While many will credit the outcry last year with the #oscarssowhite hashtag, it’s also possible that 2016 just happens to have a significantly higher portion of films the critics and industry like that revolve around African American characters. With Moonlight and Fences, they are written and directed by black artists. Barry Jenkins is up for both director and writer, which has only happened one other time in Globes history – Spike Lee for Do the Right Thing. So if Moonlight wins in either category, or both, it will be history made tonight:
It goes without saying that Moonlight would make history in more ways than that, of course, since it’s a film about a gay man coming of age in the black community – again, not a subject you see a lot of in film.
Moonlight just won Writer / Director at the National Society of Film Critics, here are some of the top honors so far:
3 SAG nominations, ensemble, supporting actor and actress
1 ACE nomination from Cinema Editors
1 WGA nomination from the Writers Guild
6 wins from the African American Film Critics Association, Picture, Director and Supporting Actor
7 wins from the Alliance of Women’s Film Journalists, including Picture, Director, Supporting Actor
4 wins from Austin Film Critics, including Picture, Director, Supporting Actor and Screenplay
4 wins from Black Film Critics Circle Awards
3 wins from the Chicago Film Critics Circle Awards, including Picture and Director
3 wins from Dallas Fort-Worth, including Picture an Director
Audience Award at the Gotham Film Fest
4 wins from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, including Picture and Director
Best Director from the National Board of Review
Best Director from the New York Film Critics
When 2016’s Oscar race began, it began in Sundance, where Manchester by the Sea and Birth of a Nation were the big gets. Birth of a Nation was obliterated from the Oscar race because people found out about a 17 year-old case and decided this was the year to put Nate Parker back on trial for his past sins. Nothing about that has ever sat right with me but part of it was how quickly the subject of the “hashtag” kept coming up and whether or not Birth of a Nation was so highly praised because of that hashtag. The film community hive mind is a strange place to dwell. The race then took shape with Venice/Telluride, but specifically Telluride, where suddenly there were three movies that did well there – Manchester, La La Land and Moonlight. It looked like a one pony race, with La La Land taking the season like the Artist did. It still might. But there’s no question that the other two films are giving it some major competition.
If Manchester by the Sea triumphs in the end, it will change how we make, see and distribute movies. Its producer, Kimberly Steward, would be the first African American female to win Best Picture there.
If La La Land wins it will be the second film to win Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nomination. If Moonlight wins either Picture, Director or Screenplay it makes history. No film written and directed by the same black filmmaker ever has.
Why does it matter, you ask? Maybe you think it doesn’t matter. It’s just that I’ve been following the awards race going on twenty years now and it’s mostly an industry with its doors shut tightly, to women, to people of color. It always feels like heavy lifting, changing that pattern — people vote for that which they can relate to. Black filmmakers are often stuck between two worlds – making movies that are true to their culture, history and legacy, and making films that appeal to white critics, white audiences and white industry voters. It’s a very difficult feat to pull off because believe me, there are always people who are going to object to something. Even Moonlight has been unable to escape complaints, as perfect of a film as it is.
Moonlight is, quite simply, one of the most moving cinematic experiences of the year and a film that, to me anyway, somehow defies the genres we are apt to place it in. This was apparent all the way back in Telluride. All of the films in the race this year are excellent. And in their own ways, they will speak for the last year of President Obama’s successful two terms. I can’t help but think that this year has more to do with his audacity of hope and less to do with a hashtag.