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For The Love of Oscar: Our 2015 Report

Written by Graeme Wood
24.02.15

 

 oscars-2014_kushfilms

As the year’s major award ceremonies draw to a close it’s easy to see which films have been the clear winners and the losers. This year more than any other it seems the glitz and glamour of our awards ceremonies have been under attack for their lack of recognition and prize-giving to a slew of actors and films that appear to have been snubbed. While you could usually rely on BAFTA to recognize its home grown talent this year it bizarrely missed out on nominating Selma or its British star David Oyelowo but there was also a distinct lack of recognition for black and ethnic minority based talent from the UK.

As Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris ribbed in his opening monologue “Tonight we honour Hollywood’s Neil_Patrick_Harris_at_the_best and whitest. Sorry, brightest!” The host drawing attention to the controversy that has dogged this year’s nominations and awards, so concerned were the ceremony organisers that it seems they were anxious to fill the presenter’s roles with as may non-Caucasian faces as possible. Drafting in a number of more ethnically mixed presenters including; Kerry Washington, Eddie Murphy, David Oyeleow, Zoe Saldana and Viola Davis, in what appeared to be an effort to dampen the cries of a lack of diversity and snubbing.

While the Independent Spirit Awards earlier in the week had mirrored many of this year’s other award ceremonies; Birdman taking Best Picture, Richard Linklater taking Best Director, Michael Keaton taking Best Actor, Julianne Moore winning Best Actress, JK Simmons holding onto Best Supporting Actor and Patricia Arquette taking home Best Supporting Actress. They did however gift the Best First Screenplay Award to Justin Simien for Dear White People. Would Oscar go further and do the unexpected to surprise us with some new winners?

Well yes and no, Birdman led the evening taking home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography awards. The Grand Budapest Hotel took home a clutch of technical awards including Costume Design, Production Design, Best Original Score, Make Up & Hairstyling and Costume. The hotly contested Best Actor category was won by the UK’s Eddie Redmayne forEddieRedmayne The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore continued her winning streak taking home Best Actress for Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice (due in the UK in March), JK Simmons deservedly took away Best Supporting Actor and Patricia Arquette walked away with another Best Supporting Actress win. Arquette won over the audience with her speech addressing it to ‘every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation”. “We have fought for everybody’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America”. It was the only win of the evening for Boyhood, a big award winner elsewhere, having been nominated in six categories. The other biggest losers of the evening were The Imitation Game picking up only 1 award out of 8 nominations and American Sniper picking up 1 award out of six nominations.

As was expected Big Hero 6 took home the Best Animated Feature award (The Lego Movie having cruelly been overlooked for nomination). And what of Selma, nominated in only two categories, Best Selma_CorineScott_MLKPicture and Best Song, the official excuse being the film had been released too late to be campaigned for successfully. Selma’s Glory written by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn – better known as John Legend and Common- walked away with the Oscar for Best Song, also performing the track captivatingly live at the ceremony. During the intense, powerful performance Selma star David Oyelowo was visibly moved to tears and at the finale many of the Academy were on the feet in appreciation. Collecting his award Legend said; “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world…people are marching with our song, we are with you…March on!” Some were less impressed with Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music tribute however, Shonda Rhimes tweeting; ‘That was not okay. I mean, Idina is there. She is right there. RIGHT THERE. And oh dear God, Julie had to hear that,” The Scandal showwriter referencing both Julie Andrews and Idina Menzel who were in the audience. Billboard however, thought it was the second best performance of the night.

The Academy Awards are no stranger to controversy its perceived snubs dating all the way back to a lack of recognition for Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights and Modern Times films. Each year brings a new list of should have beens like Shawshank Redemption, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Spike Lee, Jack Nicholson, Ben Afleck and many more. Many, like myself, wonder how a film can be nominated in the Best Film category and yet the director not be nominated, this has happened many times and again this year with Selma nominated as Best Film but no nomination for its director Ava DuVernay.

