Magazine article Variety

Can Sundance's Diverse Voices Make the Trip to Hollywood?

Magazine article Variety

Can Sundance's Diverse Voices Make the Trip to Hollywood?

Article excerpt

THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL kicked off during a pivotal time in Hollywood, just as backlash over the lack of diversity among this year's Oscars nominees led to calls to boycott the ceremony. Even in the mountains of Park City, Utah, the aftershocks could be felt.

Festival founder Robert Redford stressed Sundance's devotion to different voices, and said of diversity: "It's a word I operate from.... If you're independent-minded, you're going to do things different than the common form: That's something we're genuinely proud of - how we show diversity - because it's tied to the fundamental word of ?independent.'" But, Redford added, it's up to artists, not the festival, to explore the theme. "We don't take a position of advocacy."

While mainstream Hollywood still struggles to hire black writers and directors, and few women helm big-budget films, Sundance has always been refreshingly diverse. This year's festival was no different, and offered a glimpse of the faces the industry could welcome into the fold as Hollywood tries to push back against accusations that it's still the land of white men.

"Morris From America," a whimsical coming-of-age story about an African-American teenager (played by breakout newcomer Markees Christmas) who lives in Germany with his widower father (Craig Robinson), landed at A24, and was a reminder that not all stories about black protagonists need to be grim. Writer-director Chad Hartigan said it was important to him to show a different kind of parental bond in the film. "I hadn't seen a father-and-son relationship like this all that often, and particularly between an African-American father and son," he said.

Time and again, the subject of race bubbled up at the mountainside festival in new and unexpected ways. Director Richard Tanne received a warm reception for "Southside With You," which provides a "Before Sunset"-!ike reimagining of the 1989 first date between Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. Nate Parker debuted "The Birth of a Nation," which he wrote, directed and stars in, bringing life to the story of Nat Turner, whose refusal to be subjugated inspired an 1831 rebellion of slaves and free blacks in Virginia.

On the nonfiction side, Spike Lee held a press tour for his documentary "Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall," which will air on Showtime, and audiences enjoyed the premiere of "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise," a look at the civil rights activist and author. …

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