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Middle of Nowhere Enters The Oscar Conversation

Middle of Nowhere Enters The Oscar Conversation

I’ve been talking about Middle of Nowhere since I saw it last June at the LA Film Festival.  As I wrote in my piece Could Middle of Nowhere Be a Game Changer? this is a very special movie.  I talked mostly about why this is an important movie, culturally.  Ava Duvernay, the writer and director of the film is the first African American woman to win the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival.  She has been all over promoting the film which opens in NY, LA, Philly, Seattle, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC and more.  More info here.

I don’t usually do call to action for film but this one is important and it is so good.  It’s about a woman played by the extraordinary Emayatzy Corinealdi — in a star making role — who has put her life on hold, quit medical school, and is waiting out the days for her husband to return home from prison.  She’s in limbo.  She is just waiting.  But she realizes that she is waiting for a day that probably won’t come and she must figure out how to get on with her life.  It is a beautiful look at what it means to be left behind, what it means to have your insides pulled out and the struggle to get your bearings back.  Her whole existence, the thing that keeps her putting one foot in front of the other, is pulled from out from under her and she needs to get it together or else she will become something and someone she does not want to be.  Emayatzy just owns the screen, and the good news is that now she, and the film, are starting to get some very deserved Oscar buzz. 

Sasha Stone over at Awards Daily has taken the movie under her wing and has propelled it into the conversation.  This is exactly the type of thing that needs to happen for movies directed by women.  They need people to talk about them and make the other Oscar folks look at them in a serious way.  This did not happen last year for Lynne Ramsay for a variety of reasons.  Now we need other folks to take up the mantle just like Sasha.  If you’ve never read Sasha you should because she writes quite passionately.

From Ava DuVernay Joins the Original Screenplay Race, Emayatzy Corinealdi for Best Actress

Yet another delightful surprise has dropped in the lap of Oscar this year in Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere. You’ve probably never seen a film like this, I know I never have. DuVernay has crafted vibrant, original, flawed and interesting female characters who are trying to find their own way in life out from underneath the shadow of the men they’ve depended on.

To that end, Middle of Nowhere is revolutionary in its storytelling.  It is haunting, unexpected, deeply erotic at times and ultimately the kind of thing that only comes around once in a decade. DuVernay is changing the landscape of filmmaking, as some other filmmakers have done this year — Benh Zeitlin, Lena Dunham, and Sarah Polley. But DuVernay is doing something different.

Middle of Nowhere is one of the best films of the year.

From DuVernay Changes Landscape of American Film

If Ava DuVernay is nominated for an original screenplay Oscar for Middle of Nowhere — a slim possibility, if more people see it — she will be only the second black female screenwriter in 85 years of Oscar history to do so. 

DuVernay is, in her own way, starting a different kind of revolution.  She’s made a film starring black characters that isn’t a Tyler Perry movie and it isn’t Precious. It isn’t about the stereotypes Hollywood has become so fond of. It is the anti-The Help.  … But along comes Middle of Nowhere and it’s interesting because it can’t be categorized as anything except a good movie, with richly drawn characters that aren’t stereotypes. They aren’t defined by their race, for once.  It’s interesting to watch how critics are reacting, and it will be interesting to see how the public, and how the awards community, will react.

Ava is a very confident director.  Having met her, I would expect nothing less.  Her confidence comes across in every frame on the screen.  She is just good.  She’s a great person who is a good storyteller and is dedicating herself to expanding the audience for African American films. 

While I spend a lot of time giving people information about films opening in order to help people make decisions about what they want to see, I don’t usually say, hey, go see this.  But this week is different.  This movie is really different.  So, hey, go see this.  Go see it because it’s really good.  Don’t only take my word for it.  It’s a 81% on Rotten Tomatoes with good reviews from the LA Times and NY Times. 

My entire pitch to you wouldn’t work if the movie was crap.  My credibility would be shot.  But this movie is not crap, far, far from it.  This is a good movie written and directed and starring women of color.  I don’t know exactly who reads this site.  I’m guessing it’s pretty white, but I’m also guessing you like to see good movies by a diversity of women.  This is the one for you.

One of the problems in the film business is that everything is so big (Hollywood movies) or so small (niche films).  There is only a bit of middle ground where people cross over by race and class and age and gender.  That makes me sad.  But that’s the truth.  And films about African American people’s experiences need to be seen by diverse audiences.  Movies are awesome because they enable us to see beyond what is directly in front of us.  They help us learn and grow. 

Here’s what I said in June:

It really shouldn’t be so hard for white audiences to see a film about an African American woman.  But it seems that this is not typical.  So we need to push and encourage people to see different films because we all need to see different people’s lives and experiences.  That’s what I love about the movies. The ability to see something about someone who is not like you and to feel connected to it because it moves you.  Jeez, if we can get people running to see a bunch of old British people struggling with old age in India we surely have to be able to get people to see a movie about an African American woman struggling to get her life on the right track. 

This movie is an opportunity to break through some of the assumptions about the movie business.  Be on the right side of history.  Buy a ticket.

She’s a Graduate of an Unusual Film School (NY Times)

Ava DuVernay Joins the Original Screenplay Race, Emayatzy Corinealdi for Best Actress (Awards Daily)

Ava DuVernay, Sundance Award-Winner for ‘Middle of Nowhere,’ On Why It’s Important That Stories About Black Women Be Told By Black Women (Indiewire)

The Only Reason You’ll Ever Need To See Ava DuVernay’s ‘Middle Of Nowhere’… (Shadow and Act)

Will whites see a black indie film like “Middle of Nowhere”?  (Salon)

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