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'Fruitvale' Is 4th Film In Sundance History To Win Both Dramatic Audience & Grand Jury Prizes, More...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 27, 2013 1:07 PM
12 Comments
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FRUITVALE Director Ryan Coogler, Accepting Grand Jury Prize At Sundance 2013

Say goodbye to another Sundance Film Festival, as the 2013 edition of the nation's top event ended last night, with the usual Awards ceremony celebrating this year's winners.

As noted in my Sundance Awards awards wrap-up after the trophies were handed out (HERE), director Ryan Coogler's lauded feature film debut, Fruitvale, picked up, not one, but TWO major awards last night - the 2013 Audience Award in the US Dramatic category, as well as the grand-daddy of them all, the Grand Jury Prize, also in the US Dramatic category. 

Naturally, with that news, it didn't take very long for me to realize that these 2 wins may actually be history-making for the film. After all, it's not often that "black films" (films that tell stories primarily about people of African descent) win awards (especially the two that Fruitvale won) at the Sundance Film Festival.

So I did some digging, focusing strictly on the 2 categories that Fruitvale won its awards in (the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize, both in the US Dramatic category) going all the way back to 1984, which was the first year that the festival dished out awards (according to the archives on Sundance's website, which was my main source), and I made note of a few discoveries worth mentioning, especially in light of Fruitvale's wins this year - again, focusing solely on the 2 categories the film won awards in - the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize, both in the US Dramatic category.

It might start to get a little confusing, so read closely.

- First, despite the fact that the festival began handing out awards in 1984, it wasn't until 1990 when a black film would win either the Audience or the Grand Jury Prize awards in the US Dramatic cateogory. The Grand Jury Prize that year went to Wendell B. Harris' Chameleon Street (a film we've written about a lot here on S&A) - effectively making that film the first black film to win the festival's coveted Grand Jury Prize award in that category. You can think of winning the Grand Jury Prize as something almost akin to winning the Best Picture Oscar

- Second, it wasn't until 1997 when another black film would win either of those 2 awards. Theodore Witcher's Love Jones tied for the Audience Award in the Dramatic category, with another film called Hurricane (not to be confused with the Norman Jewison, Denzel Washington drama, The Hurricane). This made Love Jones the first black film to win the Audience Award in the Dramatic category. Chameleon Street was the first black film to win the Grand Jury Prize.

- A year later, 1998, Slam, which starred Saul Williams and Sonja Sohn, became the second black film to win the Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic. It's worth noting that, in that same year, Christopher Scott Cherot's Hav Plenty was also up for that same award.

- Fourth, it wasn't until 1999 when the festival saw the first film to EVER win in BOTH categories - Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. That film was a Vietnamese drama titled Three Seasons

- Fifth, it took another 7 years before we would see a black film win either award again. In 2005, Hustle & Flow won the Audience Award in Dramatic competition.

- In 2006, Quinceañera became only the second film in Sundance history to win both awards; 7 years after the first film to do it - Three Seasons.

- In 2009, Lee Daniels' Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire, as it was titled when it debuted at Sundance (later to be called Precious), became only the third film to win in both categories. BUT, and more noteworthy, it became the first black film, to do that - winning the awards in both categories. Of course the film would go on to much more acclaim, and was met with much controversy as well, which was well-documented on this site that year.

- 3 years later, in 2012, a little film called Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category, but, surprisingly, it didn't win the Audience Award as well. That went to The Sessions.

- And finally, skip ahead to this year, 2013, as Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale becomes, first, the 4th film in Sundance history to win both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize in the US Dramatic category; and secondly, it's only the second black film to win both awards - following Precious 4 years ago.

That's it! I love compiling data like this, and identifying "firsts," as well as trends and patterns. And there's likely more to be done with this data, but I'll leave that for another post at another time.

With Fruitvale following in Precious' foosteps (as dual winners), might it enjoy a similar critical path throughout the year, on its way to Academy Awards glory? It's obviously too early to tell. But given that it's now in the hands of the inimitable Harvey Weinstein, who usually does quite well during awards season (The Weinstein Company acquired distribution rights to it), I like the Fruitvale's chances. At the very least, TWC will ensure that it's "in the conversation" when the time comes.

Unless TWC has other plans for it that we're just not aware of...

The much-buzzed-about drama, based on the murder of 22-year old Oscar Grant (played by Michael B. Jordan in the film), co-stars Octavia SpencerTristan Wilds and Melonie Diaz.

The film is produced by Forest Whitaker.

Zeba Blay reviewed it for us after screening it at Sundance; Read that review HERE.

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12 Comments

  • Tracy Twinkie Byrd | January 28, 2013 11:50 AMReply

    Im soo Proud of My Film!!

    My Director (COOG) is AWESOME!! He works from within!!
    A Football player turned USC Film Student turned Sundance Winning Director!! LOVE LOVE LOVE my Film and My Director!! GO RYAN COOGLER!

    My Cast is AWESOME!! Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer & Melonie Diaz are committed Actors with Depth!!

    Thank you Tambay for all you do!! You Inform and Educate!!

  • CareyCarey | January 28, 2013 11:37 AMReply

    I'm going to walk out on a limb and you'll cut me down if I'm wrong. It's often said that blacks don't support certain types of "black" films unless they are comedies or "us" acting a damn fool. But here's the caught, truth be told, it's white folks who are in no hurry to support our more meaningful endeavor. History tells me that. Consequently, although Sosgemini (below) and Manie (in the other post) believes Michael B. Jordan will be nominated for an Oscar, it dain't gonna happen.