So what is the worth of an Oscar Nomination and even a win? Do the awards signal industry recognition of talent and art, or are they a celebration of a critical or box office success? Certainly in terms of getting a nomination the prestige can provide a secondary bout of marketing and see the film resurface into theatres with a guaranteed boost in box office sales. This year’s BAFTA wins for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash and The Theory of Everything helped boost these films at the February UK box office. Similarly last year Gravity, The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years A Slave also benefited from their BAFTA nominations and wins.

Does the winning of an Oscar guarantee the actor offers of the best available roles and most prestigious films on offer? Well you only have to look at Halle Berry’s career for that answer, following her Academy Award win in 2002 for Monster’s Ball, which was seen as a major break through for black actresses at the time, her roles have consisted of mostly superhero sequels and forgettable horror thrillers. Similarly, Denzel Washington, who also won in 2002 for Training Day, can hardly have noticed any change in his career – although he still turning out an impressive and consistent body of work but not always getting the headline grabbing prestigious roles.

Hattie McDaniel the very first African American actor to win an Academy Award back in 1939 for Gone With The Wind found her career continually consigned to little more than bit parts and maid HattieMcDaniel_kushfilmsroles following her Academy win. McDaniel broke into movies after many years singing in choruses and working as an extra until David O.Selznick cast her as Mammy in the epic but troubled production of Gone With The Wind. She later found herself censured by many of her own race for continuing to play the stereotypical role of a menial in films and for not criticising Hollywood’s portrayal of Negros on the big screen. McDaniel remained ‘in love’ with Hollywood and acting as she later said; though her treatment at the time is now considered something of a scandal, The Awards that year were held at The Cocoanut Grove nightclub, part of the Ambassador Hotel, which then had a strict no-blacks policy, McDaniel was not allowed to sit with the rest of the film’s crew and was placed at a separate table near the far back of the room. Gone With The Wind producer Selznick had to call in a special favour just to have McDaniel allowed into the building. Her win led to her being pigeon-holed in stereotypical roles and the NAACP disowned her for ‘perpetuating negative stereotypes’. Following her death, in 1952, her Oscar which had been left to Howard University was deemed valueless by appraisers and later went missing from the school, her final wish – to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery was denied her because of the colour of her skin. In 1944 she had this to say about her disappointing prospects following the Oscar win, “It was as if I had done something wrong”.

More recently Mo’Nique, who picked up Best Supporting Actress in 2010 for her performance in ‘Precious’, has complained that she’s lost out on several roles due to not campaigning for her award. She says Precious director Les Daniels has told her that the perception in Hollywood is that she is monique-precious-oscars‘difficult’ ‘tacky’ and as a result has been blackballed, losing out on several key roles that were offered then later withdrawn.

At the 2010 awards ceremony Mo’Nique wore white gardenias in her hair – just as Hattie McDaniel had done in 1940 when she picked up her Oscar. During her acceptance speech the actress thanked McDaniel ‘for enduring all that she had to, so that I would not have to”. In response to the criticism McDaniel faced for taking maid roles Mo’Nique had this to say: “Well tell me what other roles were available, because what she was; was an actress – and at the time, she wasn’t getting the roles that her white counterparts were getting. She was saying,’I’m an actress. When you say ‘cut’ I’m not (a maid anymore). “So I say to those people: know that woman in full before you judge.”

Les Daniels himself offered this statement on Mo’Nique’s interview: “Mo’nique is a creative force to be reckoned with. Her demands through Precious were not always in line with the campaign. This soured her relationship with the Hollywood community”.

A recent Los Angeles Times survey of the 6,028 Academy Award voters revealed that 94% of Voters are White, while 77% of those are also Men; only 2% of the voters were Black with another 2% Latino.

This year has seen a more centralised campaign to bring more diversity to the Academy. Black activist organisation ‘Colour of Change’ have launched an online campaign and petition for the Academy to disclose it’s make up of diversity numbers and accused the Academy of marginalizing Black art because the membership is overwhelmingly white. The campaign began largely because of the perceived snubbing of Selma particularly the lack of nominations for its lead actor and director.

