Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Why Aren’t We Talking About the Sexual Assault in 'Beyond the Lights'? Why Aren’t We Talking About the Sexual Assault in 'Beyond the Lights'? Page to Screen Possibilities for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah' (Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo Starring) Page to Screen Possibilities for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Americanah' (Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo Starring) David Oyelowo Joins Lupita Nyong’o in 'Americanah' Film Adaptation David Oyelowo Joins Lupita Nyong’o in 'Americanah' Film Adaptation Leaked Sony Emails Reveal Interest in Destiny's Child Biopic + Immersive Kanye West Feature Film Experience Leaked Sony Emails Reveal Interest in Destiny's Child Biopic + Immersive Kanye West Feature Film Experience Weekend B.O. Dec. 12-14 (So How’s That Boycott Working for Ya?) Weekend B.O. Dec. 12-14 (So How’s That Boycott Working for Ya?) FX Orders Comedy Pilot on Atlanta Hip-Hop Scene From & Starring Donald Glover FX Orders Comedy Pilot on Atlanta Hip-Hop Scene From & Starring Donald Glover Chadwick Boseman, David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rosario Dawson, Others Share Kisses in NY Times Shorts Chadwick Boseman, David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rosario Dawson, Others Share Kisses in NY Times Shorts What Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal Should Do if She Sincerely Wants to Make Amends What Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal Should Do if She Sincerely Wants to Make Amends Here's the Character John Boyega Plays in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Here's the Character John Boyega Plays in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Watch Zendaya, Kadeem Hardison, Tammy Townsend in Trailer for 'K.C. Undercover' Watch Zendaya, Kadeem Hardison, Tammy Townsend in Trailer for 'K.C. Undercover' Ava DuVernay Earns Her Way Into the History Books - First Black Woman Director to Be Nominated for a Golden Globe Award Ava DuVernay Earns Her Way Into the History Books - First Black Woman Director to Be Nominated for a Golden Globe Award Beyond The Lights, Beyond The Urban Narrative: When Marketing Gets In The Way of Story Beyond The Lights, Beyond The Urban Narrative: When Marketing Gets In The Way of Story Woody Allen Says He Won’t Hire a Black Actor Unless the Role Calls for One... Whatever That Means Woody Allen Says He Won’t Hire a Black Actor Unless the Role Calls for One... Whatever That Means Will You Join The Boycott 'Exodus' Movement? (Or You Don't Care) Will You Join The Boycott 'Exodus' Movement? (Or You Don't Care) Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Co-Screenwriter of 'Noah' Explains Why There Are No Black People Or POC In The Film Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Will Smith Explains Why Willow Smith Dropped Out Of 'Annie' Remake Will Smith Explains Why Willow Smith Dropped Out Of 'Annie' Remake Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

What Makes a Great Biopic?

Shadow and Act By Nijla Mumin | Shadow and Act March 29, 2013 at 10:02AM

Do you remember the feeling of watching a perfectly sculpted Angela Bassett breathe pain and life into the microphone as Tina Turner in "What's Love Got to Do With It?" In the film, Turner's "Proud Mary" becomes a salvation song, the performance a cathartic, explosive release for Turner during years of abuse and rising stardom. Its dramatic mix of golden shingled-dresses, penetrating vocals and embodied performances delivers a deeper understanding of the person it attempts to portray.
2
'What's Love Got to Do With It?'
'What's Love Got to Do With It?'

Do you remember the feeling of watching a perfectly sculpted Angela Bassett breathe pain and life into the microphone as Tina Turner in "What's Love Got to Do With It?" In the film, Turner's "Proud Mary" becomes a salvation song, the performance a cathartic, explosive release for Turner during years of abuse and rising stardom. Its dramatic mix of golden shingled-dresses, penetrating vocals and embodied performances delivers a deeper understanding of the person it attempts to portray.

The subject of biopics seems to be on a lot of lips lately, especially those about Black figures. Films about Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix are all expected within the next year, with much controversy and anticipation. But here's a chance to step back from that more fiery debate, and into one that actually considers the ingredients of a successful biopic. What makes the audience feel they've entered the world and life of a popular figure, which they've been allowed to access intimate moments that ring with authenticity and depth?

'The Last King of Scotland'
'The Last King of Scotland'

Casting stands as an integral component, and not just in regard to a physical likeness between the actor and the person they're portraying. Recall Forest Whitaker as a terrifying, yet jovial, Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," directed by Kevin Macdonald. Facial features between them aren't exact, but the way in which Whitaker enters Amin's body is nothing but. He achieves the posture of Amin, the deathly glare that quickly dissolves into an absorbing laughter, and the specific Ugandan accent. Alternate between speeches of Idi Amin and scenes from "The Last King of Scotland" and you'll notice Whitaker's exact replication of this man, an artistic commitment that helped secure his Academy Award win for Best Actor in 2006. You'll also notice the keen level of detail in every aspect of the production—from Amin's military suit to his wife Kay's cornrows.

Other than casting, there's a more structural element involved in the writing and directing of these stories that involves presenting these people as humans, rather than "stars," "saints" or complete villains. This is where extensive research becomes essential. In the 1999 television film "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," a wall is broken down when the audience experiences Dandridge's 1954 Academy Award loss with her. She sits in the audience almost holding her breath, and we do as well, even though the outcome is evident. It's a fascinating moment that brings in the larger context of racism that Dandridge faced during that time, and that many Black actresses still face today.

'Introducing Dorothy Dandridge'
'Introducing Dorothy Dandridge'

This balance of the portrayal is probably one of the more important ingredients of the biopic—between these figures' internal conflicts and their love for their craft, between their mistreatment of the people close to them, and the love they share with their mother or father. We want to be in the presence of a fully developed person, and understand the basis for their talent: how a blind child named Ray Charles became a musician, how Tina Turner's impromptu rehearsals in her mother's house led to mega-stadiums, or how Malcolm X's painful "conk" experience at the barbershop laid the groundwork for his encouragement of black pride and self-love later on. These flawed, proud, and beautiful moments become explorations of some of the most beloved public figures.

So, what do you look for in a quality biopic?

XFINITY On Demand™ is currently featuring the biopic “Coach Carter.” Learn more, and join the celebration of Black entertainment at xfinity.com/celebrateblacktv.

Editor’s Note: Shadow and Act partnered with XFINITY to celebrate Black entertainment. Be sure to visit xfinity.com/celebrateblacktv, a unique digital community built around the love of Black TV, film, sports, music and more. Shadow and Act hopes to enrich this community and provide a launching pad for insightful discussion. Look to Shadow and Act for features and content examining and exploring key themes and topics that run throughout the history of Black entertainment.

This article is related to: Xfinity Celebrate Black TV, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Halle Berry


Shadow & ActNewsletter