a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Racism’

Could Mahershala Ali become the first African-American actor, after Denzel, to win TWO Oscars?


Could Mahershala Ali, who won the Best Supporting Actor a mere two years ago for Best Picture Winner “Moonlight”, win a SECOND Oscar in the same category for “Green Book”?

If so, he would be the first African American actor to win TWO Academy Awards, never mind two nearly in a row, after Denzel Washington won two.

In “The Green Book,” he plays a real life character, a jazz pianist sensation of the 1950s. The film is set in the rural South in 1963, when it was very dangerous for a successful Black man to have a white driver from the Bronx, played by Viggo Mortensen.

Both actors received very strong, positive notices out of Toronto, where it became a surprise hit, and won the prestigious, and predictive Grolsch People’s Choice Award, voted on by the public, vaulting all involved into the middle of the Oscar race.

The film was directed by Peter Farrelly of “Dumb and Dumberer” film.

Should this happen and Ali get nominated and win again, he would make Oscar history. No Black actor has ever won twice.

“Go Set a Watchman” a Real American Horror Story

“Go Set a Watchman” the suddenly discovered second novel of the saintly Harper Lee is disturbing, vile, truthful and a real American horror story. And you believe every single word of this Southern Gothic page turner. It’s very well written and it’s compelling. But it’s a novel that takes us inside the Ku Klux Klan in ways readers of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will find frankly disgusting.

If only they hadn’t found it! But they did and now we all have to deal with the seething, horrifying racism that it seems American literary hero Atticus Finch. or should I say FORMER hero, for he is now forever dethronedGo Set 1seems to whole-heartedly condone. Yes, a meeting of the KKK is the centerpiece of this book, the way the courthouse trial was in “Mockingbird.” And yes, they both happen in the same “sagging” court room!

Beloved characters from “Mockingbird” will never be quite so beloved anymore. “Watchman” destroys the innocence of all involved quite completely. And I feel Harper Lee meant this. REALLY meant every mean word in this shocking book. And I mean, MEAN!

You’ve loved these characters. They are people to you, and to me. And so you feel quite astonished to find there’s more to them than you ever thought. Three-dimensional is what it is. It takes great writing to make you feel so deeply. And upset you so much, when they characters(people) you thought you knew are not behaving in ways you thought they would. It’s like being at some great family quarrel, that you wish you could get out of, but you can’t. They’re your familly now too,.You’ve invested so much time and thought and love into them, you’re stuck.. You’re gripped.

Maycomb, Alabama is a hot-bed of racist issues and all kinds of human rights abuses and points of view that hopefully its’ real-life counterpart Munroeville has long ago out-grown. But here we’re smack dab in the middle of the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement had really begun. But it WAS beginning and all the residents of Maycomb are scared out of their wits by it.

Jean Louise Finch, the now grown up Scout of “Mockingbird”, is also questioning, tacitly, her own sexuality, at least as far as fitting into the whale-bone corset of Southern womanhood, which is the marriage that awaits her. Or does it?

Running through “Watchman” is also not only the rising tide of the NAACP and the changes it will bring, but also Jean Louise’s realizations, prompted in no small part by her life in New York and her childhood friend Dill(who grew up to be Truman Capote), that she herself is more than “an eccentric”. She has a cousin, or some such, who is described as “a three dollar bill”(!) But Lee doesn’t go there. She stops with the paragraph “In New York you are your own person. You may reach out and embrace all of Manhattan in sweet aloneness, or you can go to hell if you want to.”

I wish she’d gone further with this train of thought, but she stops there.Suffice it to say, we are treated over and over again to Jean Louise’s absolute horror at having her first period, her dislike of dresses, her preference for slacks and her constant vomiting as she discovers that a) she is a woman and not a boy and b)that her beloved father, and also her fiance are card-carrying members of the KKK. Even her doting eccentric Uncle Dr. Jack turns out to be something else other than he appears to be.

So we are treated to upchuck after upchuck and indeed this whole strong novel seems to be spewn, rather than written. The world, the South, her father, her aunt, her uncle everyone makes Jean Louise sick .And I felt a bit ill at the end of it, too. And angry. It’s a polemic of the first water. A rant. Against racism, and also against heterosexuality, which the author(it was written BEFORE “Mockingbird” in the closeted ’50s.) against injustice, against male chauvinism which she encounters on every page, all of which left me with a profound distaste of Maycomb, Alabama and all its’ inhabitants, fictional or otherwise.

And this is the most difficult conclusion that Jean Louise Scout Finch has to come to, too. That she is inextricably part of it all. She was born that way and fight as she might against it all, and she DOES fight, she is stuck with this is who she is and what she has sprung from.

