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FILM ARTICLE

10 Movies AMPAS Should Pay Attention to in 2016 to #MakeOscarsDiverse

If the AMPAS wants to avoid an #OscarsSoWhite three-peat in early 2017, they'd be wise to keep tabs on these 10 movies starring and made by some of the best POC talent out there.

When even The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's O.G. Aunt Viv gets involved, you know things have spiraled out of control.

That's exactly what happened over the weekend when Janet Hubert released a weirdly colorful video rant that piggybacked off of the recent anti-AMPAS comments made by Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee. The Magic Mike XXL co-star and the Chi-Raq director have announced that they’re boycotting next month's Academy Awards in response to the all-white acting nominations. Michael Moore says he's "happy to join" them, too. Worthy performances like Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton, and Michael B. Jordan in Creed all went unnoticed, and people are rightfully pissed.

While giving the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs a trophy at the King Legacy Awards earlier this week, Selma actor David Oyelowo attacked the Academy's one-dimensional membership with, "I am an Academy member and it doesn't reflect me, and it doesn't reflect this nation." On The View, Whoopi Goldberg called out those who only question Hollywood's lack of diversity during awards season: "It's in your face all the time, when you go to the movies... You can't bitch about it just at Oscar time." And Snoop Dogg, of all people, put it much more bluntly in an Instagram video, speaking directly to the Oscars: "Fuck you!"

To combat the outrage, Isaacs released a statement Monday night asserting that she’s “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion,” and that the Academy’s new mandate is to promote inclusion within its voting branches for "gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation."

Whether anything actually comes from Isaacs' statement, though, remains to be seen, but filmmakers of color aren’t slowing themselves down. Looking ahead at 2016's loaded movie slate, there are several high-profile releases that could bring an end to #OscarsSoWhite come February 2017. Here are 10 new flicks starring—and, in some cases, directed by—black talent that have the right pedigree for the ever-fickle Mr. Oscar. They're the potential fuel behind what should be the next big Twitter hashtag: #MakeOscarsDiverse.

Miles Ahead
Director: Don Cheadle
Stars: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Keith Stanfield
Release date: April 1

All of the Academy's necessary boxes can be checked off here: Miles Ahead is a biopic (Check!) written and directed by a former Oscar nominee (Check! And check!) that had its world premiere at the prestigious New York Film Festival (Another check!). But word out of the film’s NYFF screenings suggested that Don Cheadle's portrayal of Miles Davis isn't the kind of milquetoast cradle-to-the-grave, biographical cinema that the Academy generally loves. Staying true to Davis' own wild life and vibrant music, Miles Ahead plays with tones and visual styles to rattle the biopic genre’s norms. Which, granted, means that it'll probably go unnoticed by the AMPAS, but Cheadle’s too accomplished and respected to completely write off at this stage.

Free State of Jones
Director: Gary Ross
Stars: Matthew McConaghey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Kerry Cahill, Sean Bridgers
Release date: May 13

As the film's in-your-face poster makes clear, Free State of Jones will be Matthew McConaughey's show, but he’s not the only reason why Oscar bloggers will want to pay attention to Seabiscuit director Gary Ross' Civil War drama, in which McConaughey plays a rebellious Southerner who rises up against the Confederacy. Though Oscar voters are probably already counting the days until May 13, since Free State of Jones deals with one of their most reliable subjects: slavery. It's no mystery that films about black characters set in the past fare much better at the Oscars, whereas modern-day stories like Creed and Straight Outta Compton might as well be shot with kryptonite, not film.

That frustrating reality aside, what makes Free State of Jones so exciting is the prospect of seeing two underrated black actors in a movie that could help them break out. The first is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, so amazing in 2014's slept-on Beyond the Lights and totally underused in last year’s disappointing Concussion. The second is Mahershala Ali, a scene-stealer in The Place Beyond the Pines and The Hunger Games movies who's set to have a huge 2016—in addition to Free State of Jones, Ali will play the villain in Netflix’s next Marvel series, Luke Cage.


Southside With You
Director: Richard Tanne
Stars: Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter, Vanessa Bell Calloway
Release date: World premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24

Whether it's an awards play or not, though, it's a safe bet to predict that Southside With You will be one of Sundance's most talked-about premieres. The subject matter is foolproof: Written and directed by first-timer Richard Tanne, Southside With You fictionalizes the first date shared between Harvard Law summer associate Barack Obama (newcomer Parker Sawyers) and attorney Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) in Chicago in 1989. They go out for ice cream, get to know each other, and catch a screening of Do the Right Thing.

