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Oscarwatch: Will Get On Up Get Hit by the Politically Correct Bus?

The last time Tate Taylor worked with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer it was on The Help, a dream project Taylor brought to the big screen based on the book his childhood friend Kathryn Stockett wrote. The movie opened to great success, making over $100 million and eventually earning 4 Oscar nominations. All good so far. The film featured an array of women and African American actresses, the only film that year to represent communities other than white communities. But the thing about The Help was that it wasn’t acceptable to the black community (understandable; too many maids for too many generations on American film) and it wasn’t acceptable to the white community (educated white people chafe at the notion of ‘whitey saves the day’ movies). The film, and its director, became a lightning rod for politically correct eruptions all over the web.

When these kinds of things come up in the Oscar race, and they have for many years, it serves no other real purpose except to punish any white filmmaker for attempting to delve into black history. Norman Jewison, Steven Spielberg, Alan Parker – you name it. The message always devolved into: white people are not invited to tell those stories. Well okay, fine. But the problem is – white people control Hollywood and the box office, thus, stories about black characters simply did’t get told – and if they did and they made money everyone starts to feel bad about it sooner or later. Those stories don’t get told unless a black filmmaker manages to overcome the oppressive nature of white Hollywood to tell them: Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, etc. Spike Lee was marginalized for being an “angry black man” and was mostly shut out of the Oscar race. And films directed by people like Denzel Washington, for instance, were never deemed good enough by the (nearly unanimously white) critics. Deadlock.

Things have changed significantly since 2010, believe it or not, because now you have Ava DuVernay directing a movie about Martin Luther King. We just lived through a film that won Best Picture directed by Steve McQueen. But make no mistake about it, when the Weinstein Co. brought Fruitvale Station into the Oscar race it was shut out completely. Ditto The Butler. These are two films about black characters written and directed by black filmmakers. One was kind of embraced by the critics but the other ignored completely. By the time the Oscar race came around the critics were already tired of the predictability of 12 Years of Slave winning so they started turning their attention to Gravity and Her. That disdain for the obligation to vote for a film by a black director colored many months of last year’s race. Critics felt put upon for having to carry that load; after all, it wasn’t their fight.

Oppression is tricky business. It creeps up on you when you don’t even see it coming. Last year’s breakthrough of black filmmakers was very nearly overlooked by the people who write about film. They just didn’t give a shit. The Academy, on the other hand, and the Producers Guild recognized that they held progress and evolution in their hands and did the right thing. The critics? Not so much.

The Help did very well at the Screen Actors Guild but only won a single Oscar. The film was punished for not being “right” for either the black community or the white community, no matter how many great roles it contained, no matter that it brought Viola Davis very close to becoming only the second black Best Actress winner in Academy history. The critics and the Academy voters mostly want color to not be an issue – but it IS an issue, Blanche. It IS.

Hollywood listens to money and after the success of The Help, Taylor seems to have many opportunities to direct. Both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have gone on to do great work coming out of 2010, same goes for Jessica Chastain and Emma Stone.

The question now is, Taylor is bringing one of the only films about black characters (other than DuVernary’s) to the Oscar race. But Taylor is white telling that story. Will his film get hit as a result? When Taylor Hackford made Ray, Jamie Foxx ending up winning Best Actor and the film also took Sound. It was nominated for Picture, Director, Editing, Sound and Costume. No one seemed to care that Hackford was white, but probably because Ray, like Get On Up, might not deal directly with issues of race. Get On Up is about James Brown. It’s musical and fun and loud and probably won’t get hit by the politically correct bus.

It will be interesting to see how the film, and Taylor’s participation in it, will be received.

Get On Up will be released August 1 and reunited director Tate Taylor with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer from The Help.  Taylor and Spencer were long time friends when they made The Help, which won Spencer an Oscar for Supporting Actress.  Viola Davis was a near miss, deferring to Meryl Streep, who was winning her second leading actress Oscar.

 

54 Comments on this Post

  1. brandz

    I’ll start. Meryl Streep so deserved that Oscar.

  2. Profile photo of Sasha Stone

    Brandz, not saying she didn’t – how do you not give Streep an Oscar at that point in her career? But I would have liked to see Davis win too.

