Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
This time two years ago, following the announcement of the 2014 Oscar nominations, I lamented the total absence of Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut, Fruitvale Station, a haunting and impressive film that found its way onto numerous year-end best lists. Today, I’m singing a familiar tune. Creed, Coogler’s breathtaking follow-up reuniting him with star Michael B. Jordan, failed to earn a Best Picture nod and was shut out of the awards almost completely.
It’s frustrating because the movie is entertaining, exciting, terrifically directed and acted—and if an overindulgent, hollow frontier film can get nominated, Creed most certainly deserves to be there, too. The fact that the sole nomination for a film with a black star and a black writer-director goes to a white actor is even more frustrating, even though Sylvester Stallone deserves the nod. (Will he, at least, remember to honor Coogler and Jordan in his possible acceptance speech?) But what’s really troubling is that the academy missed out on a chance to do something it hasn’t done in more than 50 years and has really only done once: honor a film with a black protagonist that is not about the Black Struggle.
Hollywood’s and the academy’s love affair—obsession, even—with celebrating black pain and history (rather than the black present) is well-documented. More than 75 years ago, Gone With the Wind, a film that warped that pain and history into a mythical fantasy of happily oppressed slaves, swept the Oscar ceremony with eight wins. Later, In the Heat of the Night, a smart noir in which a racist Southern white cop (Rod Steiger) learns to get along with a black Northern homicide detective (Sidney Poitier), was honored with the top prize. (Also nominated that year: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which Poitier must convince different white people he’s not a threat.)