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After ‘Precious,’ ‘The Help,’ ‘Django,’ ’12 Years’ Etc, Candidates For 2014’s Most Contentious Black Film?

After 'Precious,' 'The Help,' 'Django,' '12 Years' Etc, Candidates For 2014's Most Contentious Black Film?

It’s like clockwork, isn’t it? It seems like every year (especially in recent times), there’s always that one *black film* that’s heavily discussed/debated by us (black audiences and critics alike).

In 2012, even though it didn’t open until the last week of the year, it was Django Unchained; From the script review, to the first trailer, to all the quotables from the cast and crew leading up to the film’s release, etc. That’s why it was the number 1 most discussed topic on S&A in 2012, with the conversation continuing into 2013.

I’d even toss Red Tails into that hat, for consideration, because it was also heavily debated, although that was much earlier in the year.

In 2011 it was The Help; in 2010 it was For Colored Girls; in 2009, it was Precious; and so on, and so forth.

Last year, I’d say it was 12 Years A Slave, which proved to be quite contentious within the black community, as was evident in conversations about the film on this blog, and the fact that an African American critic – Armond White – actually got expelled from the critics group he belonged to over the film.

It’s certainly not a steadfast rule, and I think you’ll find that it’s not always the case once you dig even further into the past. But in recent years, it’s been quite consistent, as you can see above. Obviously, this speaks to the lack of variety and volume in *black cinema* output, especially at the studio level – films that tend to have wider audience reach.

So it’s only natural to wonder what that polarizing film will be in 2014. Or will there be more than one?

We’ll certainly see how it all goes; but what I can say with some certainty, given what the reaction to the project has been like since it was announced 2 years ago, is the the upcoming Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone project, which doesn’t have an official debut date just yet, but should make its premiere some time this year. I’d be surprised if it didn’t, and I’d be even more surprised if it is released, and doesn’t generate volumes of discussion, a lot of it contentious.

Each and every single post on the project on this blog, over the last 2 years, has been met with strong and numerous reactions, with comment threads running into the high 100s (we were even contacted by some TV shows who wanted to use S&A as a source for their reports on the film). 

It started with our breaking story in August 2012 announcing that Zoe was replacing Mary J. Blige to star in the film, followed by 8 or so successive posts on the topic over the successive 2 months, which included a review of the script, our coverage of all the reactions to the news – from Nina Simone’s daughter’s total rejection of the project, especially as she wasn’t consulted, to concern expressed by the likes of Jill Scott and India Arie, to Emmanuel’s essay on educating ourselves on race vs. ethnicity, to on-set photos of Zoe made up to look like Nina, and more. 

It’s most certainly been quite the hot topic, and I expect it will continue to be in the new year, especially when the film’s first trailer debuts, which I think will be sooner than later. It’s been in post-production for some time, and, as I already said, I fully expected it to premiere sometime this year, on the film festival circuit. I thought it might premiere at TIFF, last year, but it didn’t happen. When TIFF announced its lineup, and Nina wasn’t mentioned, I adjusted my expectations to predict a Sundance 2014 premiere. But, that festival, which starts today, has unveiled its lineup, and there is no Nina Simone film in it; unless of course, there’s some very last minute addition. 

The next best thing in early 2014 is Berlin, which I’d say actually makes more sense. But that festival, which takes place in February, has revealed its lineup, and there’s no Nina Simone film in it either. 

I saw that Berlin makes more sense to me, for a premiere, because the film is an European production. It’s not a Hollywood studio-backed film. The company behind it is a UK-based studio called Ealing, all of which (and more) might suggest that the film probably isn’t being made specifically for American audiences. I’m sure they hope it’ll play in the USA, but the USA is likely just one of several markets that it’ll be released in; although it may be one of the secondaries; there may not even be any plans at the moment on a USA release. It certainly doesn’t have a USA distributor yet.

But an international premiere at a major European festival like Berlin would certainly be splashy. It’s also worth noting that Nina Simone eventually settled in France, where she would later die in 2003. I believe she lived in the country for the last 10 years of her life. So, once again making the case for an Euro debut. And if not Berlin, then the producers may be shooting for a festival that’s even closer to “home” – the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France, in May.

I’d be very surprised if it didn’t premiere somewhere during the first half of 2014. And I would not at all be surprised if that premiere does NOT happen in North America. A splashy international debut, accompanied by strong reviews, could go a long way towards building anticipation for the film here in the USA, where it’s been the subject of intense scrutiny and criticism since Saldana was first announced as the film’s star.

So now we watch and wait. 

But if anyone reading this has any inside info, or is aware of anything related to the film’s status (last I checked a few months ago, it was in post-production), email me: obensont@gmail.com.

Looking over my list of all the *black films* scheduled to be released in 2013, there really isn’t any other title that has the potential to generate the kind of explosive reactions that I think this one has shown. 

Am I missing any other potentially strongly polarizing *black films* scheduled to be released this year?

If not, I’m tipping my hat to Zoe Saldana’s Nina

Instead of me summarizing everything we’ve written about the project, as well as your varied reactions, I’m going to point you to the links for each key post on the film, in chronological order below:

1 – Zoe Saldana Is Apparently Taking Over For Mary J. Blige To Play Nina Simone

2 – We’ve Read It! Shadow And Act’s Thoughts On Nina Simone Feature Project Screenplay

3 – Confirmed! Zoe Saldana Will Play Nina Simone In Biopic + Some Realities To Consider…

4 – Nina Simone’s Daughter Finally Speaks: ‘Project Is Unauthorized; Simone Estate Not Consulted’

5 – We Need To Educate Ourselves On Race vs. Ethnicity (And Other Things I Learned From The Ongoing Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone Conversation)

6 – Nina Simone’s Daughter Opens Up Even More About Biopic, Answers Questions That Fill Gaps

7 – New Photos Of Zoe Saldana In Full Nina Simone Regalia Surface; Convinced?

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