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2016 Oscar Outlook – 15 Black Actors, Actresses, Directors, Films That May Be in Contention Next Year

2016 Oscar Outlook - 15 Black Actors, Actresses, Directors, Films That May Be in Contention Next Year

Oscar 2015 is now officially behind us, but the conversation about the lack of, shall we say, color, amongst this year’s nominees (and diversity within the filmmaking industry as a whole) continues, and will most certainly continue throughout the year, until next year’s Academy Awards celebration. The release of UCLA Ralph J Bunche’s “Hollywood Diversity Report” just last week, will certainly fuel some of the chatter, and rightfully so.

I’ll be contributing to that ongoing conversation with this early look at the work by black filmmakers that just might be in contention for trophies at the 2016 Oscars – a list that will be updated as new data is introduced that must be considered. So this is certainly not a final, exhaustive list, as we’re only 3 months into the new year, and there is still so much we don’t yet know with certainty.

Using both Box Office Mojo’s annual schedule of set releases, and IMDB’s vast database as my sources, I combed through several thousand titles (according to IMDB, there are over 12,000 films with 2015 release date stamps, although most of them aren’t definite), and identified a handful with black actors in key roles, and/or black directors, that have Oscar 2016 potential – the key word here being “potential,” based on available information, like the names involved in front of and behind the camera, previous awards season recognition, story, and release dates (where available).

