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A Letter to Michael B. Jordan

A Letter to Michael B. Jordan

Dear Michael B. Jordan,

You don’t need another critic to tell you what a phenomenal screen actor you are, quietly projecting humanity and humor. In “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” you show how every man contains multitudes. Even in feather-light piffle like “That Awkward Moment,” you find the gravity of your character.

You don’t need another admirer to pile on that “you were robbed” by an Academy that failed to cite your performance as Oscar Grant in “Fruitvale Station” and Adonis Creed in “Creed.” In part it’s an #OscarsSoWhite thing. And in part it’s something else entirely. This other factor puts you in the excellent company of Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker.

The statuette is not always an Academy Award for best performance. Sometimes it’s recognition of one that was overlooked. Other times, it’s a tribute to an entire career, and if Sylvester Stallone wins the supporting actor prize for “Creed,” that’s the case. Call it an Academy Reward.

What do I mean? Let’s start at the 1974 Oscars. For the third time Al Pacino is nominated, but doesn’t get the award. First time: it goes to Joel Grey (reprising his well-known stage role as the emcee in “Cabaret”). Second time: Pacino loses to beloved veteran actor Jack Lemmon as the aging apparel exec in “Save the Tiger.” Third time: it goes to beloved veteran actor Art Carney as the widower traveling with his marmalade cat in “Harry & Tonto.”

Seven times in all, the Academy nominated but failed to award Pacino, including for his turns in “The Godfather” I and II, “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” In 1992, Pacino belatedly won the prize for “Scent of a Woman,” which was no one’s idea of a good movie or a performance. The general feeling in the Academy was that Pacino was due.

Unfortunately Pacino’s win meant that Denzel Washington got overlooked for “Malcolm X,” a performance many think is his best. Washington should have been nominated in 1993 for “Philadelphia” and before being nominated in 1999 for “The Hurricane,” another great performance. Yet he did not win the lead actor statuette until 2002, for “Training Day,” not even close to his best work. Still, the general feeling in the Academy was that Washington was due.

Take the case of Paul Newman. His list of acting Oscar-nominated also-rans reads like a roster of American movie classics: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Hustler,” “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Absence of Malice” and “The Verdict.” The general feeling in the Academy is that Newman was overdue for an award when finally he won the competitive prize in 1986 for “The Color of Money.” 

The man you call “Uncle Forest” — Whitaker, who produced “Fruitvale Station” — was robbed of the nomination so often that the Academy owes him damages. Yes, he did win the 2006 prize for his performance as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland,” but really, not an even a nomination for his fine work in “Bird,” “The Crying Game,” “The Great Debaters” or “The Butler”?

Each year at Oscar time, I remind myself that all too often the Oscar isn’t bestowed on an actor’s superior skills but on his (or her) endurance and durability. Still, I expect to see you collect your first of many nominations soon, and fondly hope that unlike Stallone, you won’t have to wait 40 years to collect your first statuette.

All best,

Carrie Rickey

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