely a good look for the film (Pariah), its director (Dee Rees) and star (Adepero Oduye).

Focus Features will release Pariah in December, and (here's the part I'm referring to in my first sentence), as Deadline notes, they are "fully committed to campaigning it as well, particularly for its 17-year-old star Adepero Oduye, who plays a Brooklyn high school student who isn’t exactly what she seems, at least to her more conservative parents. Certainly the success of Precious with Academy voters should give Focus hope this can follow a Sundance path to Oscar attention..."

First of all, I should correct Deadline and say that Adepero Oduye is not 17-years old. She plays a 17-year-old in the movie, which maybe is what they meant to say. Although I'm sure Adepero wouldn't mind the error ;)

But so... what's really exciting here is that Focus is planning to push the film and its star into the Oscar race this year! I assume the categories they are considering are Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress.

What are the film's chances? It's a long-shot, given the competition, but anything is possible. I'd say the category in which they'd have the best chance would be Best Adapted Screenplay, which, by the way, was one of the categories Precious won an Oscar for last year. And I make the comparison to Precious solely because the Deadline piece references it.

In the Best Actress category, Adepero would likely be going up against Viola Davis (The Help), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), and others.

Tough group this year. And given how well The Help has done commercially and critically, many are saying it could very well be this year's The Blindside, and the Oscar in this category would be Viola Davis' to lose.

But Meryl Streep is always a contender, though I read some early reactions to The Iron Lady that weren't strong.

In Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close plays a woman who poses as a male butler in a Dublin hotel in the 1860s. Oscar has generally been kind to actors and actresses in dramas who pretend to be the opposite sex. Besides, Glenn Close is certainly a fine actress, and she's never won an Oscar, despite being nominated 5 times. So, if this Albert Nobbs is all that folks expect it to be, she'll probably be a shoo-in for the Oscar in this category, because she'll have two things working for her - the kind of role she plays, and the fact that she's never won, despite all the nominations (the sympathy vote; or more like the "we should have given it to you before, but didn't, and so we're giving it to you now" vote).

As for Best Director and Best Picture, Pariah and director Dee Rees will face stiff competition if nominated - from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Woody Allen and others. Both male-dominated categories.

But really, if the film receives ANY nominations at all, I think that'll be a coup! Forget winning (although that would be grand!); a nomination in any of the major categories for a film of its size and subject matter would certainly give it, its cast and crew a significant awareness boost!

So, we'll see how it all plays out. There's still plenty of cinema to watch in the next 4 months. But I'll certainly be watching this closely for obvious reasons! It really depends on how effectively Focus Features is able to campaign for the film. Also, will it see the same kind of vocal support from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry that Precious saw when it made its run?

At the very least, the film should do well in the pre-Oscar indie film awards circuit however.

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15 Comments

  • Denise | October 20, 2011 2:41 AMReply

    I see that you left out THE FIRST GRADER which was an Amazing film that came in second place to The King’s Speech at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The male actor, Oliver Litondo was absolutely brilliant in it. Wish more people knew about it because it really was moving and inspirational. Even Whoopi loved it… check out what she had to say about it on The View: http://youtu.be/pXXGW-kDTO8

    I also found the trailer on Youtube Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-eBT7vnTLE

  • NothingButAMan | August 28, 2011 6:16 AMReply

    @ Tovah & Orville: As a Black Gay man who has NOT seen Pariah yet, I'm completely excited to support this film, while also anticipating a very broad and commercially "safe" story arc.

    As far as it's potential during the awards season, it's hard to say, but my gut tells me that due to it's specialized nature this film won't have the "legs" that Precious had... there was press and and Oscar predictions for Mo'Nique way back in February '09, etc. But given the backstory, the fest awards that the short film received, their successful Kickstarter campaign, the Cinematography Prize @ Sundance and the career boost that Neksia Copper, Dee Rees, and Bradford Young have gotten, I genuinely feel like this film is already a winner given it's circumstances.

  • Orville | August 28, 2011 1:46 AMReply

    I don't think people should be so focused on the Oscars because I don't see the Oscars as that important. I also do not think this movie will be as big as Precious because of the black lesbian theme. Would Pariah get the cover of the mainstream white gay publications such as Advocate or Out Magazine? I doubt it. Will Essence, Ebony, or Upscale magazines discuss Pariah? I doubt that too. Homosexuality in the black community is a taboo subject even though it is 2011! I doubt a movie about black lesbians is going to popular with straight black folks. But maybe I am wrong? Maybe open minded straight black people will be interested in this movie? The bigger focus of the people behind Pariah is just to find an audience. The movie is unique because it is a movie about a lesbian experience that is not Eurocentric which is so rare. I think the producers of this movie need to figure out how to reach an audience.

  • Tovah | August 28, 2011 1:09 AMReply

    @ Orville I asked myself the same question.

    After prop 8 I think there may be some lingering curiosity to see a story about how black gays navigate through, what many in the media made out to be, an infamously homophobic community. Now I can't say that's what this film is about because I haven't seen it yet, but the word Pariah certainly speak to that.

