'People Films' Prosper

By Gaydos, Steven | Variety, October 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

'People Films' Prosper


Gaydos, Steven, Variety


Kudos show reflects season's rich roster of black cinema Offerings By Steven Gaydos

Whether you call them "specialty films" or "adult dramas" or "alternatives to blockbusters," it's clear that 2013 is an exceptionally exciting year for films that quicken the pulses of movie fans and ratchet up the stakes for the annual awards season derby.

One of the most exciting attributes of this awards season is the abundance of films focusing on African-American issues and experiences. This development is mirrored by the selections of the Hollywood Film Awards, including honors to director Lee Daniels and thesp David Oyelowo ("Lee Daniels' The Butler"), director Steve McQueen and thesp Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") and "Fruitvale Station" star Michael B. Jordan.

But the season's riches in terms of films with critically acclaimed work by black film artists and films about the African-American experience in the U.S. and elsewhere also extends to such standout contributions as the U.K.'s Idris Elba in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" and Somali-born Barkhad Abdi's turn as the pirate "Muse" in "Captain Phillips." Also upcoming in late November is "Black Nativity," Kasi Lemmons' musical adaptatation of the famous Langston Hughes play.

Does all of this add up to mean there's a new and long-awaited inclusiveness in the film business? Has some barrier actually been crossed or is this merely a coincidence of riches?

As an Oscar-nominated and Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award-winning actress, Alfre Woodard has long been one of America's most cherished performers and is again in the limelight in "12 Years a Slave." Still, Woodard compares the work of her fellow black film artists to "lilies in the desert," noting that this season is drawing attention because "there's been a drought. We've all been putting down roots in dry, dry land, but this year we see the blooms and frankly I think the reason it's getting so much attention is because the public is tickled by it. The moviegoing public in general, whether they're Caucasian, Latino, Asian or black is excited because a year like this makes you realize what you've been missing."

As much as Woodard celebrates the achievements of her fellow black film artists, she also stresses "as anyone who's been in the trenches for the past five to 20 or 30 years knows, there isn't a ?wave.' No one planned for all of these films to open at the same time. Remember, it wasn't ?the Millennium,' it was Tuesday and then Wednesday follows."

Woodard also sees this season of black film achievements in the context of what she calls "films as opposed to events, which is what the studios are focused on producing. They're making amusement park rides and they are expensive and they have to make a lot of money on the first weekend. So I don't call films like ?12 Years a Slave' ?art films,' I call them ?people films' because they're by people and for people who respond to them the way that we're seeing. And that's what makes this year so exciting."

SPOTLIGHT AWARDS

Michael B. Jordan, David Oyelowo, Sophie Nelisse

While the Hollywood Film Awards gives plenty of recognition to actors who are already well known in the industry, there's a place for the newcomers too. That's the Hollywood Spotlight Awards, acknowledging talent that is new to the scene, but making a mark. The honorées are Michael B. Jordan (1) of "Fruitvale Station," David Oyelowo (2) of "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and Sophie Nelisse (3) of "The Book Thief."

Though Jordan had already received attention for his roles in HBO's "The Wire" and NBC's "Friday Night Lights" and last year's "Chronicle," his leading role in "Fruitvale Station" as shooting victim Oscar Grant made him the talk of Sundance. The film won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film, and has earned Jordan some Oscar buzz.

Oyelowo had a role as Forest Whitaker's son in one of the biggest surprise hits of the summer, "Lee Daniels' The Butler," which grossed more than $100 million worldwide and has also heard talk of Oscar noms. …

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