  3. The film is referred to as Get Up On It in this article. It’s name is Get On Up. Just a heads up on it :D

  4. Profile photo of Sasha Stone

    Oh thanks! Jeez! Get Up On it!

  5. Profile photo of Sasha Stone

    Paddy, I’m laughing so hard right now.

  6. Al Robinson

    My thoughts are that if it’s close to how good The Help was, I think it might have a chance. I think The Help is one of those movies that will grow in stature as time passes. Tate Taylor seems like a sensible director, who knows how to capture emotions well.

    I’m really hoping that Get On Up will be terrific. Considering that James Brown is one of THE most legendary musicians in history, and his-story is quite an up-and-down tale. I still think of him shuffleing his feet, and moving his hips like he had ants in his pants. He was a really really good showman. Plus, his music was pretty good too. “I feel good, duna-nuna-nuna-na!”

    As for Chadwick Boseman playing James Brown, I thought he was great as Jackie Robinson in last year’s 42, so I believe he can do it again. In fact, I thought that 42 should have gotten more attention than it did.

    Sadly, I’ll always first think of James Brown’s Mug Shot. http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/celebrity/music/james-brown-04

  7. Personally, I would have gone for Michelle Williams performance in My Week with Marilyn as Best Actress that year. Davis and Streep were also terrific in their respective movies as well.

    I think Get On Up could be a great movie but I’m not sure how it’ll factor into the Oscar race. The Butler was an okay film but not really an Oscar-worthy one. I hope Get On Up is better.

  8. UBourgeois

    The problem with The Help wasn’t that it was a story about black people told by a white person, it was that it was a story about white people told by white people riding on the fact that it thought that it was about black people. It’s just such a typical Hollywood Racial Issue Film (I believe they call it the “Mississippi Burning Syndrome”). No one’s saying white people can’t tell stories about black people (or anyone else), it’s just that when they do, they ought to resist the urge to make it about white people. John Sayles, for example, does this very well.

    From what we’ve seen, though, Get On Up seems to focus primarily on black characters (11 of the 16 cast members listed on Wikipedia are black, occupying most of the top-billed roles), so I don’t think this will be so much of an issue for this film. As to the film’s quality, however… we’ll see.

  9. Andrea

    FABU Sasha, have you seen Get On Up yet? Potential nominations for Bozeman, Davis, or Spencer?

    And sorry The Iron Lady sucked! The film has already been forgotten while The Help is in the IMDB Top 250 and made a ton of money.

    By every standard that won the “IT” girls of their years their Oscars, (IE. Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lawrence) should have won Davis the Oscar. They won because they had the more popular film with the Academy and the public. Ditto with Davis. Of course Davis is not a pretty marketable white women with box office potential. She is mostly supporting. Her SAG speech moved people to tears and they still passed her over.

    The reality is Streep won because they didn’t want to waste a LEAD Oscar on Viola Davis. That’s the sad truth.

  10. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I doubt if I’ll ever watch The Help again. But I’m 100% certain I’ll never sit through The Iron Lady again.

    If there’s one thing I find more deplorable than white people making movies about white people do-gooders it’s white people making movies about vile deplorable heinous unrepentant white people portrayed with gauzy nostalgia as do-gooders.

    Best Actress is not an award for the shitty movies that happen to be vehicles for undeniably great acting by great actresses. It’s an award for the actress, not the movie.

  11. david

    So true ryan!!!!

  12. Q Mark

    Ladies and gentlemen, let’s settle all the arguments and just agree that The Help and Iron Lady BOTH sucked. ‘The Help’ was a paper-thin film with a Hallmark movie approach to racism, and had it not been absolutely carried by a few terrific performances, it would’ve been forgotten altogether. Iron Lady was even worse, a movie that has nothing going for it besides a B+ Streep performance. Had 2011 not been an unusually weak year for both the Oscars and (imo) cinema in general, neither film would’ve seen the light of day at the Academy Awards.

    If ‘Get On Up’ is ignored by the Academy this year, I’ll suspect it’ll have a LOT more than to do with Tate Taylor being (from what we’ve seen so far) a pretty mediocre filmmaker than any sort of bias against white filmmakers making movies about African-American subjects.

