Notes On The Season: Awards Weekend Blues; Why Ariana DeBose Can Make Oscar History And How Sidney Poitier Already Did
A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
It was to be a wild and perhaps key weekend on the awards circuit, but instead all we have is a weird Golden Globes. This week I also tell Ariana DeBose how she could make Oscar history, and we also remember how Sidney Poitier so memorably already did 58 years ago.
The best laid plans. This weekend was going to be a lot different for those of us on the awards-season beat. The Palm Springs International Film Festival awards gala scheduled for Thursday night obviously didn’t happen as planned and, due to Covid’s rising temperature, was canceled for the second year in a row. Save those Oscar-rehearsal speeches for another time, Nicole, Kristen, Penelope, Jane and the rest of you planning to be in the desert. There also will be no glad-handing at the usually wall-to-wall packed BAFTA LA tea this weekend at the Four Seasons. That fell victim to Omicron fears as well.
And that all-important AFI Awards lunch set for today at the same Beverly Hills Hotel also is postponed searching for a new later date, so no schmoozing and appearances there in a room full of Oscar voters, masked or not. Contenders don’t get to make speeches at that one, but of course they traditionally do at the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes — and both were trying to do something on the same date, Sunday, January 9. Critics Choice had planned a glitzy, star-studded ceremony at the new Fairmont Century Plaza and televised on two television networks this time (The CW and TBS) but felt it was best to postpone for a still-unnamed date later in the season due to the deliriously contagious state of the Omicron variant.
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However, irony of ironies, the never-say-die Hollywood Foreign Press Association, besieged with scandal and boycotts, and knee deep in reforming itself is bound and determined to go ahead and present its awards anyway at 6 p.m. Sunday in the usual Beverly Hilton ballroom. The hiccup is there will be no red carpet, no food, no Moët champagne, no name presenters, no nominees or winners present, no NBC broadcast, not even livestreaming, and in fact no stars for what is usually one of the town’s starriest events. The org has decided instead to gather a “socially distanced” group of members (including apparently the 20 or so new diversified members admitted) to watch a “show” touting the philanthropic aspect of the HFPA (and it always has been great in handing out money to deserving entities) with supposedly invited representatives of those grantees in the room and onstage as awards presenters. No media will be present, but I have learned several friendly publicists got invites (not the 100-plus who began a PR boycott, I presume), but the four I definitely know who received those invites for the 90-minute ceremony followed by a “reception” at 7:30 p.m. have no plans to attend, at least one citing Covid fears. Those who did receive the invite to the 79th annual Globes also can bring a guest. The invite states it is black tie and is a “celebration” not only of the Golden Globe Awards but also “the HFPA’s 2021-2022 grantees making a difference around the world.” Vaccination, booster and a negative PCR test are required with the invite stating those details will be forthcoming.
Although nobody asked me, I think that with every other awards event canceling or postponing for this month (including the planned January 15 Governors Awards, a major Oscar schmoozing event in addition to handing out honorary statuettes) that it might have been smarter instead for the Globes to follow suit. Some of the not-so-helpful publicity this event is getting — such as a big Good Morning America piece on Wednesday that just rehashed all their problems and stated not a single star would show up — could have been avoided if the HFPA just lay low and waited to make a comeback next year, hopefully with NBC back in the fold. Their Globes brand is glitz and glamour and all things Hollywood. It doesn’t help when a major consumer national morning show points out that Tom Cruise gave back his three Golden Globes. Just sayin’.
I do hope things turn around. Covid and other factors are killing tradition, and we could use a little of that mindless Hollywood glamour again (and yes, that includes the Globes, which were always fun). We certainly won’t get it this weekend. I ain’t as busy as I thought I might be, folks.
ARIANA DEBOSE IN RARE AIR
One of those nominees who won’t be going to the Golden Globes (meaning all of them) is Best Supporting Actress nominee Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita in West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s reimagining of not only the 1961 film but also the Broadway play. She recently also was named Best Supporting Actress by the LA Film Critics, and is a Critics Choice Awards nominee as well as other awards she is racking up in the role.
There is obviously heavy Oscar buzz too, so when I hopped on the phone with DeBose recently, I asked her if she knew just what kind of Oscar history she could be making if things go the right way for her on March 27 at the Dolby Theatre — which, of course, she didn’t because I like to bring up obscure potential facts. So here’s one: Should she win, it would mark only the third time an actor won an Oscar for playing the same character that a different actor also won for. Marlon Brando won (and famously refused) the 1972 Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather as the older Don Corleone, while Robert De Niro won the 1974 Best Supporting Actor Oscar playing the younger Don in The Godfather Part II. And Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor in 2008’s The Dark Knight playing Joker, the same role that brought Joaquin Phoenix the 2019 Best Actor Oscar for Joker.
This is of interest because Rita Moreno became the first Latina to win Best Supporting Actress for the ’61 West Side Story, in which she played Anita. Will history repeat itself 60 years later? DeBose was appreciative of even being mentioned in the same company. “I think it’s just really cool to be in any sort of conversation in regards to anything in this realm because I’ll be honest with you, it’s something I dreamed about as a kid,” she told me. “But you never really think it’s going to happen, and then suddenly you find yourself in a moment like this.”
