Looking beyond 'colour' at the Oscars: Why Will Smith, Idris Elba really missed out on nominations

Pradeep Menon

Feb 28, 2016 13:49:12 IST

Oscar season has turned out to be the time to look at the world through tinted glasses, such is the social media frenzy surrounding the ‘colour’ of those awards. But catchy hashtags apart, one can’t help but feel that beyond all the brouhaha, we overlook some crucial aspects about the films and actors considered unlucky on missing out on nominations.

Take Michael B Jordan’s portrayal of Adonis, son of iconic screen character Apollo Creed, in the eponymously-titled Creed (for which Sylvester Stallone has bagged a Best Supporting Actor nom).

Jordan turns in a solid performance, no doubt; yet the stock sports film formula hardly ever gives him a chance to display a true physical and emotional range as a character. That, one feels, is good enough reason to sidestep him in the nominations list.

Stallone on the other hand, has usually relied on sheer charm and personality to power him through roles. His awkward humour, awkward emotiveness have always been put to good use when he plays Rocky Balboa, and this film is no different. One could say that he has been preparing his whole life for all his roles as the unforgettable screen pugilist, and that’s why he sinks his teeth into Rocky when he feels like it. It’s *him* you’re invested in for the most, not Adonis, even though the journey we see is that of the latter.

The far greater victory of Creed is the way in which the two principle characters, Adonis Creed and Rocky Balboa, mentee and mentor, seem to look at the world in a colourless way. There’s a healthy mix of Black and White Americans in the film, and this surface-level difference in the two remains just where it must – on the surface.

With its entertaining-if-predictable narrative, Creed was never going to be about the acting performances, and it truly isn’t. But to carry forward a spinoff tale of a supporting character – a non-white one, no less – from an earlier franchise, is what makes the film most exciting.

Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is another film whose worth must be measured more in terms of what it stands for, rather than what tangible recognition the film and those involved with it receive. There’s no scope for racial diversity in this film, because it’s about civil war in an impoverished African country. The film grabs at your gut more than once, because it shows you what life in a truly troubled land could be like. (It often feels like real life would be far worse, that’s the kind of film it is.)

Looking beyond colour at the Oscars: Why Will Smith, Idris Elba really missed out on nominations

Idris Elba and Will Smith. Images from AP.

That Idris Elba is one of those we always root for as an actor doesn’t matter so much, when you think of all those nameless, faceless people who end up becoming just one number in a sea of statistics; for that’s the kind of news that usually comes out of Africa. Beasts of No Nation tilts the scales just a wee bit, in favour of equality. It wins right there, no awards needed.

As far as Will Smith for Concussion is concerned, let’s just say that he’s the Black Leonardo DiCaprio. Or that Leo is the White Will Smith. (Both comparisons are sheer injustices to both these actors, because they’re both fine proponents of the craft of acting, each in their own way. But you get what I mean)

Concussion is based on the kind of real life story that deserved to be told, but the film itself is a standard-issue drama. It does touch upon some gritty realities, particularly with regard to what we’re all talking about in the first place – racism; but otherwise, the film is nowhere close to memorable.

Will Smith has turned out far superior performances before, so this one really comes as no surprise, neither does the fact that he hasn’t won a nomination for it.

With as subjective a matter as film and the art & craft of screen acting are concerned, one could find many more names that could perhaps have been considered for award recognition, keeping the racial mix (or lack thereof) of the awards in mind.

However, it’s more fun to truly see the Oscars, that ego massage masquerading as recognition of one’s work, as what it is - entertainment; even though cinema itself transcends that. The nominations are long out, and there’s nothing one can do. May the best person win!

Updated Date: Feb 28, 2016 13:49:12 IST