  13. Alan of Montreal

    I don’t think the problem is necessarily with white directors directing films “about” black people–I don’t recall the same criticisms levied against Taylor Hackford for Ray or Bill Condon for Dreamgirls or even Jonathan Demme for Beloved (though they were all critiqued for other reasons). I think it’s more about the source material; I think more people were offended by the book and its author, both of which became bigger targets after the film was released. I also think many people had problems with the subject matter–that it was ultimately another film about black maids.

    I agree with UBourgeouis–the film was promoted as this amazing story about the black experience, but it was ultimately told from the viewpoint of a white woman. So one could say it was partly the fault of the studio’s marketing department. In any case, I think the reception to Get On Up will be much different because it’s a biopic, and those kinds of films don’t seem to draw the same kind of negative attention about race that fictional films do.

    I hate the term “politically correct,” by the way–the term’s been commandeered and misused by right-wing critics to silence marginalized peoples from voicing their opinions on pretty much anything these days.

  14. Alan of Montreal

    I also think Tate Taylor is hot. There, I said it.

  15. The trailer doesn’t make the movie look as important as James Brown was, which is worrisome. It looked kinda cheap. We shall see.

  16. Q Mark – The Help is worthwhile movie, with several interesting characters. The Iron Lady on the other hand has no substance. Meryl Streep did it so that her peers could oh-and-ah over her one millionth transformation.

    I enjoy most of Streep’s movies, although she has a knack for choosing to be a part of substandard to B+ movies. I think it was on this site that it was said she has yet to star in a true “classic”. It’s too bad that future film buffs wanting to familiarize themselves with Meryl’s work will probably put The Iron Lady near the front of the queue just because of the Oscar, and they will come away so disappointed.

    It was a terrible year for lead actresses, with nothing but stock roles and “prestige” biopic to choose from. However, Viola would have been the better choice because she was great and the movie was enjoyable.

  17. Richard B

    * Applaudes for Alan of Montreal*

    The criticism of the Help was completely valid and to call it PC is just wrong. If Tate Taylor can show he can direct a good movie then Get On Up might receive some attention. I don’t know. The trailer hasn’t really sold me.

  18. Filmix

    Tate Taylor is a Brilliant director and I’m guessing this film is going to surprise many as it’s really friction AMAZING.
    Chadwick Boseman is without a doubt JAMES BROWN in everyday possible. If Jamie Foxx won for Ray look out for this performance as it’s as compelling and phenomenal as Ray. The performances throughout the film are fantastic and they”re are many to feast on. When you see this film you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s coming soon real soon.

  19. Q Mark

    “It was a terrible year for lead actresses, with nothing but stock roles and “prestige” biopic to choose from. However, Viola would have been the better choice because she was great and the movie was enjoyable.”

    2011 was actually a strong year for great lead actress performances, it’s just that only one of them got nominated. If I’d had a ballot, my votes would’ve gone to…

    * Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)
    * Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin)
    * Charlize Theron (Young Adult)
    * Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
    * Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur)

    And this isn’t even counting other terrific performances like Leila Hatami (A Separation), Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), Vera Farminga (Higher Ground) or Davis, who was very good in her role but it wasn’t a lead performance. Any of these women would’ve been better nominees than Streep and Close giving mannered dress-up performances or Rooney Mara’s poor man’s tribute to Noomi Rapace’s superior work as Lisbeth.

  20. Al Robinson

    Q Mark, you reminded me of how good Elizabeth Olson was in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Yes, she was terrific. My recollection of the movie was an “eh”, but she, yes.

  21. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I don’t think the problem is necessarily with white directors directing films “about” black people

    I don’t really think any of this dispute is being leveled at me, but just to be sure, I’ll make clear by repeating the thing that was a problem for me about The Help:
    “white people making movies about white people do-gooders”

    My own reservations had nothing to do with white people making movies about black people. Tate Taylor was working with source material of dubious value which was in itself a novel written by a white woman about white women saving black women, and that novel was written with white women as the target audience. That’s fine. It’s not against the law or anything. It just bores me.

    The reason I didn’t have the same issue with Demme’s Beloved is, of course because Beloved was a novel about the black experience written by a black women. No white people waltzed in to save the day in the novel or the movie.

