By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 27, 2013 at 1:07PM
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 Spencer, Tristan 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.