    Listen, not only are they (the white viewer) hesitant to view our films, the voting block of the Oscar are never going to highlight a black actor's performance that may shine a light on a grave injustice committed by one of them. Are you kidding me, a white police officer kills another black person and... and what? You know the ending to "that" story. The white officer gets slapped on the wrist, and then, it's business as usual. That business being... turn a blind eye and get on pushing. Surely they don't want to highlight and rehash the errs of their ways?

    Granted, there is a super-duper liberal crowd of artists, some roosting at a place called Sundance, who love films like "Fruitvale" but the truth is, they are in a small minority. The majority loves campioning roles like Denzel's dope smoking cop, Morgan's step-in-fetchit chauffer, Halle's flip-flop whore and Mo'nique's insanely abusive mother... and of course, the passive MAIDS, Octavia, Hattie and Viola.

    Now I'm not mad at them because Oscar night is their Halloween party. If I was the host and I made the rules and I was standing at the gate with all my friends, you couldn't get in unless you were adorned in the right costume and danced to my song. Hey, I could be defined as a liberal, but I, just like the Oscar committee... I know what side to butter my bread.

    However, unfortunately, this limb that I stand on has a point of demarcation that many will not agree with, but again, I have to say it because history tells me it's true. Did y'all see the great performances of this years Oscar nods? If not, I'm telling you, if Michael B. Jordan has not increased his acting skills to the level of... lets say... Michael Jeffery Jordan (the basketball great more commonly known as MJ) I am here to tell you, anticipating an Oscar nod would be akin to barking at the moon.

    "Come on CareyCarey, don't be so mean". Mean...? I'm being real. Look, although I poo-poo-did some of our past winners (i.e., Denzel, MoNique, Morgan, etc) they all showed a tremendous amount of range, perfection and expertise. In layman's terms, they acted their asses off. But maybe, more importantly, their roles allowed them and/or necessitated the need for them to go there. So I am sorry, but I can't say the same for any of Michael B. Jordan's past performances. Nor can I envision him being required to go "there" in the role of Oscar Grant.

    I am not saying he's not a "good" actor. However, history tells me that the best actor's bar is being propped-up mighty high by the likes of Denzel, Daniel Day Lewis, Robert Deniro, Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Jack Nickelson, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Robert Duval, Paul Newman, Jeffery Rush and Forrest Whitaker (just to name a small few of the great actors in superior roles).

    And again, aside from the agenda of the gate keepers (which we can't ignore), considering this years excellent performances, Michael B. Jordan in the role of Oscar Grant would be very hard pressed to get a sniff at the Oscar... let alone a nod.

  • NO BRAINER | January 30, 2013 2:59 AM

    "Consequently, although Sosgemini (below) and Manie (in the other post) believes Michael B. Jordan will be nominated for an Oscar, it dain't gonna happen," CAREYCAREY says, and he is actually speaking my mind. We just don't get. We don't know how this thing works and until we do, we will always bask in such minor victories as Sundance expecting the love of the Academy, only to be sadly disappointed.

  • Simone | January 28, 2013 9:57 AMReply

    It's a great news, cinema is about soul and heart, about storytelling, you need to have something say and Ryan Coogler has the right screenplay, he has history to tell people. This story talk people because, Jordan B. can be you, can me, something like that can happen to everybody, i think cinema is there too for show people how life is a difficult struggle, Cinema have no color, we need to bring our movie to every people,

    We organize our movie festival to show everybody that black cinema is rich. Ryan did a great job to brink this story at cinema, the way he explain touched people and gonna touched more when the movie come on theater next to us. I can't wait to see the movie, i hope the movie gonna be release in France. i'm going to write a review about Fruitvale on our website.

  • WHAT? | January 28, 2013 8:32 PM

    Troy, jerks and dickheads don't die and come back as anything. They just shrivel up and wither away. Now time-out, go find a corner to sit in and stop being a brat.

  • Troy | January 28, 2013 8:23 PM

    I want to die and come back as naive and idealistic as you.

  • sosgemini | January 27, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    Michael B. Jordan will be nominated for Best Actor Oscar. Watch!

  • Monique a Williams | January 27, 2013 4:50 PMReply

    Great information!

  • al | January 27, 2013 3:40 PMReply

    Awesome!! Very happy for Ryan as well as the cast and crew! Can't wait to see the film!!

  • Nadia | January 27, 2013 3:01 PMReply

    Good stuff! It's nice when these historic bits and pieces are listed out like this, since it doesn't appear that it's really being done on the regular. Plus it reminds me that I still need to watch Chameleon Street.

  • NIKKIisRIGHT | January 27, 2013 1:32 PMReply

    Nikki is right. See Weinstein's Cannes pickup THE SAPPHIRES, which is now being dumped in March when it was once touted as an Oscar possibility. Let's hope Fruitvale has a better fate. And remember that Weinstein has THE BUTLER with Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey coming this fall among other things he may pickup at Cannes, Toronto (ala Silver Linings Playbook). There's a long way to go.

  • Nikki | January 27, 2013 1:24 PMReply

    Nathaniel of thefilmexperience said exactly what I was saying about TWC

    "Fruitvale was picked up by the Weinstein Co which might be a good sign (I say might because people always forget that for every acquisition they push relentlessly to awards glory there are 2 on the shelf gathering dust and 2 dumped in theaters and barely pushed at all.) "

    Harvey gets a lot of films, but in the end he pushes what he wants. Hopefully, Fruitvale's Sundance wins will encourage him to push Fruitvale.

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