    Likewise, white people play no role in the fate of the black characters in Dreamgirls and Ray. They especially play no role as Savior.

    When I saw The Help on opening weekend the theater was packed to the rafters with groups of white women of a certain age (35-60). I’m on record reporting back from that matinee screening that there were no black women in the audience at all. None. Out of maybe 500 ticketbuyers for The Help on opening weekend, I didn’t see any black people that afternoon who paid to see it.

    That’s only one day, one afternoon, one screening. Purely anecdotal. But that matinee for The Help was a lot different than the matinee I saw of The Butler where I was one of only half dozen white people in the audience in a theater packed to the rafters with 500 black ticketbuyers.

    That’s what I do to form my impression of a movie’s appeal. I go to public theaters filled with actual ticketbuyers and I look around. That’s how I know the novel The Help was not written to appeal to black people and the film was not made to appeal to black audiences.

    Again, that’s not illegal. But a movie like that doesn’t much interest me.

    This is a totally separate issue from the value of Viola Davis as an actress who gave a spectacular performance in The Help. She won dozens of awards for that performance because that performance was fantastic. Tate Taylor did not win dozens of awards for directing The Help because the movie and his direction fell short of being fantastic. Simple as that.

    ===

    (I don’t know any educated white people who would ever say “whitey saves the day.” I don’t think it helps to cool down the angry flames of a hot topic by using language like that and putting it in quotes as if somebody actually said it. Who talks like that? Nobody I know. The fact is, from the trailer this movie does look pretty good to me — but this movie is not going to the Oscars without the support of white people. So I don’t know if it’s good to start scolding “whitey” for never being able to do right by movies that feature black casts. Whitey did right by 12 Years a Slave, right?

    Maybe that’s because last year we tried to refrain from knocking educated white people and didn’t talk about the imaginary tendency of educated white people to chafe at movies in which white people help black people. Who are these crummy educated white people? The crummy educated white people who nominated Mississippi Burning for 7 Oscars 25 years ago? The crummy educated white people who spent $216 million to see The Help? The crummy educated white people who awarded Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave? The crummy educated white people who come to this site and the crummy educated white people who write for this site? True, educated people chafe at things that are off-key — and why shouldn’t we? Educated people of any color should chafe at cheap pandering narrative gimmicks. But can we try not to assume white people are going to chafe at Get On Up — a full month before anybody gets to see it?

    We want to help this movie succeed if it’s good, yes? Is it going to help Get On Up by scolding the Academy for not giving The Help 3 Oscars or 4 or 5 or whatever number of undeserved Oscars it had no right to claim? Nobody punished The Help for being directed by a white guy. Nobody is going to punish Get On Up either. But I gotta say, I know there are educated white people who don’t very much like to see “Whitey saves the day” framed as an imaginary quote that supposedly sums up our imaginary snotty chafing. I know because I’m one of them).

  22. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    The Help opened to great success, making over $100 million and eventually earning 4 Oscar nominations. All good so far… but only won a single Oscar. The film was punished for not being “right” for either the black community or the white community, no matter how many great roles it contained

    Can we please break this down realistically? Yes, The Help was nominated for 4 Oscars and it only won one. Wow, that sounds pretty bad (?) but I’m not sure the Academy was “punishing” The Help.

    What other Oscars would The Help have possibly won? It was nominated for Best Picture. Surely we’re not saying The Help should have won Best Picture. It was easily one of the 3 or 4 weakest of all 10 nominees that year. (and I say that as somebody who has no use for Midnight in Paris)

    Jessica Chastain was nominated for The Help. Surely we’re not saying Chastain should’ve won the Oscar. She would have had to beat Octavia Spenser. How would THAT have looked. It would have looked awful.

    I absolutely do wish Viola Davis has won Best Actress. I think we can assume the margin of victory for Meryl Streep was razor thin. Maybe as few as 10 votes, or 50. So ok, maybe 50 people in the Academy were somehow “punishing” The Help. Round up 5000 people anywhere in the USA and there will be 50 assholes among them. That hardly qualifies as evidence that the Academy as a whole was punishing The Help.

    If they really wanted to punish The Help then how did Ocatavia Spencer win? Here’s how. She won by being the Best nominee in her category.

