Another year, another Oscar snub. Or, should we call them yearly omissions? This year saw an array of worthy performances from black actors, many of which went unrecognized by the Academy. The recent “Diversity Gap” infographic has given yet another number-based confirmation to what we already know. For those outside of the 99% of winning white actresses and directors, and the 91% of white actors, we have this list, honoring the black actors and actresses who made us feel, think, laugh, and cry in 2013.
Who wasn’t crying at the end of Fruitvale Station? Who wasn’t sitting on the edge of their seat during the terse Fruitvale BART scene, hoping Oscar would survive, but knowing he wouldn’t? It takes a special actor to make an audience root for the survival of a character who they know will die- to wish somehow that he lived. Jordan navigated the role with an everyday humanity that touched many. Too bad some Oscar voters didn’t see it that way.
There is a powerful scene in Alexander Moor’s Blue Caprice where John Allen Muhammad, played by Isaiah Washington, walks through a grocery store pushing a shopping cart as he spouts off his plan for mass sniper shootings, to his young accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond). He loses himself in his elaborate plan and his face and voice take on a concentrated force that radiates through the screen. We forget we’re in a grocery store, and so does he. We are sucked into his mania and hysteria. It’s a scary, powerful performance that lends the film an eerie, bruising quality. Isaiah Washington dared to embrace the psychosis in this character, and in doing so, scared and moved us into watching.
Naomie Harris’ performance as Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom was one of carefully-timed range. She was the stand-out in this film, revealing complexities of character scene by scene. Many have attempted to portray Winnie, but this performance may be one of most honest. From the beginning, Winnie was not neat or quiet. She proudly states she “hates” the white Apartheid regime as she walks with Nelson on their first date. Later, when he is imprisoned, she fights to preserve their cause and protect their family, under constant scrutiny and government-ordered abuse. The thread of resistance inside of her grows stronger, and by the time she’s released and yells “Amandla Ngawethu,” (power to us) we surely believe it.
Danai Gurira’s role as Adenike in Andrew Dosunmu’s film Mother of George saw her take on an emotionally complex role about a subject that often goes overlooked in cinema- fertility. The mounting cultural pressures to conceive a son weigh heavily on Adenike, and her face registers all the fear, worry, and expectation that come with it. Gurira plays the role with a powerful restraint, revealing an independent, loyal Nigerian wife who is determined to save her family, by any means necessary. This determination makes some of final scenes extremely evocative and touching.
Gloria Gaines from Lee Daniels’ The Butler was like an aunt we wanted to hug. She was lonely, jealous, and loving; a combination that makes for a particularly moving performance. Aching to be allowed inside her husband’s world at the White House, she raised two sons and entertained the affections of another less noble man until she cut him loose in one of the film’s more memorable scenes. Informed by the complexities and contradictions in the black family, Oprah’s performance was familiar in a way that made it special and inviting.
What were some of your favorite performances that weren’t nominated for an Oscar this year?