In the past few months there has been some discussion about whether 2013 marked a “renaissance” in that hard-to-pin-down genre known as “black film”. It’s been established, of course, that while we did get movies like The Butler, Baggage Claim, Best Man Holiday and 12 Years a Slave, to lump all those films under ghettoizing terms, like, for instance, “race-themed,” was to ignore the diversity in the kinds of stories being told, and ultimately downplay the fact that we actually still have a very long way to go.
There are movies telling black stories, our stories, that I’ve loved this year, films that have easily found a spot on my "best of" lists, including Let the Fire Burn, La Pirogue, and Fruitvale Station. But for me, 2013 was an important year not in the volume of projects starring black people (as earlier revealed only 7% of the films released this year were “black films”), but in the number of great performances across both film and TV. Again, we’re not “there” yet, but still, something must be said for the dynamic characters and featured players that emerged in 2013.
Below is a list, in no particular order, of some of the performers who stood out.
Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in ‘Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom’
Apparently, before he died, Nelson Mandela got to see a cut of Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom and asked, “Is that me?” as he watched Idris Elba playing him. It’s a high compliment to an actor who himself has admitted that physically, his casting as the iconic South African figure was a bit of a stretch. While the film itself is flawed, Elba’s take on Madiba is perhaps the most effective, as compared to actors Terrence Howard and Morgan Freeman. He may look drastically unlike Mandela, but the care that Elba took to imitate the former president’s accent, even the tenor of his voice, is more than impressive. And where Freeman and Howard represent the more benign qualities of Mandela’s international persona, Elba, as only he can, has been able to convey the swagger and the gravitas that drew so many to the anti-apartheid cause. He’s Mandela not as the kindly grandfather figure but as the young, brash, and impassioned activist willing to fight for his freedom by any means necessary.
Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau in ‘American Horror Story: Coven’
In October, I expressed some concerns over the handling of race and the legacy of slavery on Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Coven. The biggest fear was that the real-life history of Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) would be downplayed or ignored in the process of somehow redeeming her. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. And in that process of turning the racist, slave-torturing LaLaurie into a kindly old lady who just made some mistakes, the two black characters on the show, Queenie and Marie Laveau, have become outcasts and villains. I’m not even going to begin to unpack my biggest issues with their treatment here, but I will say this: Angela Bassett continues to prove that she is a badass and a phenomenal actress. If one peruses the “Coven” tag on Tumblr, you may see a lot of gifs of the now infamous “Surprise, bitch, I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me!” line, but equally as popular are gifs of Bassett’s epic delivery of just two words: “Disrespectin’ me.” The delivery is kind of emblematic of her entire run on this season: taking a mediocrely written character and squeezing out what dregs of substance and complexity that she can. While Jessica Lange has often been the standout in previous seasons, it’s Bassett as the cool, calculating Laveau who truly shines in an array of stellar female performances.
Uzo Aduba as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren in ‘Orange is the New Black’
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Julianne Hough’s racist and seriously misguided use of blackface in her Halloween costume this year, other than the whole racist part, was what an affront it was to the spirit of the much loved character Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren on Netflix’s breakout hit, Orange is the New Black. When we first meet Suzanne, as with many of the characters in this imperfect but promising comedy drama, she’s painted simply as Piper Chapman’s insane stalker who throws pies and pees on floors, but there are layers to Suzanne that Aduba reflects beautifully. It’s not just her aesthetic, the tiny bantu knots and bugged out eyes and hunched posture that for people like Hough are the beginning and end of of character. It’s the way she talks, the way at moments she’ll give us glimpses of a kind of sanity and certainly depth. It’s in the delivery of lines like, “Sometimes the feelings inside me get messy like dirt. And I like to clean things. And the dirt is the feelings. The floor is my mind.” The character has been treated as a sort of novel curiosity because of her physical and emotional idiosyncratic, but there’s nothing novel about the bravery and honesty with which Aduba approaches her.
source (not a slideshow)
Which blacktors from this film/Tv season have been overlooked?! As always for me - Khandi Alexander in everything!!!