    Anyone want to name ANY Oscar category where The Help excelled beyond the actual Oscar winner that year? I challenge you.

    The Help failed to win Oscars in 12 categories because all the winners that DID WIN were all better than The Help in all those categories. Simple as that. “Punishment” did not enter into it.

    What if there were No other movies in 2011 better than The Help? How would THAT look. It would look awful. Thank god there were lots of movies better than The Help that year. I would’ve been depressed all year long if The Help had been the best movie we could find in 2011.

    So how can The Help’s one Oscar be such an injustice that it needs to be called a “punishment” ?

    Let me just repeat that challenge. Aside from Viola Davis, name all the Oscar categories where The Help should have won.

    One thing for sure, if no other movie all year had been any better then The Help then it’s ME would’ve felt punished. I would’ve felt like Hollywood served me a slice of chocolate pie mixed with a dollop of shit and told me it was the Best Pie they baked all year.

  23. Zooey

    I have to disagree. Octavia’s broad performance was real fun, but no, she never came close to being the best in her category. To me based on performance, it should have been up to Chastain and the incredibly Janet McTeer who deliver such a beautiful performance (both a showstealer and a performance that was painfully beautiful and detailed and so full of energy).

    On the best actress race: again, Meryl deliver a solid performance. Davis was good, but didn’t deserve that Oscar. And while we’re at that, so many people seem to bash Meryl and nobody really mentions so many undeserved wins. And Meryl deserves much more than three Oscars. But nobody would make it easy for women.

    And finally, THE HELP made money and got a best picture nod. And it’s a film that’s sometimes laughably simplistic. But it got the nod. Meryl and Octavia won the Oscars. So let’s move on.

  24. Philipp

    All the question that are raised here are very important. Apart from that I think sometimes a so-so movie can be elevated to a higher level by great performances. That’s the case with The Help. An example from last year would be Dallas Buyers Club.

  25. Al Robinson

    I’m sorry, I can’t believe I’m even doing this, I sound like someone with more guts, but….

    I feel this converstation has become too much about The Help, and not enough about Get On Up.
    (I’m laughing in a nervous way right now, but I do have a smile on my face).

  26. Al Robinson

    Although, I should add, that I have been enjoying the comments so far, so it’s not that. I was just hoping that people would want to talk about Get On Up.

  27. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I hear what you’re saying, Al. But the original post that sparked the discussion began in the first paragraph talking about The Help and then continued to talk about The Help for 5 or 6 more paragraphs.

    Get On Up doesn’t even come up it the original post until 5 lines from the end of the piece. So what we’re doing in this discussion is discussing the post we read — which was all about The Help and not about Get On Up.

  28. Al Robinson

    Oh, whoops! I have egg on my face right now. I’m sorry guys.

    In that case, by all-means. Please continue. :-)

  29. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Sorry if I sound a tiny bit aggravated. But wow, as much as I adore what Viola Davis did in The Help, I still think there were 15 or 20 movies in 2011 better than The Help. Thank god for that.

    There were better movies than The Help in 2011 that got NO Oscar nominations at all. There are better movies in 2011 than The Help that go NO Oscar wins.

    Talk about being punished. Ask Shame how it really feels to be neglected. Ask Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Drive, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo how it REALLY feels to be punished by the Academy with no BP nomination — while The Help got in.

    Ask HUGO how it feels about giving up one of its 5 well-earned Oscars to The Help, so that way The Help won’t feel so neglected.

  30. Al Robinson

    Ha ha!! As you know Ryan, there’s never any hurt feelings on my side. I enjoy when you get passionate like that. (Cue the video of the baby waving his arms). :-)

    “Talk about being punished. Ask Shame how it really feels to be neglected. Ask Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Drive, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo how it REALLY feels to be punished by the Academy with no BP nomination — while The Help got in.”

    I could cry how much it sucks that better movies didn’t get in because of certain movies. Especially 2011. I STILL have a bad taste in my mouth from that year. It’s like my brain can’t compute that those 9 were the nominees. What the F–k!!!???