Southside With You sounds like it'll be in line with Richard Linklater’s romantic, dialogue-driven Before Sunrise dramedies, giving co-stars Sumpter and Sawyers plenty of room to shine. It'll live and die on their performances, but if they're up to the task, don’t be surprised if their names become household ones in the months ahead.

The Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker
Stars: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, Aja Naomi King
Release date: World premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25

The only movie generating a pre-Sundance buzz as loudly as Southside With You? Arguably the festival's hottest ticket this year: The Birth of a Nation, written and directed by, as well as starring, the underrated Nate Parker, who's proven to be one of his generation’s most promising actors, thanks to the Denzel-Washington-directed The Great Debaters (2007), Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage (2012), and Gina Prince-Bythewood's excellent romantic drama Beyond the Lights.

Parker stars as Nat Turner, whose real-life story is one of the most incredible from America's slavery era in the 1800s. Turner was a great public speaker, and when his master exploited Turner's preacher skills for his own financial gain, Turner flipped the script and used his skills to lead the biggest slave rebellion in American history. The material is ripe for awards season recognition, and not only because it'll tap into that historical 12 Years a Slave sweet spot for the ever-predictable AMPAS. Once The Birth of a Nation's reviews start trickling out of Park City next week, it'll only be a matter of time before Nate Parker is knocking on the A-list's door.

Queen of Katwe
Director: Mira Nair
Stars: Lupita Nyong'o, David Oyelowo, Madina Nalwanga, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
Release date: To be determined

Sad fact: Lupita Nyong'o's actual face hasn’t been on a big screen since she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2014, for 12 Years a Slave, although she's currently co-starring in the world’s biggest movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Similar to how she’ll appear in Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book movie later this year, Nyong'o is motion-captured in The Force Awakens, playing the Yoda-like Maz Kanata. While those Star Wars paychecks must be nice, the world needs more of the real Lupita in it.

And that's what it'll get courtesy of Disney and award-winning director Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, in which Nyong'o will play the mother of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutsei (played by rookie actress Madina Nalwanga). The based-on-real-people family film was inspired by sports journalist's Tim Crothers’ book, and it also stars Selma's David Oyelowo as Mutsei's mentor. Between Nyong'o and Oyelowo, Queen of Katwe is no doubt already circled with red on Oscar pundits' 2016 must-see lists.

Mr. Pig
Director: Diego Luna
Stars: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, Jose Maria Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angelica Aragon, Gabriela Araujo
Release date: World premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26

The Academy loves a good comeback story—think back to Mickey Rourke's awards season parade following The Wrestler's release. Mr. Pig, making its way to the Sundance Film Festival next week, could potentially do for Danny Glover what The Wrestler did for Rourke. It's certainly strange enough to warrant that kind of attention. The once-great and prolific Glover plays a alcoholic pig farmer who goes on a road trip with his best porker, named Howard, to find "Howie" new booze-free owners.

Mr. Pig has the makings of a Danny Glover renaissance if it's able to turn heads at Sundance. Working in its favor is the fact it's the directorial debut of actor Diego Luna, who just finished shooting the next Star Wars movie, this year's Rogue One.

War on Everyone
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Tessa Thompson, Theo James, Michael Pena, Stephanie Sigman, Caleb Landry Jones
Release date: To be determined

John Michael McDonagh is one of the best British filmmakers you've probably never heard of—he's up there with genre master Ben Wheatley. And like Wheatley, McDonagh's films brilliantly merge comedy with darkness in the most subversive and emotionally potent of ways. He gave Don Cheadle one of the best roles of his career in 2011’s The Guard, and showed the world why Brendan Gleeson is one of the game’s best living actors in both The Guard and 2014's Calvary. And now he's about to remind folks about the under-appreciated greatnesses of Michael Pena and Tessa Thompson (pictured above).

McDonagh’s next film, War on Everyone, a sure-to-be-madcap crime comedy in which Pena and Alexander Skarsgård play a couple of crooked cops who blackmail criminals more than they actually ever arrest them. There's no word on Thompson’s character's details just yet, but once War on Everyone premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival next month, we'll have a better handle on that. But, chances are, it’ll find Thompson back in her comedic Dear White People zone, following her nuanced work in Creed.

