Six lessons to learn from the recent movie awards season

Steve McQueen created history at the Academy Awards, becoming the first black director to have his film win Best Picture.

Steve McQueen made history at the Academy Awards, becoming the first black director to have his film win Best Picture. McQueen boasts Caribbean and British heritage.

By Carmen Glover

Now that the movie awards season has come to a close it is instructive to examine the lessons that should be gleaned. Below are six important lessons that can be learned from the movies that were honored, nominated and snubbed. Perhaps by closely examining these lessons, the 2014 movie season will unfold with more promising results when the honors are meted out in 2015.

An elated Steve McQueen leaps for joy when the film he directed, "!2 Years a Slave" won Best Picture at the Oscars, a first for a black director.

An elated Steve McQueen leaps for joy when the film he directed, “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture at the Oscars, a first for a black director. The film’s crew looks on in amusement.

1. Persistence Pays Off

As refreshing as it was to see director Steve McQueen, Lupita Nyong’o and John Ridley of “12 Years a Slave” walk off with the Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay, respectively, at the Academy Awards, the underlying message that emanated from their moving acceptance speeches was the importance of persevering. McQueen refused to give up when financial backing for his movie dried up. Then the benevolent Brad Pitt entered the picture with his Plan B Productions, lending much needed support to what critics worldwide have agreed is one of the most important films ever made because it chronicles the life of a free man who was kidnapped and forced into slavery to endure haunting realities before regaining his freedom.

Due to McQueen’s persistence, he triumphed in the end to become the first black director to see his film receive the Best Picture award by the Oscars. Ridley became the second African-American to receive the honor for Best Adapted Screenplay while Nyong’o won over the hearts of movie lovers across the globe with her riveting performance as Patsey, for which she won numerous awards this season.

An emotional yet eloquent Lupita Nyong'o delivers a stirring speech at the Academy Awards .t

An emotional yet eloquent Lupita Nyong’o delivers a stirring speech at the Academy Awards, where she won another in a string of Best Supporting Actress Awards this season for “12 Years a Slave.”

Nyong’o’s performance would not have been possible if McQueen hadn’t followed his instincts in casting an authentic dark-skinned actress with natural hair, who proudly embraces every aspect of her African heritage, in her first movie role. An exuberant McQueen jumped for joy as he hoisted his Oscar trophy, vindicated for his persistence, courage and determination to bring his vision to the life. Nyong’o brought tears to the eyes of fellow actors and movie lovers across the world when she delivered her acceptance speech with poise, despite shedding copious tears simultaneously.

“Thank you to the Academy for this incredible recognition. It does not escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in another’s,” she said, before thanking her family, the Yale School of Drama, which she attended, like the indomitable Angela Bassett, who won an NAACP Image Award for her role in “Black Nativity.”

John Ridley became the second African-American writer to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

John Ridley became the second African-American writer to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Ridley was emotional as he made it clear that Solomon Northup, whose memoir inspired “12 Years a Slave,” deserved all the credit. “All the praise goes to Solomon Northup. These are his words, his life. All the thanks goes to the entire crew, the entire cast,” said Ridley, gripping his Oscar onstage.

Chiwetel Ejiofor won Best Actor for "12 Years a Slave" at the BAFTAs.

Chiwetel Ejiofor won Best Actor for “12 Years a Slave” at the BAFTAs.

“12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture honors from the Golden Globes, British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs), Image Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and Screen Actors Guild, a real tribute to the power of persistence.

2. Trust Your Instincts

Like McQueen, who followed his heart in casting Nyong’o and the fiercely talented lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who won Best Actor for “12 Years a Slave” at the London-based BAFTA Awards; Ryan Coogler, a 27-year-old first time director of “Fruitvale Station,” decided that the story of Oscar Grant needed to be told. Despite being a film student with very little disposable income, Coogler chronicled the short life of the young, unarmed Oakland father in a movie whose authenticity leaped off the screen based on stellar performances by Michael B. Jordan of “The Wire” and Octavia Spencer of “The Help.”

Ryan Coogler was not deterred in his quest to tell Oscar Grant's story in the gripping "Fruitvale Station."

Ryan Coogler was not deterred in his quest to tell Oscar Grant’s story in the gripping “Fruitvale Station.”

It took Coogler’s vision and determination to share the story in a movie setting. The Independent Film Award bestowed on the movie by the NAACP Image Awards was icing on the cake. How many times in life, do you feel compelled to do something, take a certain path, but you allow fears to consume and discourage you? Coogler’s success should be an example to others to trust your instincts. Never let naysayers cause your dreams to shrivel up. Take ownership of your goals and forge ahead, regardless of any obstacles that you encounter. Believe in yourself and like the Nike slogan: “just Do It.”

3. Follow Your Dreams/Take Chances

For years after the release of “The Best Man,” Director Malcolm Lee toyed with the idea of creating a sequel.

"Best Man Holiday" did well at the box office and was nominated for NAACP Image Awards.

“Best Man Holiday” did well at the box office and was nominated for NAACP Image Awards.

He finally decided to follow his dreams and the result was “The Best Man Holiday” which arrived in theaters on November 15, 2013 to the delight of enthusiastic fans. While the movie did not receive any industry awards, it was nominated in several categories at the Image Awards and did phenomenally well as the box office, with fans eagerly waiting for another follow-up, since the sequel ended with a cliff-hanger.

Forest Whitaker received the NAACP's Chairman's Award and Best Actor Award in a movie for "The Butler."

Forest Whitaker received the NAACP’s Chairman’s Award and Best Actor Award in a movie for “The Butler.”