    I will say that I'm kind of over "coming out" stories as a whole, doesn't matter whether the protagonists are black or not. It's been done. Albeit, not from this perspective. And while I know that every story needs to be told, it seems to me that every story told about black women is a drama with a healthy helping of pathos.

    A while back I re-watched (well, not really, I was about four when I first sat through some of it) "the Women of Brewster Place". It's kind of sad, but that movie featured one of the few, mostly positive portrayals of a black lesbian couple I've seen in an American film. Even sadder when you know how their story ends. It’s mostly in reaction to this that I wrote my own screenplay centering on a young, black, queer relationship. It has much more in common with "Paper Heart" than it does with "Precious”, so who knows how that will go over.

  • Alan G. | August 27, 2011 12:06 PMReply

    I saw this at Sundance and don't think it's an Oscar contender. From Sundance I was blown away by LIKE CRAZY and particularly the performances of Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin. Jones won the Best Actress prize and the film won the grand jury prize and it was well deserved. it's a very authentic and moving portrayal of first love. and jennifer lawrence was really great too, though her part is small. I think best actress will play out with Streep, Jones, Close, Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn and the 5th slot could be Viola Davis if she is considered a lead in THE HELP.

  • Vanessa Martinez | August 27, 2011 7:17 AMReply

    I love Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. I'm rooting for Close.

    @Orville

    *shrugs* It's still exciting.

  • Orville | August 27, 2011 7:11 AMReply

    I will admit though that the lesbian storyline in Pariah is very interesting because there is a paucity of entertainment that focuses on the life experiences of black lesbians I think there definitely needs to be more LGBT entertainment from a non Eurocentric perspective which is indeed refreshing.

    However, I question, which audience Pariah is actually for? I wonder what other black gay and lesbian people think of this film? I've heard about the film and the campaign for the Oscars but I question whether this movie will be of interest to black heterosexuals? It seems to me this movie is being marketed towards white liberals and not black people. Just my humble opinion.

  • Orville | August 27, 2011 7:06 AMReply

    Why does it matter if Pariah does well at the Oscars or not? So if the white elite in Hollywood support this movie that means it has value? Everyone knows the Academy Award voters are at least 95% white people. Are black people so desperate for white validation? Since when is the Oscars considered the cornerstone of success? I think it is really sad this blog focuses on the Oscars so much it doesn't make sense to me. Shouldn't be be more concerned about whether the film will succeed at the box office or reach an audience?

  • Miles Maker | August 27, 2011 5:54 AMReply

    Although this is old news (it was the intent from the moment of acquisition) the film most definitely has a SHOT considering the fact there are now ten (10) feature films on the Oscar lineup for Best Picture.

    Indiewire had already listed PARIAH among "The Best Films Of 2011…So Far" and that was posted on the first day of Summer:
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/archives/the_best_films_of_2011_so_far/

    PARIAH's got a SHOT.
    We know Focus Features knows what they're doing with this genre considering their Oscar campaigns for Brokeback Mountain and The Kids are All Right.

    *fingers crossed*

  • Sergio | August 27, 2011 5:35 AMReply

    But for the sake of argument I got into a discussion the other day with a friend making the point that no doubt there are going to be some black people who will have a major issue with Pariah the because because of its gay subject matter.

    A lot of black folk are a lot more comfortable with black dysfunctionality (like in Precious) than they are dealing with a film about a normal family dealing with a family member who's "coming out" . (You still have a lot of black people supporting Bishop Eddie Long and saying that it's all lies - nothing but lies)

    I hope that isn't the case (I can't wait to see Pariah myself) But do you agree with me or are we past this?

  • Julius Hollingsworth | August 27, 2011 4:11 AMReply

    what about the cinematography? I heard that was wonderful. Didnt it win a award at Sundance for this film?

  • Questions & Answers?!?!!! | August 27, 2011 4:05 AMReply

    I believe Dee Rees Pariah has a very good chance of getting a Oscar nom. The film is brillant!

    I am sure with a little more promotion and money spent this film can make it all the way just like the film Precious did after Tyler Perry & Oprah put money behind the project.

    Glen Close is a divine actress. Unfortunately, she has never received the praise she deserves. So I think it maybe her time this upcoming Oscar season.

    Dee Rees gives me a lot of hope as a screenwriter.

  • tambay | August 27, 2011 3:59 AMReply

    @ Anwar - you're right! I had to look through past nominees in that category to see if any was based on a short film (the vast majority are based on novels, short written stories, plays, tv shows), and it's happened just once in Oscar history - Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" was based on his short film "Alive In Jo'Burg." So thanks! Correction made.

  • Anwar | August 27, 2011 3:45 AMReply

    Pariah would be going Adapted Screenplay because it's adapted from the short film of the same name.

  • Vanessa Martinez | August 27, 2011 3:31 AMReply

    I actually think its chances are high! :-)

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