If Oscar voters knew that the only thing standing between them and Dee Rees’ Mudbound getting an Oscar nomination for Best Picture was how they ranked it on their ballots, do you think they would mark it at number one? One of the best writers on film is, in my opinion, the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday. Today she goes to bat for Mudbound.
Do you think they would do it because they knew it was the right thing to do, because they knew – everyone knew – that movies like this don’t come around very often? Would they have seen it and knew it to be great, give it a shot and place it at NUMBER ONE because they knew that’s the only way to get it nominated? Maybe.
How to parse the brilliance of Mudbound with the film community’s indifference towards it? Dee Rees, a prolific, openly gay black woman who chose to tell an important story of America. Yes, she dared to do it – to adapt (with Virgil Williams) a poetic, lyric novel about two families whose children were sacrificed to the war, but whose country decided which one mattered when they came home, and which one didn’t. This is the country we’re living in, one of “two Americas.” We might be out of the Jim Crow era where black men couldn’t use the front door but there is no mistaking how our new government sees things, how they want to revert things, how they want to fan the flames of white supremacy.
Mudbound is not an easy sit. The characters are full of pain, a longing for a better world laid out for them in an imagined future. There is no question it’s one of the best directed, best written, best acted films of the year yet its success in this silly game of handing out gold statues depends on the buzz that doesn’t surround it. It shouldn’t have to be sacrificed so that Greta Gerwig can be the one woman recognized this year. In fact, both can be. All they have to do is rank Mudbound in their number one spot and they will ensure that 2017 is remembered for being the year when two women got their movies in. It’s been seven years since that happened.
Here is the brilliant Hornaday:
As we’ve seen in the days since the Golden Globes ceremony (at which “Mudbound” was up for two awards), awards season isn’t just about the horse race, but about the zeitgeist artists can help interpret, clarify and reframe. By rights, “Mudbound” should earn multiple Oscar nods — for best picture, director, cinematography, writing and acting, to name a few — purely on the basis of its excellence and craft. But it’s also a movie for now, its refraction of history touching on questions of race, class, gender that feel both ancient and urgently of the moment. “Mudbound” deserves to be part of the Oscar race purely on the merits, but we could all stand to reflect on where we’ve been, who we are and where we’re going.
At some point this story will be in the rear view. Maybe the film critics will sniff with entitlement and satisfaction that they blocked Netflix from entering the game (because of course it could never be about just the movie). We’ll all walk away from this year knowing what happened, how hard hitting ambitious films made by women like Mudbound and Detroit were sidelined. This isn’t a tragedy for Dee Rees. It isn’t nor should it never be a measure of HER achievement or her success or what the future will bring for her. No, it is more a tragedy for the Oscar game – that is where the reckoning will lie in the years to come.