    I’d go:

    Captain America: The First Avenger
    Crazy, Stupid, Love.
    The Descendants
    Drive
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    Hugo
    Midnight in Paris
    Super 8
    Warrior

  31. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I’d feel like a total shit if I hurt your feelings, Al. Glad you know me well enough so that you don’t take my sometimes strident tone personally.

  32. Al Robinson

    Ryan, maybe when I first realized you were not just another commenter like the rest of us, and people were flocking to your comments and trying to pick fights with you. Maybe then you (maybe) came off like an ass, but since I’ve gotten to know you, I know you’re still an ass, but a really nice ass. Ha ha!!! (Sorry, couldn’t help make the joke). :-)

    BTW, when I first started coming to Awards Daily, I thought your Avatar looked a little like Frank Sinatra, so I was curious about that. Of course, I know it’s not the Chairman of the Board now.

  33. Al Robinson

    PS, much appreciate Ryan. Belive it or not, you ARE one of the good people. Even if people don’t always agree with you.

    (It’s like you’ve said, without conflict, life would be boring, so preach my friend (speak from the heart)).

  34. Al Robinson

    One more. If past lives exist, (Ryan), you and I must’ve been good friends in another life. Hell, maybe we were kings. That would be pretty cool. Although, if that was the case, I must’ve done something pretty bad to be (re)born me in this life. (Ha ha ha!!!)

  35. Al Robinson

    For the record, if there are any Hindus who read this blog, and read this post, I immediately apologize. :-)

  36. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    My avi is from this poster from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

    You should see me when I deliberately TRY to be an Ass. I stopped doing that. Now I’m just an intermittent accidental ass, during flares ups.

  37. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Ryan, maybe when I first realized you were not just another commenter like the rest of us

    In fact though, here in the comments I’m just like everybody else. The only thing different is I’m here to help if anyone needs anything.

    And sometimes, like tonight, what I do is stir the pot that Sasha has left to simmer on the burner.

  38. Al Robinson

    “My avi is from this poster from Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
    Ah, okay. Thank you.

    “You should see me when I deliberately TRY to be an Ass. I stopped doing that. Now I’m just an intermittent accidental ass, during flares ups.”
    Hahahahahahahahaha, yes. (Like what Paddy said earlier).

    “In fact though, here in the comments I’m just like everybody else. The only thing different is I’m here to help if anyone needs anything.
    And sometimes, like tonight, what I do is stir the pot that Sasha has left to simmer on the burner.”
    That is so true. Just make sure you don’t accidentally cause it to blow.

    (“But officer, I didn’t know that was flammable…”)

  39. Bob Burns

    Taylor isn’t white. He’s gay.

  40. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Roughly 2% of straight directors are great. Whereas a solid 90% of gay directors are great. But being gay doesn’t automatically confer greatness. Look at Alan Ball.

  41. steve50

    Bob Burns has the post of the day! Sharp, sir!

  42. Bob Burns

    Don’t care that the Help didn’t win more (except for Davis). It got plenty of honor. Just sayin that that Taylor was getting it from both sides… to blacks he’s white and to whites he’s gay. Other.

    There’s a thing between gay men and black women – an understanding and affection – or there often is – and it seemed pretty obvious, to me anyway, in The Help. Not at all surprised he’s working with Spencer again.

  43. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    “…and to whites he’s gay. Other.”

    I’d be pretty surprised if more than a 1/10th of the people who paid to see The Help knew it was directed by a gay mam. In fact, I’d be surprised if more than a 1/10th of the people who saw The Help knew it was directed by a guy named Tate Taylor.

    Stephen Daldry’s gayness didn’t stop the Academy from nominating him for Best Director 3 times. Maybe it has more to do with Stephen Daldry being a better director that Tate Taylor? Possibly?

    There’s a thing between gay men and black women – an understanding and affection –

    Whatever that thing is, it often translates to the screen as borderline campy, and broad campy movies don’t win Oscars. Broad campy comedies might be cute, but campy dramas end up looking a bit vulgar.

    It’s a delicate line to tread and few directors, gay or straight, can do it without trampling on the sense of verisimilitude that helps audiences forget it’s a movie so they can feel real emotion.

    There are campy straight directors who have the same problem. Tarantino is one of them.

