BIOPIC | BLACK SHAKESPEARE | REMAKES | DISAPPOINTMENTS
It’s March 2020, in the wake of the 2019 Motion Picture awards season. We’re talking mass motion picture production with access to viewership across a multitude of global platforms, with a diversity of narratives that lend themselves to storytelling in an ever evolving globalised context.
To that end… Once again we return to the question, where is the ethnic diversity of nominations from the Academies, Hollywood Foreign Press, BAFTA, et al.? In 2015, Viola Davis, after becoming the first African American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama, gave an acceptance speech that placed her award within the larger context of diversity in Hollywood.
“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.
That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
Ironic, then, that this year’s only actor of colour nominated for an Academy Award was for playing that historical stalwart, Harriet Tubman, masterfully embodied by the emerging powerhouse Cynthia Erivo, playing the role of — shock — a slave, in a beautifully crafted fully embodied performance. But in a collection of acting categories that allow for twenty nominations, she was the only nominee of colour. One in twenty.
Davis’ statement, pointing to the lack of opportunity for actors of colour, still bears an incredibly disappointing relevance in the mainstream film and television industries. 2019 in particular lent itself to a bevvy of award-worthy performances so questionably overlooked.
In the race leading up to this year’s Oscars ceremony, four worthy women of colour — Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Lupita Nyong’o (Us), Alfre Woodard (Clemency), and Awkwafina (The Farewell) — were consistently grouped together by the media in a fight for the fifth best-actress slot, behind the assumed Renée Zellweger, Scarlett Johansson, Saoirse Ronan, and Charlize Theron. Only Erivo was nominated. Since then, Nyong’o, the star of the biggest hit in the best-actress field, has been named 2019’s best actress by the New York Film Critics Circle, the New York Film Critics Online, the Toronto Film Critics Association, the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, and the Chicago Film Critics Association — more critical acclamations than any lead actress nominated for the Oscar.
After hours of research and scouring — resulting in frustrated, deflated cynicism — it’s not looking much better for diversity in 2020. The Best Leading Actress category lends itself to only one early front-runner, Jennifer Hudson playing the legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin in the highly anticipated biopic Respect.
In the Best Leading Actor Categories there is a potential nominee in Denzel Washington playing Macbeth (ugh) and a potential surprise here as Will Smith takes on the role of Richard Williams — father to V & S Williams tennis icons — in the biopic King Richard.
A far stretch, but in the best supporting Actress category Mary J. Blige could receive her second acting nomination for playing Dinah Washington alongside Hudson in Respect with Forest Whitaker potentially nabbing a Best Supporting Actor nom (C. L. Franklin) in the same. And finally, the 2020 Spielberg remake of West Side could do a round of cute and produce a nod to Rita Moreno, who won Best Supporting Actress for playing the role of Anita in the 1961 original, but it’s unlikely — she’s playing a different, very minor character. And that’s a wrap.