Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Bill Duke's 'Dark Girls' Follow-up, 'Light Girls,' Gets a First Trailer & Release date (Heading to OWN) Bill Duke's 'Dark Girls' Follow-up, 'Light Girls,' Gets a First Trailer & Release date (Heading to OWN) Watch Trailer for Romcom 'With This Ring' (Regina Hall, Jill Scott, Eve Star - Coming January 2015) Watch Trailer for Romcom 'With This Ring' (Regina Hall, Jill Scott, Eve Star - Coming January 2015) Here Are the Top 10 Grossing "Black Films" of 2014... How Many of Them Did You See? Here Are the Top 10 Grossing "Black Films" of 2014... How Many of Them Did You See? Debbie Allen & Phylicia Rashad Sign Up for 'Arsenic and Old Lace' Playing the Brewster Sisters Debbie Allen & Phylicia Rashad Sign Up for 'Arsenic and Old Lace' Playing the Brewster Sisters Weekend B.O. Dec. 19-21 (Sony's Grateful for Small Blessings, while Paramount Blew it) Weekend B.O. Dec. 19-21 (Sony's Grateful for Small Blessings, while Paramount Blew it) Ava DuVernay Has Multi-Episode TV Series on "Black Experience in America" in the Works Ava DuVernay Has Multi-Episode TV Series on "Black Experience in America" in the Works Sony Hack Reveals the Insufferable Whiteness of Hollywood Sony Hack Reveals the Insufferable Whiteness of Hollywood Preview: Jessica Williams of 'The Daily Show' Makes Leading Lady Debut in 'Tap Shoes & Violins' Preview: Jessica Williams of 'The Daily Show' Makes Leading Lady Debut in 'Tap Shoes & Violins' '106 & PARK' Says Goodbye Today, Dec 19 at 6pm, w/ Live, 2-hour, Star-Studded Finale! '106 & PARK' Says Goodbye Today, Dec 19 at 6pm, w/ Live, 2-hour, Star-Studded Finale! First Image of Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith in Upcoming HBO Biopic First Image of Queen Latifah as Bessie Smith in Upcoming HBO Biopic The Best of Black Television in 2014 The Best of Black Television in 2014 Review: Chris Rock's 'Top Five' Took Me Places I Wouldn't Expect a Chris Rock Film to Go Review: Chris Rock's 'Top Five' Took Me Places I Wouldn't Expect a Chris Rock Film to Go The Gift That Keeps on Giving - Leaked Sony Email Challenges Denzel Washington's Overseas Box Office Appeal The Gift That Keeps on Giving - Leaked Sony Email Challenges Denzel Washington's Overseas Box Office Appeal Backlash Against New VH1 Series 'Sorority Sisters' Backlash Against New VH1 Series 'Sorority Sisters' 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'? 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 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) 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? Discuss...

Shadow and Act By Nijla Mumin | Shadow and Act August 21, 2013 at 4:31PM

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.
5
'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 Last King of Scotland'
'The Last King of Scotland'

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?

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.

'Introducing Dorothy Dandridge'
'Introducing Dorothy Dandridge'

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.

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?

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm...


Shadow & ActNewsletter