  44. “The film was punished for not being “right” for either the black community or the white community”

    I missed this comment and didn’t see it until Ryan mentioned it. The film was “punished.” It was…punished…are you serious? That’s the word you’re going to use when explaining why it didn’t get more than 4 nominations? You do realize that there are thousands of voters and not just 20 in a war room, correct? Did the thousands of voters start an email chain and say, “That cracker Tate Taylor son of a bitch and his shitty white movie needs to be punished. Let’s nominate the movie for 4 Oscars, one of them being BEST PICTURE, and give a win to an underdog character actress. That’ll show that white fucker from making the movie he wanted to make! PS Taco Tuesday, everyone.”

    Ryan, you’re right and said something I actually didn’t think about, nor had the need to really think about it, until I read your comment. What other Oscars, besides Viola Davis, could The Help have actually won? Even if it was nominated for every single Oscar what could it have won? Hugo took 5 deserved Oscars. The Artist took at least 2 that it deserved. Moneyball, for my :ahem: money, should have taken adapted screenplay. You mentioned Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, Shame and Drive for getting less than it deserved, or nothing at all. I’ll also throw in Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

  45. Ryan, I’ll do you one better. I’d be surprised if most audiences know the skin color of most directors. Hell most audiences don’t sit through the credits to see the name of the director.

  46. Ryan, there were more like 30 films better than The Help in 2011, and Q Mark hit the nail on the head about all the great actresses that weren’t even ALLOWED into the Oscar conversation. To me the Best Actress of 2011 by a wide margin was Tilda Swinton in “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, but take a look at the rest of this list because seriously, they fucked up big time with the Actress list that year. This isn’t even a complete list:

    NOT NOMINATED IN 2011:
    Tilda Swinton – We Need To Talk About Kevin
    Charlize Theron – Young Adult
    Kirsten Dunst – Melancholia
    Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene
    Leila Hatami – A Separation
    Kristen Wiig – Bridesmaids
    Elena Anaya – The Skin I Live In
    Carey Mulligan – Shame
    Jessica Chastain – Take Shelter
    Saoirse Ronan – Hanna

  47. Sonja

    I actually like that the 2011 best actress win is seen heavily controversal. Fits its subject perfectly. ;)
    I do like the film more than most people, because I didn’t have high expectations anyway when I heard who would direct TIL.
    It’s, imo, an interesting take, even a bit risky, to just portrait that controversal woman in glimpses than analyse her politics.
    That the director choosed an AMERICAN actress to play that famous brit was another risk. But it won quite a lot of british film awards, so…. that did mean even more than winning the actual Oscar, I’m sure. The screenplay even got a BAFTA nod!!!

  48. keifer

    Streep’s Oscar was an unworthy one in a rather bad movie that year.

    I just watched “The Help” again. And Viola Davis moved me tremendously. She inhabited that character so perfectly. It was a subtle, yet intense, performance. And I think Davis should have won. What bugged me most was Tilda Swinton being ignored completely in the nominations that year for “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, yet again another important film about a touchy subject (how do child killers grow up to become child killers?). I’ll take a movie that tackles social issues (“The Help”, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) any day over some sugar-coated biopic about one of the worst prime ministers of the last century. “I’ve fought all my life!” Indeed, haven’t we all. Some of us just aren’t privileged enough to shit all over everybody else. Sorry folks. Just saw “Snowpiercer”. Watch that one on a double bill with “The Iron Lady” and you’ll see what I mean.