DeBose, who was just announced as host of SNL on January 15 when the show returns, brings her own style and interpretation to the role but it had to be a bit daunting knowing that Moreno was also right there playing a new role in the film as Valentina, the widow of Doc who ran the drug store. Is this kind of like playing Hamlet and then realizing one of the greatest actors who played the role is standing backstage watching? “I would say it’s probably rare,” she laughed. “It is not the scenario I thought I was going to walk into. In fact, this portion of the journey was what I was so afraid of, or part of what I was so afraid of, because many aspects of this job scared me when I said yes, but I didn’t clock that I was really going to have to do it with her sitting right there, and I know, it was like true naivety on my part. True naivety, but she has been so gracious with me, and to be perfectly frank, I didn’t expect her to be. It has not been my experience generationally to have found grace in this type of dynamic, so I was very nervous about meeting her and potentially working with her, and she proved me wrong.”
Actually Moreno is nominated opposite DeBose for that Critics Choice award. “Right. And I love that. I think Rita’s work in our film is some of the best she’s ever done. I really do. I think she’s just a revelation in this film and a beautiful matriarch,” she said.
I previously had done a couple of interviews with DeBose a year ago for The Prom when that came out, but actually she had already shot West Side Story before that, but because of Covid the film’s release was delayed a full year. Frustrating? “I knew what that experience had been, and how different the two roles were, so I felt like I was kind of sitting on a little bit of a secret and while I’m so proud of my work in The Prom, it was West Side Story, in regards to the role, that gave me a lot more to showcase. So, while I have been waiting a while, I always knew that, when the time did come, whenever that was, that at least the world would be able to get to see me do something that is even deeper and embellishes on my skillset.”
Let me say it is an understatement to say the world has now seen that without question.
She is also very proud that as an Afro Latina she got the opportunity to play what she calls one of the greatest roles ever written for a woman in musical theatre saying it was very rare that darker women of color got to take on the role for whatever reason (she points to Debbie Allen and Valarie Pettiford as exceptions). “I’m inclined to say that it’s because the industry didn’t necessarily recognize Afro Latinas as Latinas, but I mean, it’s thrilling to be able to do it in this way, to offer the Afro Lat perspective on it,” she said. “It’s also totally scary because at the end of the day Rita Moreno is the gold standard, and when you’re offering up a new interpretation, it’s tough to get people to open their hearts and minds, I think, but I’m very grateful that it seems like they have, and that people are finding nuance within the character, and I really credit a lot of that to Tony Kushner’s screen play because he really went further with the development of these characters and gave me more to play with. So, I’m very grateful to him in that respect.”
And that thanks also goes to Spielberg. “I feel a little spoiled if I’m honest because it was my first studio movie I have made, and I got to do it in the grandest way possible, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. I’ve gone on to work on many other things, but I can tell you what. Making a movie on the Steven Spielberg set is a special, special thing.”
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REMEMBERING SIDNEY POITIER
Finally, what a sad couple of days. On Thursday, word came of the death of the great Peter Bogdanovich, and early this morning of Sidney Poitier. What can you say? Actually there was a connection between the two. Bogdanovich directed Poitier in the 1996 TV movie sequel To Sir, With Love II. In talking about the possibility that DeBose could become part of Oscar history, perhaps no one in the 93 years of Academy Awards made history in the way Poitier did when he won Best Actor for 1963’s Lilies of the Field.
I was on BBC World News earlier today talking about Poitier, and the first line in its five-minute news piece was that he was the first Black man to win an acting Oscar, a fact repeated all day today everywhere. It was quite the moment at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on that April night in 1964 when he strode happily to the stage upon hearing his name called by Anne Bancroft and said, “Because it has been a long journey to this moment. …” Long indeed, as the only Black performer to win before that was Hattie McDaniel, she received a Supporting Actress plaque for 1939’s Gone With The Wind. Then in 2002 The Academy voted Poitier an Honorary Oscar, a rare occurrence for someone who already had won competitively. Poitier was given a massive standing ovation, as you might expect, and his speech was eloquent on a night that later would actually see Denzel Washington and Halle Berry take the lead acting Oscars.
Here is the speech Poitier gave On Oscar Night 2002:
“I arrived in Hollywood at the age of 22 in a time different than today’s, a time in which the odds against my standing here tonight 53 years later would not have fallen in my favor. Back then, no route had been established for where I was hoping to go, no pathway left in evidence for me to trace, no custom for me to follow.
“Yet, here I am this evening at the end of a journey that in 1949 would have been considered almost impossible and in fact might never have been set in motion were there not an untold number of courageous, unselfish choices made by a handful of visionary American film-makers, directors, writers and producers; each with a strong sense of citizenship responsibility to the times in which they lived; each unafraid to permit their art to reflect their views and values, ethical and moral, and moreover, acknowledge them as their own.
“They knew the odds that stood against them and their efforts were overwhelming and likely could have proven too high to overcome. Still those film-makers persevered, speaking through their art to the best in all of us. And I’ve benefited from their effort. The industry benefited from their effort. America benefited from their effort. And in ways large and small the world has also benefited from their effort.
“Therefore, with respect, I share this great honor with the late Joe Mankiewicz, the late Richard Brooks, the late Ralph Nelson, the late Darryl Zanuck, the late Stanley Kramer, the Mirisch brothers – especially Walter whose friendship lies at the very heart of this moment – Guy Green, Norman Jewison, and all others who have had a hand in altering the odds for me and for others.
“Without them this most memorable moment would not have come to pass and the many excellent young actors who have followed in admirable fashion might not have come as they have to enrich the tradition of American film-making as they have. I accept this award in memory of all the African-American actors and actresses who went before me in the difficult years, on whose shoulders I was privileged to stand to see where I might go.”
Enjoy the next part of that “journey” you mentioned at both Oscar occasions, Sir Sidney Poitier. We are beyond grateful to have shared this journey with one of the greats in film history.
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