The debate has been fuelled also by interviews given to the Hollywood Reporter by members of the Academy, an anonymous Academy member said;” What no one wants to say out loud is that Selma is a well-crafted movie, but there’s no art to it. If the movie had been directed by a 60 year old white male, I don’t think that people would have been carrying on about it to the level that they were. And as far as the accusations about the Academy being racist? Yes, most members are white males, but they are not the cast of Deliverance-they had to get into the Academy to begin with, so they’re not cretinous, snaggletoothed hillbillies. When a movie about black people is good, members vote for it. But if the movie isn’t that good, am I supposed to vote for it just because it has black people in it? I’ve got to tell you, having the cast show up in T-shirts saying ‘I can’t breathe’ – I thought that stuff was offensive. Did they want to be known for making the best movie of the year of for stirring up shit”. The Academy member went on to praise American Sniper, Birdman and The Imitation Game as being their picks of the year but felt Boyhood was less of a success; “If you told me when I saw Boyhood that it would win best picture-or even be in the running-I would have told you that you were insane. Watching it, I thought it was ambitious and a directorial triumph, but the kid was uneven and Patricia Arquette probably was sorry she agreed to let them film her age over 12 years”.

Another Academy Voter had this to say about this year’s crop of nominations; “Whiplash is offensive – it’s a film about abuse and I don’t find that entertaining at all. The Grand Budapest Hotel is beautifully made but its story just isn’t special. I didn’t think Selma was a particularly good film, apart from the main actor (David Oyelowo) and I think the outcry about the Academy being racist for not nominating it for more awards is offensive – we have a two term president who is a black woman (Cheryl Boone Isaacs) and we give out awards to black people when they deserve them, just like any other group. Birdman I didn’t get at all-I look around and its doing so well and I just don’t get it”. While another Academy member felt American Sniper had been entertaining, Birdman masterful, The Grand Budapest Hotel underrated, of The Imitation Game they said ‘it had it all; Nazis, gays, World War II. Nobody does this sort of movie better than Harvey Weinstein”. Of Selma the anonymous Academy member commented ‘I thought Selma was great but it just came out too late. And if the director (Ava DuVernay) suffered from anything, it was gender discrimination, not racial discrimination. This whole race thing was spun out of control by the press”.

In a recent interview Spike Lee also pitched in on the Selma controversy; “We don’t have to even use Selma as an example. We could use Do The Right Thing versus Driving Miss F*****ing Daisy. But Do The Right Thing wasn’t the only thing the Academy messed up. My point is; it’s not a new problem. And great art is going to prevail. The door (to black filmmakers) is not knocked down. It’s cracked open a little bit. I wish that door was wide open”.

Lee and Low Books recently published an infographic showing the make up of the Academy that proves a troubling lack of diversity, independent filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood prince-bythewood-gina-imagetold Lee & Low; “The numbers do not surprise me because very few Academy Award level films with no white leads are being greenlit. Until this changes the abysmal numbers will not change. The box office drives which films get greenlit. The hope is that with this year’s success of a variety of films with African American leads, Hollywood will be more open to taking chances.” Lee & Low published the infographic as part of their ‘Diversity Gap’ study series and have monitored a lack of diversity across the Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, the NY Times Top 10 Bestseller List, the children’s book industry and politics. “The lack of diversity across these various industries has been ‘disturbingly consistent’, the publisher wrote, “This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching social problem”

There is hope that with all the pressure that one day things will change (hopefully soon!)
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Read Hattie McDaniel’s 1947 Hollywood Reporter Essay:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/hattie-mcdaniel-defies-critics-1947-774493

Read the full Hollywood Reporter interview with comedian/actress Mo’Nique:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/monique-i-was-blackballed-winning-774616?source=gravity

Read the Hollywood Reporter’s interviews with Academy Members here;
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/race/brutally-honest-oscar-ballot-2015-773902

View and support the Colour of Change petition here:
http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/oscars_diversify/?t=1&akid=4126.747541.gIn_nT

2015 Early Releases Box Office Report

Written by Graeme Wood
17.02.15

 

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Although the critical acclaim for Selma is still making headlines its box office power seems to be slowing down somewhat, falling from the US Top 10 which is currently being topped by Fifty Shades of Grey, Kingsman; Secret Service and the Spongebob Movie. Paramount should be pleased with ‘Selma’s overall performance through its total US gross standing at $48,494,000 since its opening in December. The film has also performed well in the UK, now entering its third week of release, with a gross of £1,763,050, an initial £70,000 of this coming from its early preview screenings.

