When’s it all white on the night, spiky reactions will get you noticed

January 16th, 2020 6:58 pm| by Ben Hamilton
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The Oscar nominations are out and … rest easy Spike Lee … they haven’t been whitewashed like in 2015 and 2016 – and every year from 1929-38, 1940-49 and the entire duration of the Jimmy Carter administration.

That’s right, for six years from 1975-1980 there wasn’t a single black Oscar nominee, despite Carter being the most pro-diversity US president in history. It goes to show that sometimes the stats don’t stack up and reveal a bigger picture, although the recent all-white BAFTA nominations do reek a bit of Brexit. Margot Robbie, for example, has been nominated twice: deservedly for Bombshell and bizarrely for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – a film in which she barely has five lines, and three of those are laced with amphetamines.

Bullshit beneficiaries
Most of the reaction is downright hysterical: whether it’s the whiteface walls of shame on the front page of the LA Times, or all manner of bullshit performance being suggested.

In 2016, the best they could come up with was Idris Elba, and it really caught on. Not only did the Screen Actors Guild Award name him Best Supporting Film Actor for Beasts of No Nation, just a few days after his Oscar ‘snub’, but it also crowned him Best Miniseries/TV Movie Actor for Luther on the same night. The guy looked embarrassed.

Spike Lee has also done pretty well out of #WhiteOscars. In 2016, he and Jada Pinkett Smith, whose destiny on Earth is to eternally hold a torch for husband Will not winning for Ali in 2002, both boycotted the ceremony. Lee duly won an honorary award a year later and then a screenplay gong for BlacKkKlansman in 2019, only to an hour later storm out of the Dolby theatre after Green Book was announced Best Film, comparing the decision to a bad basketball referee’s decision – like a hick.

There’s no doubt the Oscars have changed their tune overall, but is it a big gimmick? A black woman hasn’t won Best Actress for nearly 20 years, but for Best Supporting Actress over the last decade, the winning ratio has been 50 percent. Likewise the presenter list has gone from Hollywood A list to the combined casts of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians.

Future winner, you creed
During the #OscarsSoWhite debacle in 2015, it was widely remarked that the only nominations received by Straight Outta Compton and Creed were given to white contributors, with Michael B Jordan overlooked for his powerful lead in the latter (insult piled onto injury when Sly Stallone picked up a nod for his seventh outing as Rocky – as punchdrunk as ever).

In Just Mercy (68 on Metacritic; released on Jan 23), an again impressive Jordan (whose time will come at this rate) plays a lawyer battling to save a wrongfully-imprisoned Death Row inmate (Jamie Foxx), and the film has been widely praised for its performances (including British actor Rafe Spall ahead of his starring role in Denmark later this year).

The same can’t be said of Bad Boys 3: Bad Boys for Life (Not Released Worldwide; Jan 16), so don’t expect any awards for Martin Lawrence, an actor most people loved to hate back in the days when we weren’t afraid of being accused of racism for disliking a black actor – specifically the moment he followed Big Momma’s House with Black Knight. In a nutshell, the years haven’t been kind (annoyingly Smith could still pass as 35) and he really does look like he’s wearing a mask he’s about to whip off Mission Impossible-style.

Strongly praised for his performance is Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems (90; Netflix; Jan 31), a thriller about a New York jeweller who owes money to a loanshark, while former NBA star Kevin Garnett, in his debut, is apparently a revelation.

Also recommended this month are documentaries Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace (94; Jan 16) and The Biggest Little Farm (73; Jan 30) – and The Lighthouse (83; Jan 16). Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson have both been praised for their work on the psychological horror directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch), a filmmaker who sadly for humanity is more of a favourite of critics than the public.

The reverse is true of Jojo Rabbit (57; Jan 16), with many pundits marking down the comic tale of a ten-year-old Hitler Youth member, whose imaginary friend is the Fuhrer himself, for daring to depict nice Nazis at a time when their number are rising.

Strong interlopers at large
Television also has a number of strong offerings: The Outsider (66; HBO Nordic; Jan 13), The Stranger (Netflix; Jan 30) and Avenue 5 (HBO Nordic; Jan 20).
The Outsider is a thriller miniseries that delights in keeping the viewers guessing about the mini league coach (Jason Bateman) accused of killing a child, who has the backing of his family, but not of the chief investigator (Ben Mendelsohn).

From the clip promoting conspiracy thriller The Stranger, in which the title character (a cameo it transpires) unleashes an earth-shattering secret about the protagonist’s wife (it must be big … like is she a man, or was she previously married to Martin Lawrence?), I’d stick my neck out and recommend giving it a go.

Fast on the success of Veep, its creator Armando Iannucci brings us Avenue 5, a sci-fi series in which the captain of a cruise space ship (Hugh Laurie) must deal with disgruntled passengers on a voyage to Saturn. So far, the praise has been reasonable – “a comic Poseidon Adventure”, is how one reviewer put it – but Iannucci is used to better.

Meanwhile, there are new seasons of Sex Education (S2; Jan 17), Titans (S2; Jan 10), Grace and Frankie (S6; Jan 15) and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (S3; Jan 24) on Netflix, and Manifest (S2; Jan 7), The Magicians (S5; Jan 16), Curb your Enthusiasm (S10; Jan 20) and Babylon Berlin (S3; Jan 24) on HBO Nordic. While RuPaul’s new sitcom AJ and the Queen (45; Netflix) looks like it is probably the most annoying buddy-buddy pairing since Batman & Robin.

Dracula … Count Dracula
Finally, since our last preview, a number of new TV series and unannounced films have been released.

Dracula (75; Netflix) features a deliciously demonic performance by Danish actor Claes Bang, who has been compared to an evil James Bond and seen his odds of becoming the next 007 slashed to 16/1. Overall, though, the concluding third episode was a disappointment. Messiah (46, Netflix), on the other hand, which features a somewhat demonic Christ figure, is decidedly ropey throughout.

Following its triumph over The Irishman in the best dramatic film category at the Golden Globes, 1917 (79; at cinemas) is locked in a three-horse race with Parasite and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the big prize. Director Sam Mendes lends an assured hand to this World War I tale of two soldiers venturing behind enemy lines to save hundreds from certain death.

Mostly overlooked is Motherless Brooklyn (60) – the tale of a hoodlum with Tourette’s in 1950s New York – which must be a kick in the teeth for director and star Edward Norton, who has barely made anything consequential since Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel six years ago.

Judging by the reaction, we’re still waiting.