It’s a list that could grow as the year progresses, and we learn of even more titles and castings. There are still a few key festivals to come, where films that are often awards season contenders, make their world premieres – like the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall. Some of the below films may make their debuts at one of these festivals; and there are also those titles that we just don’t know anything about yet, for one reason or another; while the S&A database is deep, there are always 1 or 2 surprises that we don’t learn about until these festivals announce their annual lineups. And that’s why I say that this list will be updated throughout the year, as we learn more than we currently know. 
So without further ado, here’s what we have thus far, as the 3rd month of 2015 begins. First, these are films that have definite 2015 release dates (unless the releasing studios push back dates for any of them, later on). 
1 – Will Smith will probably make another run at Oscar with “Concussion,” a drama on based on a GQ article titled “Game Brain,” written by Jeanne Marie Laskas, which follows Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist, who single-handedly made the first discovery of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in a pro football player, raising public awareness for the degenerative disease. It’s kind of a whistle-blower tale, humanizing the price paid by professional athletes in impact sports, and the political, cultural and corporate interests that fuel the business of professional sports. I imagine it could be something in the mold of Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” which received numerous Academy Award nominations, and in key categories; although it won non of them. Gugu Mbatha-Raw co-stars, playing Will Smith’s wife in the movie which is directed by Peter Landesman (only his second feature directorial effort; although he has screenwriting credits that won a few awards, as did his first film, “Parkland”). But Will and Gugu may act their way into awards season chatter. “Oscar” has eluded Will Smith, despite 2 previous nominations. Playing what will likely be a meaty role in Dr Omalu, in what will also probably be a weighty, dramatic, hopefully finely-crafted project, tackling a very topical subject, just might mean a 3rd. The film is set for a December release.
2 – Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan re-team for boxing drama “Creed,” after a winning much acclaim for their first pairing, “Fruitvale Station” in 2013. The “Rocky” spin-off also co-stars Tessa Thompson and Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone. The film will see Rocky Balboa acting as a trainer and mentor to the son of one of his previous opponents, Apollo Creed. All eyes will probably be very interested in seeing what Coogler does next, so I anticipate that this won’t be a project lacking in press and critical attention when it’s released in November. The month of its release (typically when studios unload their Oscar-worthy material) is also noteworthy. And the Academy seems to love a good boxing drama (see “Rocky,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Fighter” to start). This year will see the release of at least 2 of them that just might be in contention for Oscars (2 are on this list, including “Creed”). There could be Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor nominations in the film’s future. At the very least, I expect that it’ll be a crowd-pleaser.
3 – The other boxing drama on the list – Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw,” which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a boxer who fights his way to the top, only to find his life falling apart around him. Fuqua has never been nominated for an Academy Award – not even for “Training Day” which saw its star, Denzel Washington win the Oscar for Best Actor, and co-star Ethan Hawke nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Could this be his first? Time will tell. Its July 31 release date may suggest that the releasing studio may not be positioning it for Oscar contention. Although it’s a Weinstein Company film, so anything’s possible. Also Forest Whitaker (no stranger to Oscar) co-stars in “Southpaw,” playing Gyllenhaal’s trainer in the pic. And Naomie Harris plays a social worker assigned to Gyllenhaal’s family, which includes his young daughter whom he has to fight to win the respect of. So, in addition to Fuqua’s potential Best Director nomination, depending on how substantial their roles are, Whitaker and Harris just might be in Best Supporting Actor/Actress contention. 
4 –  Chiwetel Ejiofor could see another Best Actor nomination for his performance in the American remake of the Argentine crime thriller, “The Secret in Their Eyes.” It was a role that Denzel Washington was reportedly offered initially, but it eventually went to Ejiofor, who’ll be surrounded by actresses who’ve also been lauded for their work in the past – Nicole Kidman (nominated for Oscar thrice, won once) and Julia Roberts (nominated 4 times, also won once). Billy Ray, known more for his writing of scripts for critically-acclaimed movies like “Captain Phillip,” “The Hunger Games,” “State of Play,” “Shattered Glass” and others, is directing the American remake of “The Secret in Their Eyes.” The original, a Best Screenplay winner and Best Picture nominee at the Argentine equivalent of the Oscars, and the American Oscars winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010, was directed by Juan José Campanella. The original story (which was actually based on a novel by Argentine author Eduardo Sacheri, titled “The Question in Their Eyes”) unearths the buried romance between a retired judiciary employee and a judge who worked together a quarter century ago. They recount their efforts on an unsolved 1974 rape and murder that is an obsession not only for them, but for the victim’s husband and the killer. The American remake will be set in the USA, of course, with a different take on the original story: a legal counselor (Ejiofor) writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases, and for his unreciprocated love for his superior – both of which still haunt him decades later. A Best Actor nomination for Ejiofor is possible. I should mention that he’s actually appearing in 3 movies this year that could also be in contention when the time comes: the ensemble heist thriller, “Triple Nine,” and the post-apocalyptic drama “Z for Zachariah.”
5 – Samuel L. Jackson may get some Oscar attention for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight,” depending on how juicy his role is. The film might do for Samuel what “Django Unchained” and “Inglourious Basterds” (both also Tarantino movies) did for Christoph Waltz. This certainly isn’t the first time Jackson and Tarantino have worked together, but Oscar’s fortune just hasn’t struck Jackson (who was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his work in “Pulp Fiction”) the way it has for Waltz, seemingly another Tarantino actor favorite. But Jackson may have lots of competition because this is an ensemble work, so, until we actually see the film, we won’t know how involved each actor’s role is, in the story, and how much screen time each will get to chew up. The story: in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Who will make it out alive? Find out when the film opens in November. Samuel could find himself in contention for Best Supporting Actor.
6 – It may be a long-shot, but it was one of the most buzzed about films (if not the most buzzed about) at this year’s (January) Sundance Film Festival, where it won the feature film Editing Award, but Rick Famuyiwa’s “Dope,” which was picked up by Open Road after what was reported to be some competitive bidding for distribution rights. It’s set for June 12 release, which isn’t considered Oscar bait season, but it won’t be the first film released during the summer movie season, to receive Oscar’s attention. The fact that it stars a trio of unknowns likely doesn’t help its case, and it could simply be heading for a crowd-pleasing theatrical run, en route to a strong summer box office take (relative to budget), and not much more, except possibly an indie film award or three. But I had to include it on this list given just how buzzy it was after its Sundance premiere. Forest Whitaker’s production company, Significant Productions, is producer. If Oscar were to come calling, a Best Original Screenplay nomination would probably be its best bet. But, like I said, I think it’s a long shot.

That’s it, in terms of films with definitely set 2015 release dates. On the next page, you’ll find the remaining 9 films, none of which have release dates set, but that will probably premiere some time in 2015 (even if it’s at a film festival). Most of them don’t even have distributors attached yet. But if they are commercially released this year, I think they could contend for Oscar in various categories as noted next to each, in 2016. So click over for page 2.

