‘Whites Only’ Oscars? Not If These Tour De Force Turns Are Remembered

Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Djimon Hounsou

Will the 2010 Oscars be a whites-only club? Gregg Kilday and Matthew Belloni projected the possibility in the Hollywood Reporter back in September, and as this awards season has moved forward, indeed, the focus has been on a collection of Caucasian colossi.

Where are the faces of color? Minority stars have been busy cranking out big commercial movies this year rather than Oscar-type fare, goes the prevailing industry wisdom — Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable,” Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson in “Iron Man 2.” The dearth of African-American, Latino and Asian players in the critics’ awards picks is either 1) just a coincidence or 2)another result of the recession, as distributors fail to pick up independent films that feature minorities, and studios “play it safe.”

Before we get too carried away with this theme, however, the picture could still change. There are Oscar-worthy performances by non-whites in this year’s crop of films, performances that merit more attention than they’ve been getting, starting with Djimon Hounsou in Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest.”

Two-time Academy Award nominee Hounsou plays the enslaved island native Caliban as quite literally a force of nature, the offspring of a witch and the devil. The actor studied Butoh, an ancient form of Japanese dance that represents nature, to prepare for the role. He moves with raw, animalistic grace. He went through five hours a day having makeup applied to his nearly naked body, a process the actor admits always left him in a terrible mood — which he used in his performance as a not-quite-human being consumed by rage.

Taymor continues to have the artistic audacity to follow her own creative instincts rather than playing to critics’ or audiences’ expectations, which has resulted in a “Tempest” that’s excited passionate responses both negative and positive. That this film, with its flawless performances and unforgettable stark imagery, will stand the test of time is without doubt, whether the Academy pays more attention than critics’ groups or not. “The Tempest” opens tomorrow
(12/10).

Meanwhile, would Kimberly Elise be getting more notice for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman who submits to abuse in “For Colored Girls” if it weren’t for the fact that Tyler Perry directed the film, and critics don’t like Perry?

The flaws of Halle Berry’s “Frankie and Alice” — also opening, in limited release, tomorrow (12/10) — have been widely enumerated, but there is no ignoring the daring performance of Oscar-winner Berry as a severely emotionally damaged woman with two alternate personalities.

Almost certainly, Javier Bardem, another Academy Awards nomination veteran, will be remembered for his portrayal of a terminally ill criminal in “Biutiful,” which already won him Best Actor honors at the Cannes Film Festival. That, at least, will add a dash of Spanish flavor to the mix.

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This entry was posted in The Hollywood Exclusive by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and tagged , , , , , , on by .

About Stacy Jenel Smith

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley when it was a kids' Shangri La in the 60s and we had Fabulous Eddie's miniature golf and trampolines on Ventura Boulevard. My big brother frequented The Third Eye psychedelic shop back in the day, but he wound up turning out anyway. Dad was an NBC video man who worked on "Laugh-In," Dean Martin's show, and specials by everyone from Sinatra to Fred Astaire. Mom was a first class home maker and PTA and GCA volunteer. They're still doing great. Anxious to get going in life, I quit college and jumped into journalism when I was still a teenager, and was writing for the New York Times syndicate and People magazine before turning 20. But that was a long time, many adventures, lots of traveling around the world and thousands of interviews ago. I go back to the very last days of hot type and getting to talk to Henry Fonda and Bette Davis, and Sammy Davis at the old Brown Derby...What a ride. That's in no small part thanks to my amazing writing partner, Marilyn Beck, one of the grand old-school Hollywood columnist stars -- a true star -- who knows how to do it right. I'm lucky, for sure. Now is fun, too. I love going out to events with my 17-year-old daughter (Jonas Brothers!). Seeing everything fresh through her eyes renews my excitement about the game. In-between I went back and finished school -- University of Redlands -- married, divorced, and at long last found my true love. My favorite things outside of the show business realm are being with my family, my faith and spiritual growth, learning new things (from doing Qigong to uploading stuff on Facebook), and running. See you on the trail.

One thought on “‘Whites Only’ Oscars? Not If These Tour De Force Turns Are Remembered

  1. Deborah Kitsune

    Butoh is not an ancient form of dance. It emerged out of post-WWII Japan as a subversive and avant garde dance. Founders: Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. Since that time, Butoh has globalized rapidly. It cannot be defined as a dance that represents nature. It can, however, be described as a dance that through process, not form, excavates unconscious aspects of the self or as a dance process that deconstructs social and cultural bodily patterns (most generally). Butoh is a process that involves extensive training, usually involving several years, not just taking a class or two and then saying you are doing it. More information can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butoh

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