Academy Award winning actor, director and producer Forest Whitaker expanded his creative reach and invested in “Fruitvale Station” as the executive producer. Not only that, he had his hand in two other notable movies in 2013: “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” for which he won Best Actor at the Image Awards and “Black Nativity” for which  Bassett won Best Actress.

Angela Bassett won an NAACP Image Award for her outstanding performance in "Black Nativity."

Angela Bassett won an NAACP Image Award for her outstanding performance in “Black Nativity.”

4. Live Your Passion

Comedian and actor Kevin Hart was named Entertainer of the Year by the Image Awards team for being an inescapable presence in movies, comedy tours and comedy series that entertained fans while highlighting his passion for his craft.

Kevin Hart was named Entertainer of the Year.

Kevin Hart was named Entertainer of the Year at the NAACP Image Awards.

Not only is Hart a hard worker, he has perfected the art of marketing and distributing his work as well as cross-promoting and branding his art so that it is impossible to miss what he has to offer. He lives and loves his passion, leading to enormous success.

5. Limited Releases Hurt Movies’ Viability and Visibility

“Fruitvale Station” opened in limited release in July 2013 before opening in wider release two weeks later. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” opened on Christmas Day and had a limited run in theaters on very few screens, all of which hurt the movie, despite its compelling storyline and incredible performances by Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

Michael B. Jordan's film, "Fruitvale Station," was named Best Independent Film.

Michael B. Jordan’s film, “Fruitvale Station,” was named Best Independent Film. by the NAACP Image Awards.

It is unfortunate that this trend of releasing movies for a limited run before opening the film nationwide, disproportionately affected important films about black life. This type of marketing strategy hurts black films and the practice needs to be examined closely and a better model embraced so that great films made in the future have equal chance for commercial and critical success.

6. Embrace the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ)

Many of the films that were honored previewed at the NABJ’s Convention in Orlando, Florida last summer. Also, many of the key individuals associated in the films made an appearance at the convention to talk to black journalists. McQueen, Nyong’o and Alfre Woodard discussed “12 Years a Slave” after a preview; Tyrese mingled with attendees after a preview of “Black Nativity.” Forest Whitaker participated in a question and answer session after showing “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” and Malcolm Lee took part in a panel discussion after showing “The Best Man Holiday,” although none of the film’s stars showed up for the event, as promoted.

Lupita Nyong'o joins Pharrell in dancing to his song "Happy."

Lupita Nyong’o joins Pharrell Williams in dancing to his song “Happy,” which illustrates her thankful and joyous mood after dominating the awards season with several honors.

As Nyong’o delivered the most poignant part of her speech and danced with joy alongside Pharrell Williams to his hit song “Happy,” the image of her sitting next to Woodard and McQueen at the NABJ convention in Florida, came to mind. “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid,” she said at the Academy Awards. Who would have thought that the stars would have shone for her so brightly during the awards season, when she sat so calmly and spoke to a room full of journalists in Florida during the summer?

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In the end, being available to NABJ paid dividends because the films generated intense buzz that translated into a wider awareness for moviegoers. With the new movie season well underway, it is clear that if more black talent invest in movies and refine the distribution process they will solidify their presence in a way that compel all other entities to take notice or ignore the new breed of movie savants to their detriment. –OnPointPress.net

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British-Caribbean director brings “12 Years a Slave” to the big screen, Oscar buzz swirls for the film’s actors

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor renders a solid performance in "12 Years a Slave."

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor renders a solid Oscar-worthy performance in “12 Years a Slave.”

By  Carmen Glover

Solomon Northup (depicted by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor) strides briskly across the well-manicured lawn and is approached by two sharply-dressed men. They greet him pleasantly and offer him a gig, playing the violin, if he agrees to meet up with them later that evening for dinner. Northup agrees and by the time he realizes the earth-shattering mistake he made in judgment, it is too late and his freedom is stolen in an instant. He is robbed of his identify and ends up in slavery for 12 years while trying desperately to win his freedom so that he can rejoin his family and enjoy the comfortable life he used to lead as an outstanding musician.

Scene from the movie

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) walks with his family before horrendous turn of events disrupt their lives.

“12 Years a Slave,” based on Northup’s harrowing experiences in slavery,  was told in his 1853 memoir, only to be brought to life by a black director with Caribbean and British roots.  “I realized that the story needed to be told,” Director Steve McQueen said at a screening of the movie this past summer in Orlando for the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). At the screening, McQueen shared the stage with actresses Alfre Woodard and  Lupita Nyong’o, who both star in the movie. “Brad Pitt became involved in the project,” McQueen explained, resulting in necessary support for the film to make it to the big screen.

Scenes from the plantation

Scene from the plantation

It is unimaginable for some people to consider any scenario which could trap them into slavery in today’s society. However, in “12 Years a Slave,” Northup’s vulnerability and trusting nature are exploited violently, eviscerating his dignity, lifestyle and sense of security. Ejiofior envelopes the character, possessing it completely, resulting in a poignant, raw and powerful depiction of a reality that is painful to witness but too mesmerizing to ignore.

Actresses Lupita Nyong'o  Alfre Woodard and director Steve McQueen discuss the movie at NABJ Convention in Orlando, Florida.

Actresses Lupita Nyong’o , Alfre Woodard and director Steve McQueen discuss the movie at NABJ Convention in Orlando, Florida.

“12 Years a Slave” opens in limited release today, expanded release on October 25, and in wide release November 1. Don’t miss an insightful, compelling story that is bound to ignite a myriad of emotions while at the same time, awaken a desire to learn more about other tales that are yearning to be told.  OnPointPress.Net.