Maya Angelou and Still I Rise
Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack
Release date: World premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26

Believe it or not, there hasn't been a single documentary about Maya Angelou—crazy, right? While cinematic profiles have been made about twenty something YouTube celebrities and Lil Bub, one of the most acclaimed writers and social activists of all time has gone untouched in film. But not for much longer.

After successfully crushing its recent Kickstarter campaign, Maya Angelou and Still I Rise will cover the iconic author and activist’s remarkable life story and myriad achievements. The film includes exclusive interviews with the late Angelou, including one conducted in January 2014, four months before she passed away at age 86. Its directors are the awesomely named Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack. The former previously shot the 2007 documentary Senator Obama Goes to Africa, which shows a pre-presidential Barack Obama's visiting his father's native Kenya homeland; the latter, meanwhile, is a Maya Angelou expert, having overseen the late author's Facebook page and its 5.5 million fans as well as Oprah Radio's "Maya Angelou Show."

Ready to be unveiled during Sundance, Maya Angelou and Still I Rise might end up being 2016’s answer to What Happened, Miss Simone?, the similarly icon-embracing documentary that premiered at Sundance 2015 and will be one of the five docs competing the non-fiction Oscar next month.

War Machine
Director: David Michôd
Stars: Brad Pitt, Will Poulter, Emory Cohen, Keith Stanfield, Topher Grace, Anthony Michael Hall, John Magaro, Alan Ruck, Scoot McNairy
Release date: To be determined

Perhaps the biggest letdown in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite 2016 is the lack of nominations given to Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation, which features two of 2015’s strongest performances from Idris Elba and young novice Abraham Attah but also suffered from being Netflix's first big awards season play. The online streaming company's inexperience at the kind of lobbying guys like Harvey Weinstein do with their eyes closed ultimately sank Beasts' Oscars hopes. But Netflix’s second shot at the gold statues is right around the corner.

If the $12 million Netflix shelled out for Beasts of No Nation turned heads, then the whopping $60 mil the company paid for the rights to War Machine must be currently giving money monsters whiplash. Directed by Aussie filmmaker David Michôd, War Machine is a political satire starring Brad Pitt as a four-star U.S. military general hell-bent on winning the war in Afghanistan. The cast, aside from Pitt, is mostly comprised of Hollywood’s next generation, namely Will Poulter (The Revenant) and Emory Cohen (Brooklyn).

Most exciting of all, though, is Keith Stanfield, who's been capitalizing on his superb debut in 2013’s Short Term 12 by killing it in small but pivotal roles in big-deal Hollywood biopics—he played the tragic Jimmie Lee Jackson in Ava DuVernay's Selma and nearly stole Straight Outta Compton away from its stars by flashily embodying a young Snoop Dogg.

Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins
Stars: Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes
Release date: To be determined

Indie film distributor A24 Films is pretty much untouchable right now. On the prestige side, they're currently riding high on the various Oscar nominations scored by Room, Ex Machina, and the documentary Amy; in the genre world, meanwhile, A24 has emerged as the foremost snatcher of high-profile festival darlings, having landed critics' favorites like the horror-sensation-in-waiting The Witch and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. Next up for A24: producing their own movies from scratch, and they’ve lined up one hell of a first effort.

A24 teamed up with Bradd Pitt’s Plan B to make Moonlight, the long-awaited follow-up from Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins (pictured above). Jenkins wrote and directed the film, which just finished shooting in Miami, based on playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Newcomer Trevante Rhodes stars as Chiron, a young black man whose "coming of age during the War on Drugs-era Miami" takes place over the course of three different time periods and touches upon queer youth struggles. To support Rhodes, Jenkins cast the excellent Andre Holland, fresh from Cinemax's The Knick, and Naomie Harris, whose acting chops have been squandered in the afterthought role of Moneypenny in the Daniel Craig-led 007 movies.

Fingers crossed that Moonlight impacts during the fourth-quarter—possibly with a Toronto International Film Festival premiere?

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Yesterday at #Tribeca2017 brought the world premiere of Anna Chai and Nari Kye's fascinating new documentary WASTED! THE STORY OF FOOD WASTE, produced by Anthony Bourdain. Forward-thinking chefs and thought leaders like Jeremiah Tower and Danny Bowien were in attendance for the premiere and a post-screening panel. Did you know that every year 80% of the world's water, 40% of the world's land, and 10% of the world's energy is dedicated to growing the food we eat, yet in the same year 1.3 billion tons of food is thrown out? No? Then you must see this movie. (Photos by @JoeCav_ for @StreetDreamsMag)

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