In comparison to the years other Oscar nominated movies Selma is behind American Sniper and The Theory of Everything but ahead of Whiplash (grossing £573,000). This time last year, 12 Years A Slave in comparison debuted with £2.51m but 12 Years had a Bafta nomination and huge marketing campaign behind it.

Meanwhile back in the states, Black or White the Kevin Costner, Viola Davis drama has made a strong entrance at No 10 with a US Box Office total so far of $20,090,000, just ahead of that at No.9 sits the Kevin Hart comedy ‘The Wedding Ringer’ with a total of $60,043,000.

The UK box-office for early February was led by Disney’s Big Hero 6, Kingsman and the Shaun the Sheep Movie but Fifty Shades of Grey, launched over Valentine’s Weekend opened to big business taking in £4.6 million on its opening night and $94.4m on its US debut. Impressive figures that distributor Universal Pictures is bound to be pleased with.

The Theory of Everything continues to do well at the UK box office, no doubt helped by its BAFTA nominations and award wins, with a current box office total of £18,944,146 and seven weeks after opening still playing on a lot of multiplexes. In comparison though the critically panned and predictable Liam Neeson thriller ‘Taken 3’ has also managed to bring in huge numbers with a box office total of £17,180,518, after only 6 weeks on release.

In the US Chris Rock’s ‘Top Five’ has performed well giving its distributor Paramount who bid for the rights a gross of $25,317,291 following its opening in December 2014, though for comparison Kevin Harts The Wedding Ringer which opened mid-January in the US has so far pulled in a gross of $59,743,000 the film opens in the UK this week, Top Five will be on UK screens sometime in May (a film Kush Promotions should be marketing).

Comedies aimed specifically at the African / American market continue to perform well at the US box office and account for about 13% of the US domestic film market. December alone had seven African-American films ranking among the Top 100 films and grossing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in the domestic market.

So what else should we be looking forward to at the cinema over the next month or so? Well first up we have Michael Mann’s Blackhat action thriller, starring Chris (Thor) Hemsworth and Viola Davis. Set amongst a global back drop the plot involves a blackmail scheme to hack and blow up nuclear plants. This should prove entertaining if predictable fare for audiences and in the US the film under performed scoring only $7,89,395 at the box office.

View the trailer: Blackhat

The EE BAFTA’S – Winners Round-Up & Usual Diversity Issues!

Written By Graeme Wood
09.02.15

 

BAFTA_Winners

Champagne and back slapping at the ready, it’s another year and another awards ceremony! This years BAFTA film awards held no surprises for anyone who had even a cursory glance through the nominations or looked at award winners so far this year. While there was some worthy winners amongst the technical nominees the big awards could all have been safely predicted ahead of the ceremony.

JK Simmons was a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor following his mesmerising and powerful performance in Whiplash, as was the critically acclaimed Eddie Redmayne picking up ‘Best Actor’, BAFT_JK-Simmonsfor his touching portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Julianne Moore picked up ‘Best Actress’ but has already received several nominations and prizes for her role in the yet to be seen in the UK movie Still Alice and similarly Patricia Arquette, picking up ‘Best Supporting Actress’, has received several nominations and awards for her turn in Boyhood.

The clear winners of the evening were Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, winning Best Director and Best Film, and James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything, picking up ‘Outstanding British Film’ and Adapted Screenplay. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel were left running just behind with Birdman’s Emmanuel Lubezki picking up the much deserved Cinematography BAFTA. While Wes Anderson’s quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel picked up awards for ‘Costume Design, Make-Up, Music, Production and Best Screenplay’. Damian Chazelle’s Whiplash deservedly picked up the awards for its Editing and Sound the two combined in the film to provide a mesmerising back-drop to JK Simmons and Miles Teller’s powerful performances.