One only hopes that her character gets back to sweet Manhattan asap.

“Go Set a Watchman” is an important book, but it is a disturbing one, and it left me quite frankly, nauseated. But for all the right reasons.

Oscar Shocker? White Stars Knock Black Stars Out of Best Actor Race

Sad, but true. In what is being touted as the best year ever for the recognition of Black film making, with “12 Years A Slave” steam-rolling every Oscar category in its’ path, the Best Actor race may sadly be the same old same old-as in The Same Old White Faces.

There were FOUR possible Black Best Actor candidates. I’m using the word Black because two of them are British and therefore the term African-American is not totally apt here. Chiwetel Ejiafor for “12 Years a Slave” is British, and so is Idris Elba “Mandela:Long Walk to Freedom.” The other two being Forest Whittaker (already an Academy Award winner in this category) for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler‘”and Michael B. Jordan for “Fruitvale Station.”

I’m afraid when the nominations are announced in January only Chiwetel Ejiafor is going to be the last one standing. And the hue and cry resulting from this happenstance, may very well secure his win. WHICH HE TOTALLY DESERVES!!! “12 Years a Slave” is a masterpiece!

I have no trouble saying that “12 Years a Slave” won the Oscar in September. In Toronto, to be exact. At TIFF’13. I know. I was there. I saw it.I felt it.  It was seismic. The ground was trembling. It was like an Academy Award earthquake!

And the words on everyone’s lips formed a mantra “’12 Years a Slave’ has already won the Oscar in September!”

And lo and behold, it did go on to win the Toronto Film Festival Audience Choice Award for Best Picture. One of the only awards that non-award-giving TIFF gives out. And it’s the audience at TIFF that voted for this.

And I think it’s going to dominate in every category that it’s nominated for. Particularly Best Director(Steve McQueen), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender) and Best Supporting Actress ( dazzling newcomer) Lupita N’yong’o. Yes, I think Jeff Wells http://www.hollywood-elswhere.com is right in saying she could beat Oprah Winfrey in this category. Oprah being in the running for “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

But back to the lead in this story. The SWORM which IS the Academy (Straight White Old Rich Men) are going to make sure that Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Bruce Dern all end up nominated in this category.

Hanks certainly landed with a big splash on Friday night, opening the New York Film Festival with “Captain Phillips.” Everyone, critics and audiences alike were ecstatic in their praise. Also of Barkhad Habdi as the main Somali pirate. There could be a surprise nomination there. No one saw that coming. But there it is.

Robert Redford’s solo performance in “All Is Lost” is a career-capper, too, by all acounts, and so is Bruce Dern’s in “Nebraska.” Up against these Hollwyood legends, I fear Whittaker, (“He already has an Oscar “) and Idris Elba( his film did not wow the critics or audiences at TIFF) and newcomer Jordon(“He’s young. He can wait.”) will all cancel each other out and leave Chiwetel as the last Black man standing.

And he could win. Satisfying EVERYONE. I hope.

I’m figuring the #5 slot is going to go to the long-overdue, career-changing Matthew McConaughey, who, yes, scored mightily, yes, at TIFF, for “Dallas Buyers Club.”

So much was decided at TIFF this year, I just couldn’t believe it.

When “Mandela” bombed, as did “The Fifth Estate,” those two films were quickly taken off the Oscar table.

It doesn’t bother me that “12 Years a Slave” is the presumptive winner. It deserves it.  It’s one of the greatest films ever made and deserves to be acknowledged as the masterpiece it is.. The injustices and horror of slavery that it depicts, just SCREAM “AWARD THIS!” All the other films coming up this year simply in terms of subject matter seem picayune by comparison.

The fact that in the Best Supporting Actress category, which some refer to as “The Booby Prize” of the Oscars,” there could very well be a historic TRIO of African American nominees, Oprah Winfrey, N’yong’o( She’s an American. She went to the Yale School of Drama! Yes, she did!) And past winner Octavia Spenser for “Fruitvale Station”. That would be terrific precedent-breaking situation. But in the Best Actor category, sadly, no. The status quo will, I fear,prevail.

Vanessa Redgrave & James Earl Jones Magnificent “Daisy”!

Just when you think this terrific, multitudinous Broadway season couldn’t get any more bountiful – Suddenly! There are two of the greatest actors of our time the hitting never-dreamed-of theatrical heights in “Driving Miss Daisy.” That would be Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones in what is surely going to be considered one of the highpoints of their already legendary careers.

