Oscar Preview: Weekend of Aug. 14-16, 2015

We had one film release this past weekend with the potential for Oscar nominations.

Straight Outta Compton

The Academy Awards haven’t always been a forward-thinking body. They’ve had moments of inspiration, but they generally stick to standard selection procedures that focus on prestige pictures and avoid those which are sometimes challenging. Straight Outta Compton would, on paper, seem like just the kind of film the Academy would avoid. However, this could be one of those rare cases where the Academy steps out of its comfort zone.

Looking at the rise to fame of rap supergroup NWA, Straight Outta Compton gives audiences a glimpse into the life of poor black youths during the 1980’s where they turned to music to form a cultural identity. While that identity may have clashed with the police, specifically their song “Fuck the Police,” the group dominated the industry for years, bringing a style of music to the forefront of the industry that had been marginalized prior.

The film, by Friday director F. Gary Gray, has two things going for it. The first is that critics are overwhelmingly positive. Sitting at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (7.4 rating) and 72 at MetaCritic. That gives it a distinctive boost with Academy members wanting to recognize a film that is at least credible. The other factor, which bolsters their ability to look at the film with seriousness, is a tremendous opening weekend that shattered the non-inflation-adjusted record for an R-rated film.

Pair these two factors together and the film has a solid pedigree as an Oscar contender. What works against it is that it’s opening in August, an easily forgettable period for Oscar voters. The Academy is certainly not racist, but considering Selma couldn’t muster more than a couple of nominations and they infrequently recognize films with predominantly black casts, even when acclaimed, you have serious reasons for believing it will struggle with the Academy.

Selma successfully leveraged its storyline exemplifying where the Civil Rights movement has come and where it still needs to go. Yet, Straight Outta Compton has incredibly eerie parallels to today’s current environment for black youngsters in America and the present climate wherein police are frequently being chastised for their disproportionate targeting of that same group. That connection to the present might give it an added boost that could keep it in the conversation through the end of the year.

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