Given the overwhelming amount of attention that the #OscarsSoWhite social media protest has generated with regards to the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees this year, this seemed like a good time to take a look at what black films, black actors and directors (this blog's specific interests) might contend for Academy Awards next year.
Looking over my master list of all the "black films," films with black actors in lead/supporting roles, and films directed by black filmmakers that are set to be released this year (that we know of so far), I can say with some certainty that there will be a handful of potential nominees of the African diaspora. Of course, we haven't seen any of these films yet, since they have yet to be released (and some of them don't even have distribution in the USA yet), so this list is based entirely on speculation, considering the talent involved in each project, as well as Oscar history in terms of the kinds of films and performances that tend to get the Academy's attention most. Also, I'm not a voting member of the Academy, so even if I think a film or performance is worthy of a nomination, after I watch each one eventually, the members of the Academy may not necessarily agree.
I'm using the S&A database as my source of information, as well as Box Office Mojo and IMDB to come up with these titles. But it's still very early in the year, and I'm sure that there are films that I don't yet know about, if only because they haven't been made public yet. There are also all the films that will premiere somewhere along the international film festival circuit throughout the year - some that we already know about (those premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this month, for example); the others we'll learn about as the year progresses.
So this certainly isn't an exhaustive list. It will definitely be updated throughout the year, as dates are assigned to titles currently without dates, or dates are changed for those that do have dates, or as new titles are announced that are set for release during the year - theatrical releases specifically.
Without further ado...
1 - Antoine Fuqua's remake of "The Magnificent Seven" which Denzel Washington stars in. Although for those who've seen the original films on which it's based (the 1960 John Sturges movie of the same name, which was based on Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai"), it's an ensemble piece. Washington is probably the biggest name in front of the camera, but, it's not his character's story alone. Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Luke Grimes, Wagner Moura, Haley Bennett, Matt Bomer, and Peter Sarsgaard all co-star. So depending on how meaty each role is, we can assume that any of them could be Oscar nominees next year, starting with Denzel Washington. Also Fuqua may get looks in the best director category.
2 - Lupita Nyong'o co-stars in director Mira Nair's adaptation of the book "The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster," by Tim Crothers, on Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, also known as "The Queen of Katwe." Nyongo plays Phiona's mother, Harriet Mutesi, in the highest profile film project to come to Uganda since 2006's "The Last King of Scotland." Joining Nyong'o in "Katwe" is David Oyelowo. "Katwe" is set up at Disney, and it was filmed in the spring of last year, so there's a very good chance that it premieres in 2016, likely on the film festival circuit, before a theatrical release later in the fall, if not earlier. There could be nominations for Nyong'o, Oyelowo, and the star of the film, newcomer Madina Nalwanga, who plays Phiona Mutesi, in what could be a role that gets her the same kind of attention that Abraham Attah received for "Beasts of No Nation."
3 - Nyong'o and Oyelowo both will also star in the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie's novel, "Americanah," which counts Brad Pitt's Plan B as a producer. Although the film hasn't even begun production yet (I'm not even certain that it's been fully financed); so it's likely not a film that we'll see this year. But I'm including it anyway just in case it's suddenly fast-tracked.
4 - More from Oyelowo who is also starring in Amma Asante's follow-up to last year's critically-acclaimed "Belle," titled "A United Kingdom," which began filming last October (it's likely done with principal photography at this point). Oyelowo stars, playing yet another notable real-life human being in Seretse Khama - Botswana's first president from 1966-80 - with Rosamund Pike co-starring, playing Ruth Williams, the young white woman who would eventually become his wife, and the inaugural First Lady of Botswana. The pair met in 1947 and eventually made headline news all over the world, after falling in love and getting married, while Seretse Khama was an heir to the chieftainship of the Bamangwato tribe in Botswama. The film is backed by French media giant Pathé International, but no USA studio is attached to distribute Stateside. But given its production timeline, a 2016 premiere is very likely.
5 - Will Smith stars in "Collateral Beauty" and will be surrounded by a rather strong cast: Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris and Rachel McAdams. The New Line film is being directed by David Frankel and will follow a New York advertising executive (Smith) who experiences a personal tragedy, when his colleagues try to come up with a plan to get him out of his depression. Their plan works, but in a different way than they imagined. That's really all we know about the plot thus far. But with this cast, it's a film that can't be ignored. After reading the synopsis, I can't help but think of a film like "The Game" - the David Fincher thriller that starred Michael Douglas as a wealthy but anti-social, divorced investment banker who is given a mysterious gift by his brother (Sean Penn) - participation in a game that integrates in strange ways with his everyday life, all in an attempt to get his brother to embrace life. But Will Smith just may be up for an Oscar nomination - assuming the film is released this year. Filming is set to start next month in NYC, so a late 2016 release isn't out of the question.
6 - Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star in an adaptation of the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple living in the state of Virginia in the 1960s, where interracial coupling was illegal, following their struggles, including the US Supreme Court case named after them - Loving vs Virginia (1967); the landmark civil rights case in which the United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute, unconstitutional, overturning existing laws and bringing an official end to all race-based restrictions on marriage in the United States. I should mention that the story of the Lovings became the basis of "Mr. & Mrs. Loving," a 1996 made-for-TV movie that starred Lela Rochon, Timothy Hutton and Ruby Dee. However, it was reported that Mildred Loving, who was still alive at the time, dismissed it as mostly fantasy. The film starring Negga and Edgerton was filmed last year, directed by Jeff Nichols, so a 2016 premiere is very likely. And both stars could find themselves in consideration for Oscar nominations.
7 - "Free State of Jones" - the "epic action-drama" (as the press release described it) written and directed by Gary Ross ("The Hunger Games," "Seabiscuit," "Pleasantville"), stars Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali and Keri Russell in a story that's set during the Civil War, and follows a defiant Southern farmer named Newt Knight (McConaughey), and his extraordinary armed rebellion against the Confederacy. Banding together with other small farmers, and with the assistance of local slaves, Knight launched an uprising that led Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a "Free State of Jones." His marriage to a former slave, Rachel (played by Mbatha-Raw), and his subsequent establishment of a mixed race community was unique in the post-war South. Knight continued his struggle into Reconstruction, which distinguished him as a compelling, if controversial, figure of defiance long beyond the War. Yes, it's another "one of those" (I'm sure I don't have to explain), and we know the Academy loves these kinds of historical dramas, so there just might be nominations here for both Mbatha-Raw and Ali (although I'm not entirely certain what his role is in the film). Certainly McConaughey as the star might get looks, depending on how good the film is.
8 - Don Cheadle's Miles Davis film, "Miles Ahead," is set for a March 29 release this year, which is somewhat early for a film that might be in contention during awards season. Typically, distribution companies release their Oscar-bait films in the fall, not in the spring. But it's a film that will open in limited release to start, and will, over the following months, gradually expand to other cities nationwide, so it very well could still be a topic of conversation by the late summer. However, I'm still curious by the move to open it so early in the year; it suggests that there isn't much hope for it as an Oscar contender. Not that there haven't been films that were released early in the year that went on to receive nominations. But, more of than not, fall premieres are heavily favored for Oscar contenders by distributors. Still, as someone who's already seen the film (read my review here), I think Cheadle's performance is strong enough to draw awards season chatter.
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