Monday, March 25, 2019

Big Love for Lupita Nyong'o

March is Women's History Month. Can we talk about the Hollywood history that Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o is making?  In the area of diversity and inclusion, I've written in previous posts about the frustrating lack of opportunities Hollywood has had for black and brown actresses after they've scored Oscar nominations or won the award and took home that prestigious Hollywood gold. After scoring an Oscar nomination or an Oscar statuette, black actresses did not have a choice of good Hollywood script opportunities like white actresses such as Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett and Amy Adams did. Look at Hollywood history. Multi-talented Rita Moreno won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1961's WEST SIDE STORY and had no significant Hollywood script offers for seven years. Ultimately, she turned to television for steady employment. Cicely Tyson was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for her stunning dramatic work in 1972's SOUNDER. Her strong lead role offers after that nomination came from network TV. That was the gifted actress' only Oscar nomination. Diahann Carroll -- one Oscar nomination and then network TV.  Angela Bassett got one Oscar nomination -- then she went to TV. The TV series EMPIRE had roles for three black actresses who got one Oscar nomination and then went to the small screen to keep getting paid. They were Taraji P. Henson, Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, Gabourey Sidibe, Best Actress Oscar nominee for PRECIOUS and Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for DREAMGIRLS. Even Broadway Tony winner Viola Davis turned to TV after her first Oscar nomination. That came for DOUBT starring Meryl Streep. Davis scored a hit with the ABC crime series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, then did the film adaptation of FENCES. That brought Davis her second Oscar nomination. She won -- Best Supporting Actress for FENCES.  Lupita Nyong'o won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her powerful performance that gave a poetry to the pain of an enslaved young woman named Patsy in 2013's 12 YEARS A SLAVE.
Lupita won her Oscar for work in a film directed by a black filmmaker, Britain's Steve McQueen. The film's Oscar-winning screenplay came from a black writer, Milwaukee's John Ridley.  After 12 YEARS A SLAVE, she had a few lines as a flight attendant in NON-STOP, a Liam Neeson action thriller. Yes, she did land a role in 2015's STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS which should've been called STAR WARS: THE FRANCHISE AWAKENS.  But, that film of hers didn't spark the buzz or historic international box office that her following feature did. A critical and financial success, BLACK PANTHER, got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Lupita Nyong'o performed in one of the most celebrated, influential films of the year -- an Africa-centric action/fantasy co-written and directed by an African-American filmmaker, Ryan Coogler, and featuring a predominantly black cast of lead and supporting actors.
Over the weekend, social media and moviegoers went crazy over US.  Lupita had the lead female role in the new modern-day horror thriller from GET OUT Oscar-winner Jordan Peele. Us raked in $70 million at the box office. According to Entertainment Weekly, it cost $20 million to make. Moviegoers gave it the best opening ever for an original horror film and critics gave it some good reviews.  A few wrote that Lupita's performance as the haunted wife and mother deserves to bring her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.  US -- written and directed by black filmmaker, Jordan Peele.
This is exciting and historic. Lupita Nyong'o followed his Oscar win with two big hits from Black American director/writers. Lupita, Winston Duke (who plays the husband in US) and Jordan Peele were interviewed individually on NBC's TODAY Show. This is a significant fact. US is a Universal Pictures release. TODAY is an NBC/Universal production. However, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON directed by F. Gary Gray, another black filmmaker, was also a Universal Pictures release in 2015. Despite rave reviews and being number one at the box office for three consecutive summer weekends, TODAY turned its back on STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON bookings. No actors nor the director were booked for interviews. It was ignored even though Matt Lauer, then a TODAY Show superstar anchor, had a few appearances in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON as the NBC news anchor. TODAY booked actor interviews and gave promotional airtime to other Universal releases of that 2015 season -- TRAINWRECK, the Amy Schumer comedy, JURASSIC WORLD and the animated feature, MINIONS. Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning box office champ, GET OUT, was a 2017 Universal release. Jordan Peele's film brought him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, a nomination for Best Director and a nomination for Best Picture.

Jim Orr is president of Universal's domestic film distribution.  According to Variety, Orr said "Put simply, Jordan Peele is a genius. He's managed to tap into something that the domestic box office can't get enough of. People can't wait to see what he does next."                                                  

Obviously NBC/Universal's TODAY Show producers have come to realize and acknowledge the box office power and artistry of black filmmakers. Especially when those films are released by the same corporate shop that's attached to the NBC morning news program.

For decades, Hollywood said that black stories with black actors in the lead roles were not marketable and wouldn't do business at the box office. Look at the huge box office business BLACK PANTHER and US did. Look at the casts. Lupita Nyong'o has starred in two Hollywood studio releases that slap the mess out of that old Hollywood attitude like Detective Virgil Tibbs slapping the taste out that old bigot's mouth in the movie IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Brava, Lupita!

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