7 – Shooting is supposed to start this month on Lee Daniels’ Richard Pryor biopic, which stars Mike Epps. It’s also a Weinstein Company project, and assuming principal photography does begin this month, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very late 2015 (December) Oscar-qualifying theatrical run (similarly to what was done with “Selma”), with wide release in January. And if that does happen, unless Daniels, Epps and company really screw this one up (and I don’t believe they will), I think it’s a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination or two. The subject matter alone makes it so. Backing by Harvey Weinstein certainly helps as well. Daniels has been nominated for an Oscar once – Best Director, “Precious.” He didn’t win. But he might see nomination number 2 with this project; and Mike Epps might be a Best Actor contender.      
8 – Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis film. It’s currently in post-production, and I fully expect that it will debut at a major international film festival later this year (Toronto would be my first guess; although, a Cannes premiere may also be in the works). Cheadle, no stranger to Oscar, is both directing and starring in “Miles Ahead,” as the film is titled. What Cheadle has said will be an unconventional biopic (in fact, it won’t be a biopic at all), there just may be a Best Actor nomination for him in this. And, who knows, depending on how strong the film is, a Best Director nomination as well. Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi and Keith Stanfield join Cheadle in front of the camera. Any of them may earn their way into awards season conversations. Again, if the film is indeed released this year. I’m expecting a film festival premiere, at least.
9 – Idris Elba in Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of no Nation,” which is based on the novel by Nigerian author, Uzodinma Iweala,which tells the story of a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Elba co-stars as the leader of the guerrilla group that the boy is forced to join, when civil war tears his family apart and militants kill his father. A complex tale, the novel is explicit, and doesn’t shying away from the harsh stuff – a confrontational, immersive first-person narrative. With Fukunaga’s name and pedigree, I’m sure this will attract much press and critical attention. Idris is certainly no slouch either. I’ll also expect an international film festival premiere for this one as well. It was on my Sundance 2015 predictions list, but it didn’t make the cut. Up next, there’s Cannes, the LA Festival, Telluride, Venice and Toronto. A 2015 release could snag Idris a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and possibly a nod for newcomer Abraham Attah, who plays the child soldier (his feature film acting debut). 
10 – It feels like it’s been a long time since we last saw Eddie Murphy on the big screen doesn’t it? I’m sure he’s comfortable financially, and isn’t exactly pressed to make new money by taking on almost every project that’s offered to him. So when Murphy does attach himself to a project, it immediately gets my attention. The last time we saw him on the big screen was in “Tower Heist” in 2011, almost 4 years ago. Although there was that terrible “A Thousand Words” which sat in limbo for years after it was made, until DreamWorks finally released it in early 2012 (although it was made years before “Tower heist”) to overwhelmingly negative reviews and weak box office. The actor/comedian/musician took over for Samuel L. Jackson in a dramedy titled “Cook,” which tells the story of the friendship between a young white girl and her dying mother, and their African American cook, in New Orleans. Here’s a full synopsis: “Charlotte “Charlie” Brody is not pleased when Henry Joseph Church arrives at their modest home, at the request of Marie Brody’s deceased lover, to serve as their cook. Mr Church made a solemn promise to Marie’s former lover that he would take care of Marie for 6 months because Marie is dying of cancer. Young Charlotte has no idea that her mother is sick and refuses to warm up to the man who is suddenly an ever-present figure in her life. However, Mr Church’s presence becomes far more important than Charlotte could ever imagine. Marie’s mother lives another 6 years, and Mr Church stays on to nurse Marie through her illness. Mr Church becomes a loving role model and life long friend to Charlotte, and to Charlotte’s child, long after Marie dies.” Murphy is of course playing Henry Joseph Church. Bruce Beresford (who directed previous Oscar winner, “Driving Miss Daisy”), is directing “Cook” from a script penned by Susan McMartin. The film is based on McMartin’s own real-life story. You can read the shortened story which inspired the film here. Might Oscar be calling Eddie for this performance in the film? It sounds like it has all the trappings of an Oscar bait film. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but the Warner Bros. picture is currently in post-production and will most likely see a late 2015 premiere. 