The popular Pride was granted some recognition and picked up the award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. The EE ‘Rising Star’ Award had strong competition but the public vote went to ‘71s charismatic Jack O’Connell a choice which also seemed popular with the BAFTA audience.
BAFTA_JOConnell&McAvoy

Surprisingly The Imitation Game which has already had many awards and nominations elsewhere failed to pick up anything despite being nominated in several categories. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which failed to light up the box office or critics also missed out on any of the big nominations.

The biggest disappointment from the awards however surely came from the nominations themselves and the films that failed to pick up even a cursory nod from the judging panel. It truly astounds that critically acclaimed and popular films such as Amma Asante’s ‘Belle’ failed to receive a nomination, even for its outstanding costume design, or that the powerful and relevant ‘Selma’ failed to be recognised by the panel. Surely when you have a British talent like David Oyelowo giving a strong performance that is critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic it deserves to be recognised? There is also a strong argument that Timothy Spall’s outstanding performance in Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner deserved a place in the Best Actor category.

All eyes are now on the 87th Academy Awards which take place on the 22nd of February, will Boyhood continue its run of wins as Best Picture or will the inclusion of Selma see an Academy turnaround? Can Richard Linklater nab the Best Director Oscar or will Wes Anderson see recognition for The Grand Budapest Hotel. David Oyelowo is missing again from the Best Actor nominations so we might see Eddie Redmayne continue his winning streak although the inclusion of Bradley Cooper and American Sniper’s strong box-office performance may be a surprise winner. Julianne MooreBAFTA_JulianneMoore seems likely at this point to walk away with Best Actress and I’d be very surprised, and a little disappointed, if JK Simmons doesn’t come away with Best Supporting Actor. Patricia Arquette seems likely to continue her winning streak as Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood, though Emma Stone is also a hot contender for her performance in Birdman. While the wonderful Lego Movie managed to pick up Best Animated Feature at this year’s BAFTA it’s bizarrely been missed out of the Oscar nominations so don’t be surprised if Big Hero 6 walks away as this year’s winner.

John Stephen’s and Lonnie Lynn’s ‘Glory’ from Selma has been nominated and is expected to win this year’s ‘Best Song’ Oscar but wouldn’t it be fun if ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego Movie won instead?

It all depends of course on how much relevance you place on the nominations, awards and industry panels against your own preferences and views. Away from the plaudits, box office and competition a bigger issue lay in the representation of our culture and the industry itself. Looking at the BAFTA audience, nominees and winners all many viewers could see were row after row of Caucasian faces and surely this can not be an accurate representation of the diverse body of filmmakers or challenging films that have been produced throughout the last year.

Not so long ago the nominees and audience were full of fresh new hopefuls like Adam Deacon, Noel Clarke, Chiwetel Ejifor, Sophie Okonedo, David Harewood, Idris Elba and some of these have adam_deaconsubsequently found more prominent opportunities and work abroad rather than in the UK. The broadsheets have been quick to point out the lack of diversity from the BAFTA ceremony, particularly Chris Bryant in his column for the Independent. New initiatives (especially from the BFI & TV sector) have become meaningless, which are not worth their weight in hope.

So the debate meanwhile continues but none the less as we have seen over the years there is no significant change. However, it is evident that more work and career opportunities leading to prestige international exposure for minority film industry personnel would certainly bring a higher diversified profile to the UK film industry and so the question must be asked of BAFTA why no recognition for films like; Selma, Belle, Honeytrap, Second Coming and the many other diverse cinema offerings produced from a home-grown pool of black, Asian and minority ethnic talent. A recent Taking Part survey concluded that black and minority ethnic participation in the arts lags nearly 10 per cent behind white participation. It’s a disturbing under-representation for a community that consists of 12 per cent of the total population.

If this year’s BAFTA’s failed to totally represent the cinema audience or the UK talent pool it did however signal a growing strength and confidence in British film making which can only be for the good of the industry as whole (we hope?).

Read Chris Bryant MP Independent Newspaper article here:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/baftas-2015-britain-is-diverse-so-why-is-our-tv-and-film-so-overwhelmingly-white-10034762.html