  49. Kudos to those mentioning Leila Hatami, the real best actress of 2011. Like many others on here, I agree that Michelle Williams was the only deserving nominee of the 5. I would also have loved to see (though I knew it would never happen) a nomination for Robin Wright in the terribly underrated “The Conspirator.” The fact that to this day, nobody knows for sure how much of a role Mary Surat played in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln, paved the way for Wright to play out that tension in every second of the film, never attempting to give an answer or even an opinion about the woman’s role yet at the same time convincingly portraying the perspective of a woman trying to defend herself and her family regardless of her role (or lack thereof) in the murder. It’s an incredibly powerful performance that does not rely on the cheap sentiment that Viola Davis had to deal with because of the horrible screenplay she was dealt. Yes, she rose above it as much as she could, but a movie as bad as “The Help” makes it impossible to recognize the greatness she’s capable of (this is even more true of Octavia Spencer who did show her greatness last year in “Fruitvale Station”). Wright’s performance was also subtle enough to avoid the scene-chewing of The Iron Lady. Like Davis, Meryl Streep rose above, but of course she did because she’s Meryl Streep, but she was given so little to work with that it did have a detrimental effect on her performance. With that said, I must disagree with the statement about Best Actress being only about the actress, regardless of how bad the movie is. A movie is a whole item, a collection of many peoples’ efforts, but ultimately one thing where all the individual parts work together and feed off of each other to create the whole. If the writing is as bad as “The Help” or the direction as bad as “The Iron Lady” it will detract from the performances, and there will always than five better performances (many more than 5 actually, just using the Oscar number) from good movies than there are from any bad movie. Along with Hatami (“A Separation”), Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”), & Wright (“The Conspirator”, it would have indeed been wonderful to see nominations for Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk about Kevin”) and any one of the following three: Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha, Marcy, Mae, Marlene”), Vera Farmiga (“Higher Ground”), or Mia Wasikowska (“Jane Eyre”).

  50. I forgot to mention Keira Knightley in “A Dangerous Method.” WIth that, forget the three potential 5th slots; that 5th slot should have gone to Knightley, not sure how the best performance of her career could have slipped my mind.

  51. Jerry Grant

    “We just lived through a film that won Best Picture directed by Steve McQueen. But make no mistake about it, when the Weinstein Co. brought Fruitvale Station into the Oscar race it was shut out completely. Ditto The Butler. These are two films about black characters written and directed by black filmmakers. One was kind of embraced by the critics but the other ignored completely.”

    ^But doesn’t the above example kind of prove the opposite point? Movies made by and about black people can be either great enough to win Best Picture (12 Years) or very good but not good enough to be nominated (Fruitvale, The Butler). That’s certainly how I saw the opposite years. I don’t think Fruitvale or The Butler were ignored critically–in fact I thought they got just the positive attention they deserved–but also no nom for BP which would have frankly been disproportionate, given their goodness-not-greatness (in my opinion, and that of most viewers).

    But I’m excited about Get On Up whether or not it gets awards. The least attractive aspect of The Help was the white heroine story, but otherwise I thought Taylor did a very good job.

  52. Bob Burns

    The Help was camp?

  53. Pablo

    I can’t understand why so many people detest Streep’s win in “The Iron Lady”. For me, she deserved to win and was far superior that Viola Davis.

    Viola Davis should be an Oscar winner for “Doubt” – she was amazing in that film.

    Really looking forward to seeing her in “Get On Up”.

  54. Interesting article, Sasha. Compelling and passionately-written, as usual!

    I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that the Academy “punished” ‘The Help’ with only one Oscar, though. A single Oscar win (for a black actress) among 3 other nominations (including one for Best Picture) in a field that you have consistently mentioned is driven by white men hardly seems like punishment. It’s acceptance on some level, acceptance by that majority crowd that we so often see shut the other films you’ve mentioned (The Butler, Fruitvale Station) out. I just don’t think those films have the same trajectory out of the gate (which speaks to the injustices surrounding race and gender in the industry) as something like ‘The Artist’ did. ‘The Artist’ was the end-all Best Picture winner before it was even released. The buzz surrounding that film was huge. It was inescapable as a Best Picture winner, and I’m not sure that Academy voters consciously shifted away from and/or labeled ‘The Help’ as “the film starring women about black characters” simply because it was about women and black characters.

    I don’t know if there’s enough clear-cut evidence to support the idea that ‘The Help’ wasn’t given more Oscars simply because it was about women and “minorities” (God, I still hate that word, but for the sake of the argument…). I’m all for championing any filmmaker, actor, actress, screenwriter, director, or any other person who “makes it” within an industry that is dominated by a singular voice (in the case of the Oscars and the movie industry, that would be white men), but I do understand and agree with your assessment of white filmmakers who attempt to tell stories about black characters, though, but I can’t agree with your assessment of the film not being acceptable to white or black people. Obviously it was acceptable to *someone*, seeing as it grossed a ton of money and went on to be nominated for four Oscars, winning one. I hardly call that punishment or the cold shoulder.

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