11 – “Bolden,” a project that’s long been in development (at least 7 years) – first with Anthony Mackie attached to star, but he eventually exited, telling us when we interviewed him 2 years ago: “I’m not sure what’s going on with ‘Bolden.’ It’s been 6 years, so I’ve decided I was finished.” Mackie was replaced last year, by the British actor who played “Downton Abbey’s” first black character, Gary Carr. Later in the year, Yaya DaCosta, Nelsan Ellis, Ian McShane and Michael Rooker, were added to the project’s cast, in a film whose completion date has been uncertain for a long time now – especially when the director of the film, jazz lover, musician and Hyatt hotel heir, Dan Pritzker, has said that he is in no rush to complete the film, adding that it was (is) a passion project for him, and his goal is make the best film possible. “I’m trying to do something I hope is worthy of the subject,” he said in an interview with Newsweek last year. In 2007, he did begin filming, with Anthony Mackie, Wendell Pierce and Jackie Earle Haley starring. But, apparently unhappy with the results, he undertook extensive reshoots in 2009. Still unhappy, and, in addition, with on-set conflicts due to him not being able to capture the movie he had in his head, Pritzker put the project aside. And years later, he came back to it with a fresh outlook, and cast Carr as the title character. I can only imagine how much money has been poured into this over the years. But it principal photography is complete, we can say with certainty, as the film enters the post-production stage of the filmmaking process. Let’s hope post takes much less time to final cut, and an eventual premiere some time later this year, likely at a film festival. But if it does get picked up by a distributor, and is indeed released in 2015, depending on the strength of the work, it could be inspire some awards season chatter around it. But I have no idea what to expect, given that the filmmaker, Pritzker, is an unknown factor in all this.  
12 – Cult filmmaker Harmony Korine’s “The Trap” features the acting talents of Jamie Foxx and Benicio Del Toro in front of the camera. In terms of plot, the film will follow 2 childhood friends who become estranged. Later, as adults, one is successful while the other has become an incarcerated criminal, and is now out for revenge against his former friend. No word on what actor is playing what part, but Korine has called it a thriller that is his “most ambitious film to date.” Korine, who originally became (in)famous for the script of 90s indie classic “Kids,” would eventually go on to direct a series of *outsider* indies like “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy,” “Trash Humpers” and more, building a dedicated following, attracting critical acclaim along the way. He most recently director “Spring Breakers” (his most financially successful film), which starred James Franco. About “The Trap,” Korine said a year ago: “I’m really just going to go for it. It’s some next level shit. It’s a revenge movie, a sprawling, very intense… I don’t want to give away too much, but we’re probably going to start shooting in Miami after the New Year.” So an mystery; but given the names involved, and Korine’s own reputation, I had to include it on this list. Jamie Foxx may be part of something that takes the film world by surprise this year – assuming it’s released in 2015. A spring 2015 principal photography start date is eyed, so it’s possible. 
13 – She may have emerged as the most popular character, and best-known actress from Netflix’s hit “Orange Is the New Black” drama series, momentum and talent that led to Emmy and SAG award wins for her – the highest TV acting honors in the land. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress – Television. Of course I’m talking about actress Uzo Aduba who plays “Crazy Eyes” in the immensely popular, award-winning series. The actress stars, alongside Maggie Grace, in an indie drama feature titled “Showing Roots,” which tells the seemingly intriguing tale of what happens to a racially segregated small Southern town in 1977, when the seminal slavery TV miniseries saga “Roots” premiered. Aduba and Grace play two residents of the town, who are inspired by the miniseries, and join forces to integrate their community. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done, as the town’s mostly ignored ugly racial history comes to the fore, disrupting their progress. Michael Wilson (“The Trip to Bountiful”) is directing the film, from a script penned by “One Life to Live” actress Susan Batten, with principal photography kicking off in January, in Baton Rouge, LA. It’s not clear if this will be heading to television directly, as a TV movie, or if it will be released in theaters. I say that because Wilson’s last film, “The Trip to Bountiful,” which was an adaptation of the Broadway play, starring Cicely Tyson, was a telepic. There’s no distributor attached yet. By the way, Tyson also co-stars in “Showing Roots” (as you’ll know, she co-starred in the TV miniseries “Roots”). Assuming this is headed to theaters, and not TV, there’s enough strong acting talent here to take notice of.   