This is great acting of the highest order. The likes of which we rarely if ever see on Broadway. And how do they accomplish this amazing, but not wholly unexpected feat? Well, Vanessa Redgrave does it by utterly underplaying the sour, snippy, uppity, totally self-righteous Miss Daisy, who is a spritely 72 when the play starts in 1948.

Miss Daisy has crashed her car into her neighbors’ garage and now is no longer allowed to drive. And her doting son, Boolie (Boyd Gaines, who is just serviceable here) insists that she get a “colored” chauffeur to make sure she gets from point A to point B without catastrophe. And thereby hangs quite a tale and a play that proves itself here to be a durable American classic.

Miss Daisy  Wertham is Jewish and rich, but she’s the type who can pinch a penny until it screams. She comes from an impoverished background herself, and climbed to freedom and respectabilty through education,  becoming a school teacher  and eventually marrying her rich (now late) husband, the father of Mr.Gaines’ character.

“We had NOTHING!” Redgrave’s voice rises for one of the few times in the Alfred Uhry’s 1987 Pulitizer Prize-Winning play, “NOTHING!” But she does it all with a control and a simplicity that is startling, in that it renders this very familiar play, fresh as…well, a daisy!

Miss Redgrave only lets the gestures fly or her voice ring when she’s onstage with her son Boolie( Mr. Gaines), as his less-than-doting mother. Miss Daisy’s maternal instincts run to the nasty, the snide put-downs of her ever-helpful, ernestly do-gooding son. She’s quite insufferable as a mother.

HOWEVER,  when James Earl Jones finally enters the play (it seemed like it took forever to get them into their famous car-ride together) Redgrave hands the play totally over to him. On a veritable silver platter of well-seasoned acting chops. She gets very, very simple and true, and just let’s James Earl Jones rip the roof off the Golden Theater.

Jones, when we first see him is a shockingly-aged figure. White hair, he’s almost bent over double, with what one hopes is a character choice and not osteoporosis. He seems eager to make some extra money, desperate almost for a job. Especially driving a white lady of “means.” As if to make double-sure, he shuffles and “Yes’M”s and “No,’M”s drip from his lips, shockingly often, and in Jones’ sonorous voice, here controlled like I’ve never seen him before, they sound like honey, and fall throughout the play as naturally as Southern rain. The naturalness of their frequency locks Hoke into his subservient role, like a vise.

And when the Two Greats get together, the sparks fly. And how do they soar so? By absolutely, completely disappearing into their characters in this play that has NEVER,  ever been done on Broadway. Ever. After this magnificent revival, it will be done all the time now.

This theatrical power couple par excellence banish thoughts of the great 1989 cinematic version, which won the Oscar for Best Picture that year and Jessica Tandy was named Best Actress. Making her the oldest Best Actress recipient ever. Morgan Freeman, who also originated the role in the stage play, Off-Broadway, was nominated, but didn’t win.Though he did eventually garner a Supporting Actor Oscar for “Million Dollar Baby.”

Jones, who’s never won an Oscar, but has Two Tonys to his credit for “The Great White Hope” and “Fences,” just takes the part of Hoke and runs with it. Or drives with it, right into the theatrical firmament. And our hearts. And memories.

It’s one of his greatest performances, and hers, too. Taking his cue from her, Jones is also totally without frills and simple, simple, simple.  And as the times change (“Miss Daisy” starts in 1948 and goes on through the tumultous civil right area and into the ’70s) the power shifts from the back seat to the front seat. And when Miss Daisy’s synagogue is bombed, Jones’ Hoke is all protection and help for the distraught, disbelieving Miss Daisy.

You know he knows just how ugly Southern racism of that time can be. Whether it’s directed at Jews or at Blacks, it’s all the same thing, the playwright is saying.

When Hoke describes the lynching of a relative he witnessed as a young boy to the thunderstruck Miss Daisy, Jones is simplicity and quiet, heart-rending eloquence itself. He is also echoing a similarly, frighteningly effecting scene in the “Scottsboro Boys.” The Kander & Ebb musical, playing two blocks away, on the other side of Broadway and it chronicles the horrors and  the injustices 1920s & 30s South. And in the South of Miss Daisy’s 1940s & 50s world it is alive still. Hoke can’t eat at the restaurants Miss Daisy does. And he has to go in, always, by the back door.

Playwright Alfred Uhry, who never again reached the theatrical heights with anything else he ever wrote for the stage (though I did enjoy his “Last Night at Ballyhoo.”) surprises here, too. Because instead of being lost in a big, Broadway house, his “Driving Miss Daisy” OWNS it and fills the space,  and now in Vanessa Redgrave’s and James Earl Jones’ caring hands, we see that his characters are immortal.

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