Greg Gorman

Credit: Greg Gorman

Yesterday, the news was full of analysis of the Oscar snubs and simplistic assumptions about the members who make up the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The go-to numbers cited were 94 percent white, 77 or 76 percent male, and an average age of 63 years old. There was this essay in the Daily Beast the day before. Friday morning, CBS offered this reportNumbers make for nice television, but they can be deceiving. Sometimes they invite too much speculation and those interpreting them in knee-jerk fashion can project a lot of speculation. Some have gone as far as accusing AMPAS members as racist because of the Selma snubs in the major categories. We said good things about that film in this blog (50 years after the Civil Rights Act, Selma remains a timely film — a film review). Individual rights no matter race, sex or religion is important to us, and it’s a fine film, indeed. However, even we agree the movie creaked with some faults in craft and storytelling. This writer’s issue was with its overwrought film techniques, especially involving abuse of slow-motion for emphasis that condescends to the audience. I wouldn’t be surprise if some voters were turned off for the same reason, and it has nothing to do with race. However, the best explanation comes from the longtime great Oscar analyst and film historian Mark Harris in Grantland.

But looking beyond the numbers, one of probably an array of other arguments against all these protestations comes from a gentleman I interviewed yesterday morning: legendary cult film director John Waters. He’s about to visit South Florida to perform “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier” at the Shock Pop Comicon in Fort Lauderdale. After we spoke about his one-man show (the full story is coming in a few weeks to Pure Honey Magazine, another publication I write for). I had to ask him about his role as one of those men in the numbers noted above. “Yeah, I’m an old white man,” he said speaking over the phone.

Though he warned me that the Academy is strict about members talking about their nominees and I said I would never ask him to break the rules, he laughed it off, telling me incredulously, “Why not? I would!” Then he offered some films he put his singular power behind without skipping a beat. No surprise: all of his picks feature directors known for controversy and pushing boundaries.


“I nominated movies like Mommy [Xavier Dolan] and Abuse of Weakness [Catherine Breillat],” he admitted. “I don’t think I’m picking the easiest ones to like. I’m tellin’ ya, of all the movies that were nominated, my favorite is this thing called Wild Tales [Damián Szifrón], which I was thrilled got nominated for best foreign film from Argentina, so I would urge everybody to see that movie. It’s a great movie.”

This is but one version of the vote by one of the majority members. Waters, of course is a unique case. William Burroughs, a man who understands genuine shock value and its place as representing reality, hailed him as “the pope of filth,” after all. But it provides an important lesson against generalizations, not to mention the futility of it. The take away: it’s pointless to assign generalized assumptions to a set of numbers, especially if you don’t know who’s behind them.

We’re not gonna defend the Oscars, ever. We’ll ride their coat tails to hype movies we like and dismiss them when its merited, but we’ll always argue against generalizing. There is an individual behind every thought and decisions like Oscar contenders. That’s why we have always aimed to celebrate the independent ethos. Pick your own favorites.

Hans Morgenstern

John Waters will perform “This Filthy World, Filthier and Dirtier” at Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as part of the Shock Pop Comicon on February 14 (go here for tickets). Also, the Miami International Film Festival recently announced that Wild Tales will open this year’s festival on March 6. Ticket information can be found here. And here’s the trailer:

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

It is not easy to film a historic moment that some viewers will remember, such as a critical juncture wherein the Civil Rights Movement focused on a single issue: electoral rights. Nonetheless, director Ava DuVernay delivers with Selma, an extraordinary film filled with solid performances and an intense atmosphere that is truly a cinematic experience.

The story of Selma is layered in history, politics, social awareness and a humanized biography. DuVernay tracks several people from different walks of life with real high stakes. As much as the film focuses on Dr. Martin Luther King, his leadership style and his family, the genius of DuVernay is that she humanizes the film by focusing also on everyday people in the south. The film goes beyond a biopic work and becomes an engrossing and relatable story about what it was like to live in Selma, Alabama in the early 1960s. It should be noted that DuVernay made history herself, by being the first African-American female director to earn a Golden Globe nomination — a well-earned nod.

Selma starts quietly with what seems to be a very positive moment for Dr. King, played marvelously by David Oyelowo. He is in Norway to accept a Nobel Peace Prize. He is charismatic, charming and even a bit hesitant about the life he has chosen. He jokes with his wife, Coretta Scott King (an equally amazing Carmen Ejogo), about being a preacher in a small college town. Through this and other even more intimate moments, DuVernay humanizes Dr. King. He is a leader with doubts, concerns, fear and in constant search of how to do what is both right for the struggle and right for the people he has mobilized.

That the film did not have access to the original speeches because of budget constraints does not in any way hinder the film’s outcome. Oyelowo plays King with a strength that shines through the screen guaranteed to stir an emotional response from the audience. The sequences with King delivering speeches show a passionate leader, who is speaking as much to himself as he is directing his words to a crowd. Oyelowo makes it obvious that there is self-doubt in this great leader. The fact that we are hearing these words for the first time actually helps the film, engaging the audience in the film itself instead of standing out as a reenactment of a moment in time that might be very familiar to some.

Among a remarkable ensemble cast, one of the highlights of this film is a standout performance by Ejoga as Coretta Scott King. As a supporting actress, Ejoga made the most of this film, and her representation of Coretta feels both authentic and fresh. I would not be surprised if she is recognized later on with a nomination for Best Supporting Actress from the Academy. Another solid performance came from none other than Oprah Winfrey, who plays Annie Lee Cooper, a woman willing the courage it would take for an African-American citizen to register to vote in Selma prior to the Civil Rights Act. Her tone and gestures are filled with an apprehensive strength, and in the quiet sighs and defiant gazes, she shows that the Civil Rights Movement went well beyond the marches, sit-ins and brilliant speeches. The everyday struggle was part of the mounting anger that later won the hearts and minds of supporters from across the country. Terms like second-rate citizen are often bandied about when talking about racial disparities in America, but in the performances of Winfrey, not to mention Henry J. Sanders as Cager Lee, the audience gets to witness what the term second-class citizenship actually means.

The film comes at an incredibly timely year, as 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The big issues of racial disparity, abuse of authority and the struggle of racial minorities to exercise the right to govern their own lives are still very much top of mind with the unresolved issues of Ferguson and the series of protests still being held under the umbrella hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Indeed, Selma is a well-timed film and a must-watch, even for the apolitical public, as the drama is compellingly constructed by DuVernay.

Ana Morgenstern

Selma is rated PG-13 (expect violence and some cursing), runs 127 minutes. It opens wide in the United States on Friday, Jan. 9. Get showtimes and tickets here. Paramount invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.

Update: Selma is returning to theaters for an encore round of screenings on March 20 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of this important moment in history. For local showtimes, visit this link.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)