14 – Omar Sy stars in the French-Language film, “Chocolat,” which is a biopic of Rafael Padilla – a former Cuban-born slave, who became a performer in France during the Belle Epoque era. In short, nicknamed Chocolat (or Chocolate in English), Padilla was born in Cuba in 1868 and was sold into slavery at the age of 9, to a Portuguese merchant. After escaping slavery, he traveled to Paris and launched a career in the circus, captivating the French with his talents as a singer and dancer, and as a clown, working under the stage name of “Chocolat” (hence the title of the film), a term that, because of the roles he played, became slang for “ridiculed or abused.” When his parents died, the woman charged with looking after him sent him to Europe, where Rafael hoped to find his freedom. He did odd jobs in Spain, and eventually arrived in Paris in 1887, at the age of 18, where he was discovered by Footit, a British clown who needed a partner. Rafael joined the circus, where he was habitually cast in denigrating roles – like king of the monkeys, slave to Cleopatra, King of the jungle, etc.And it was there that he began to find himself. He died in Bordeaux on November 4, 1917. French-Moroccan actor/director Roschdy Zem, is helming “Chocolat,” which is currently filming in France, with no American production company or distributor involved. But given that it’s Omar Sy, and his relationship with The Weinstein Company, who released 2 of his last French films, in the USA, I’d assume that it’s a film that will be eventually be released in the USA. And given the subject matter, it feels like Oscar material. Of course, we won’t know until the film is eventually screened for the public. Omar Sy made history when he became the first black actor to win the César Award for Best Actor (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2012, for his work in “Intouchables.” He since has been making himself familiar to American audiences, after moving with his family to Los Angeles, and booking roles in Hollywood fare, like the last X-Men movie. A Best Actor Oscar nomination could be in his future, with “Chocolat,” following fellow French actor, Jean Dujardin, who won the award in 2012 for his work in “The Artist.”
15 – And finally, Barkhad Abdi, a 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor, co-stars in the thriller “Eye in The Sky,” which is set in the morally murky world of military drones, which is being directed by Oscar winning South African director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”). Abdi joins a cast that is lead by the acting talents of Dame Helen Mirren, who stars as a London-based military intelligence officer charged with remotely commanding a top-secret drone operation to capture a group of terrorists from their safe-house in Nairobi, Kenya. No word on what role exactly Abdi has signed up to play; I’d assume one of the terror suspects, who may actually be less a terror than his would-be executors believe he is? Or an ally to London military intelligence perhaps? Their “eyes on the ground,” or something like that. We’ll find out soon enough. The script is written by BAFTA award-winner Guy Hibbert, and it’s described as a tense action thriller and profoundly moving morality tale. Depending on his contributions to the film, might Abdi be in contention for Oscar again next year? The film doesn’t have a release date yet, although it’s listed as being currently in post-production. So I anticipate a 2015 premiere somewhere. And with Helen Mirren involved (Aaron Paul is also a cast member), I don’t think it’s a film that will go unnoticed. 

That’s it for now! Like I said, I’ll update this list as the year progresses, and we learn more about what’s coming this year. Names you might expect to see on this list, like Denzel Washington, Lupita Nyong’o, Morgan Freeman, and others, either don’t have any films set for release this year, or whatever they are attached to likely won’t be Oscar-worthy material. Lupita, for example, has 2 projects in the works (“Queen of Katwe” directed by Mira Nair, and an adaptation of “Americanah”), and both will likely be awards contenders whenever they are are eventually made and released. But neither will be complete this year; “Americanah” hasn’t even been adapted to a screenplay yet. Look for them in 2016/2017.

Unless “Star Wars: Episode 7,” which will be out this December, is a critical surprise, which could then mean awards chatter for some of the cast members, like Nyong’o and John Boyega.

Stay tuned…

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