While there is still some work ahead in other fields, a bit of change seems to bring some fresh air to the 2017 Academy Awards with this year’s improved recognition of the works of Afro-Americans in front and behind the camera.
As the favorite, in the Best Documentary Feature category, Ezra Edelman’s O.J : Made in America, the 7-hour long ESPN drama which had a limited theatrical release making it Oscar qualified, will compete with Netflix backed 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay. A well documented and edited piece, DuVernay’s film efficiently scrutinizes the American penal system and its calculated racial inequalities.
Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, is like a companion piece to 13th. Peck gives life to the late James Baldwin’s unpublished writings, a personal account of the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Well edited, well mannered with a bit too much material to digest and an over dramatic voiceover (at one point if a viewer doesn’t understand the gravity of the material, nothing will do), I Am Not Your Negro is a more poetic essay in form and content compared to its competitors of the category (these are more conventional docs), except, of course, for Gianfranco Rosi’s, beautiful but puzzling, Venice Film Festival top winner, Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare), a very personal reading of the migrant crisis, the only non-American documentary competing this year.
The fifth nominee, by Afro American director Roger Ross Williams, Life, Animated, working like cinderella-feel-good stuff, introduces us to an autistic boy developing skills of communication through Disney animated features. The collected results, we witness various phases of real his development on a long period, are impressive. The direction is uneven by pushing heavily at times (spare us the corny elevator music please, we know it is sad) but it is still a compelling real-life story.
And the winner is…