With all due respect, I’ve never really known what to make of the NAACP Image Awards. On the one hand, the concept of an awards ceremony ostensibly devoted to black (or black-themed) cinema seems dated and self-demeaning. On the other, they succeed in drawing attention to the industry’s neglect of non-white stories and artists — just not in ways they necessarily realize.
Let us imagine, then, that Brett Ratner’s synthetically enjoyable but arguably racist “Tower Heist” — a film that makes a plot point of the notion that black people are more expert in criminal activity than white people — is actually nominated for Best Picture as a kind of ironic protest, an indication of just what limited choices Hollywood has to offer the black community. Admittedly, it’d be more effective as a this-is-all-we-have gesture if it weren’t nominated at the expense of, say, Steve James’s “The Interrupters” (mysteriously absent from even the documentary category), a film that revolves around positive, richly rounded black individuals, even if they aren’t played by actors.
Failing that, could we at least acknowledge that Gabourey Sidibe is a hell of a lot funnier in “Tower Heist” than Eddie Murphy? No? Moving on.
Inevitably, the nominee list is led by likely Best Picture Oscar contender “The Help,” with six nominations — which will annoy as many people who find the film regressively condescending and, well, whitewashed as it satisfies those who are simply pleased that a film driven largely by African American women found its way to $170 million. Both camps have a point. (Three of those women, meanwhile, are nominated in the acting races, with Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard joining them — though Jessica Chastain, who so handily outacted most of the ensemble, is weirdly left off the list.)
The yin to the Disney film’s yang, of course, is “Pariah,” a tough, textured independent drama about a teenage lesbian that represents a hugely promising debut from African American writer-director Dee Rees, and received five nominations: if the NAACP voters are really committed to promoting black art and artists, this would be the smarter option. (Coincidentally enough, a Guardian columnist made much the same point the other day.) In any event, following Meryl Streep’s thoughtful shout-out to breakthrough star Adepero Oduye in her Golden Globe acceptance speech last week, it’s a good week for this rough diamond of a film.
The full list of nominees:
“The First Grader”
“Jumping the Broom”
Laz Alonso, “Jumping the Broom”
Vin Diesel, “Fast Five”
Laurence Fishburne, “Contagion”
Oliver Litondo, “The First Grader”
Eddie Murphy, “Tower Heist”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Adepero Oduye, “Pariah”
Paula Patton, “Jumping the Broom”
Zoe Saldana, “Colombiana”
Emma Stone, “The Help”
Best Supporting Actor
Don Cheadle, “The Guard”
Mike Epps, “Jumping the Broom”
Anthony Mackie, “The Adjustment Bureau”
Charles Parnell, “Pariah”
Jeffrey Wright, “The Ides of March”
Best Supporting Actress
Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help”
Maya Rudolph, “Bridesmaids”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
Cicely Tyson, “The Help”
Kim Wayans, “Pariah”
Best Independent Film
“The First Grader”
“I Will Follow”
Best Foreign Film
“Attack the Block”
“In the Land of Blood and Honey”
“Life, Above All”
“Beat, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”
“Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey”
“Sing Your Song”
Remember to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit.
For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.
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