[AWARD SHOWS] More Minorities - Says Report
- Minority report
Minorities have gotten few acting nominations. But this year's crop
will be hard to overlook.
By Greg Braxton, Times Staff Writer
The world is opening up, and it's taking Hollywood with it. Almost a
year after the racially tinged "Crash" scored a best picture upset at
the Academy Awards, deep explorations of nonwhite cultures have
dominated the silver screen as have a number of ethnic performers who
have delivered penetrating, emotional portrayals.
It's an expanding vision of storytelling that not only has taken
audiences to Uganda, Morocco, South Africa, Spain, Japan and beyond,
but also into areas of minority American culture.
Robyn Slovo, one of the producers of the fact-based South African
drama "Catch a Fire," says that Hollywood in the last few years "has
shown a much greater interest in the larger world. There is much more
global awareness, and people are really interested in stories outside
of the West."
Many of those stories have been among the industry's best told,
earning heavy buzz as potential Oscar contenders for the films and
the minority actors in them. All of which could turn the upcoming
Oscars into more than just a tribute to film artistry, transforming
it instead into a festival of multiculturalism.
"The time has finally come," said Jarvee Hutcherson, head of the
Multicultural Motion Picture Assn., a 1,400-member group of
filmmakers, educators and others that promotes diversity in film.
"This happens to be a year where people are appreciating films that
spotlight diversity, and they're embracing the concept of diversity
more. 'Crash' helped to open up those horizons," he said of the film
that revolved around cultural conflicts in Los Angeles.
This expanding of boundaries has led to meatier roles for minority
actors and actresses, said Stephanie Allain, one of the key forces
behind 2001's "Hustle & Flow," which scored a best actor nomination
for Terrence Howard.
"More minority actors have gotten more opportunities for better
roles," Allain said. "Now there are all of these contenders across
the board. There hasn't been that much progress with minorities
behind the camera, but actors have had the longest history in
Hollywood of trying to get to the top. Now it's paying off."
Much of the excitement has surrounded seasoned actors (Forest
Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland," Penélope Cruz in "Volver")
as well as first-timers or novices (Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi
of "Babel," Jennifer Hudson of "Dreamgirls" and Rudy Youngblood
Films with large foreign or minority casts that are strong best
picture contenders include "Babel," "Volver," Mel
Gibson's "Apocalypto" and Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo
Jima." "Dreamgirls" is already considered a front-runner for several
nominations, with buzz surrounding most of its cast Jamie Foxx,
Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Anika Noni Rose. Hudson, a
former "American Idol" contestant, is considered almost a sure bet to
secure a best supporting actress nomination as the heavyset, rejected
"Half Nelson," an independent film about a relationship between an
inner-city teacher (Ryan Gosling) and his student (Shareeka Epps),
could also emerge from the pack to become an Oscar runner. The
independent film, released earlier this year, received several
Independent Spirit Award nominations this week.
Favorites in the actress race include Cruz as a strong-willed woman
in Madrid in "Volver." The best actor arena has several minority
contenders Whitaker as the dictator Idi Amin, Derek Luke as a rebel
fighter in "Catch a Fire," Will Smith as a struggling single father
in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and Michael Pena as a trapped New York
policeman in "World Trade Center."
The supporting actor race could feature Freddy Rodriguez and Laurence
Fishburne as hotel kitchen workers in "Bobby" and Djimon Hounsou as a
desperate tribal fisherman who reluctantly joins forces with a
diamond smuggler in "Blood Diamond."
Of course, the widening of the field when it comes to minorities
could also lead to disappointment.
Over his long career, Whitaker failed to win a nomination for
previous noted performances in "The Color of Money," "The Crying
Game," "Bird" and others. And some insiders are still grumbling about
Don Cheadle being overlooked for a supporting actor nomination as the
murderous hood Mouse in 1995's "Devil in a Blue Dress."
Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, now BET entertainment president, says the
Academy Awards can no longer look the other way when it comes to the
excellence of minority performers. "Black actors and actresses are
operating at such a high level now that they cannot be denied," he
said. "These are performances that resonate."