With the 88th #OscarSoWhite Awards in the books — and Chris Rock detonating a number of ether bombs throughout the broadcast — the fact still remains that The Academy has constantly overlooked films that have an “urban” narrative. Whether the voting committee is too old, too white or too much of both, it’s troubling to know that there are some excellent films that have been ignored.
We go back in time to take a look at “hip hop films” that deserved to be recognized by The Academy. Not to say that they should win, but they earned a seat at the table.
Oh, and the term “hip hop” is used loosely here as these are films that the hip hop community identifies with rather than being films specifically about hip hop.
Nevertheless, this is a list of films that shouldn’t be ignored because they are deemed “too black” or whatever it is that old white folks use to dismiss them.
Best Picture & Best Director
Do The Right Thing (1991)
The Academy damn sure did the wrong thing and didn’t give this film what it deserved. Honestly, this was absolutely criminal. Just how in the hell Spike Lee’s classic film was overlooked for a “Best Picture” nomination is beyond the realm of thought. “Driving Miss Daisy” won that year and that movie is certainly not being talked about today like “Do The Right Thing.” As a matter of fact, both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (the authoritative voices of film reviews) both stated that it was not only the best film of 1990, but in the top 10 films for the entire decade. And then, to make matters worse, Spike Lee didn’t even get a nomination for the damn film. But Kenneth Branagh did for “Henry V.” However, there was a lone representative of the film nominated for an award. That honor went to Danny Aiello’s portrayal of Sal Frangione in the “Best Supporting Actor” category. Not that he didn’t deserve it (he was defeated by Denzel Washington, who we’ll discuss later), but it felt kind of convenient that the only nominee from the film was the white guy who owned the pizza shop that Mookie launched the trash can through the window of.
Best Picture & Best Supporting Actor
Boyz N Da Hood & Ice Cube (1991)
John Singleton’s 1991 look into the confines of South Central, Los Angeles earned Singleton the “Best Director” nomination. However, the movie was overlooked in the “Best Picture” category despite much critical acclaim. It may not have beat Silence of the Lambs for “Best Picture” but it probably should have been nominated ahead of “Beauty & The Beast.” Not to mention that Ice Cube should have found his way into the Best Supporting Actor category and replaced either Harvey Keitel or Ben Kingsley, who were both nominated for “Bugsy.”
Best Actor & Best Supporting Actress
Malcolm X: Denzel Washington & Angela Bassett (1992)
The field was extraordinarily tough for “Best Picture” with “Unforgiven,” “The Crying Game,” “A Few Good Men,” “Scent of a Woman” and “Howards End” all being nominated so “Malcolm X” missing the cut could be forgiven. However, Denzel Washington not winning “Best Actor” is ridiculous. Sure, Al Pacino was great in “Scent of a Woman” but he was kind of playing a blind version of himself. Meanwhile, Denzel Washington became Malcolm X. When most people who were born in the 1980s think of Malcolm X, an image of Denzel Washington pops into their head. It was arguably Denzel’s finest moment and he was robbed by Pacino playing Pacino. And we all know that when he later won the award for “Training Day” it was a makeup for f*cking up in 1991. As for Angela Bassett, she’s been criminally underrated for far too long. She earned the right to be right there with Marisa Tomei, who won for portrayal of Mona Lisa Vito in “My Cousin Vinny.”
Best Original Screenplay
“Fresh” is one of the most criminally overlooked movies of all time. And that’s not hyperbole. It was marketed as a “hip hop hood film” but was much more than your average “hood flick.” Boaz Yakin’s coming of age story about a 12-year-old boy who attempts to hatch a plan to unhinge his drug addict sister and himself from the hooks of the New York criminal underworld by applying the lessons of chess in the real world. For whatever reason – perhaps because of the oversaturation of hood films looking to capitalize on the wave – “Fresh” and its excellently handled plot slipped by most audiences. If you haven’t seen it, go back and watch it. It’s hard to say that it earned a “Best Picture” nomination alongside films like “Pulp Fiction” (which somehow managed to lose to “Forrest Gump”) but it damn sure could have received a “Best Original Screenplay” nod.
Best Original Screenplay
As you can see, Spike Lee has been treated like sh*t by The Academy. He’s constantly overlooked and seen as the “angry black man.” But if you were kicked to the curb by The Academy as many times as he has been, you would be pretty pissed off as well. His satirical film about a modern day minstrel show has never really received the praise it deserves. But looking back, this is arguably one of Spike’s best concepts brought to the big screen. Sure, the execution was a little overwrought but it was extraordinarily prophetic and unique. It could have earned Spike Lee a nod for “Best Original Screenplay” alongside a stacked field that included “American Beauty,” “Being John Malkovich,” “Magnolia,” “The Sixty Sense” and “Topsy-Turvy.”
Tupac Resurrection (2003)
Lauren Lazin’s documentary about the life and death of Tupac Shakur was exceptionally handled with a great deal of unseen footage and narrated by the late Shakur. The one thing that documentaries usually struggle with is delivering entertainment but “Tupac Resurrection” keeps you engaged throughout its nearly two-hour run time. If you’re a fan of Tupac, you’ll enjoy it. But the narrative is strong enough to capture the attention of anyone who isn’t familiar with the life of Tupac Shakur. It certainly could have earned a nomination in the “Best Documentary” category.
Let’s get this out of the way: “Belly” sucked. It sucked so bad that we enjoy it for all of the wrong reasons. From Nas’ wooden acting to T-Boz’ extra dry “Africa is far” to the absolutely nonsensical plot, “Belly” proved to be absolutely ridiculous. However, Hype Williams sure knew how to make it look good. The opening club scene, with its black lights and usage of Soul II Soul’s “Back To Life” was phenomenal and had everyone thinking that this movie was about to be amazing. It wasn’t, but the visual design and cinematography was top notch. It certainly should have found its way into the “Best Cinematography” category alongside “Saving Private Ryan,” “A Civil Action,” “Elizabeth,” “The Thin Red Line” and “Shakespeare In Love.”
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
2015 was a pretty weak year in films, which is why it’s mindboggling how “Straight Outta Compton” didn’t get a nomination in an expanded “Best Picture” category that included eight films. F. Gary Gray handled the material well with a narrative that didn’t stall and the cast did an exceptional job portraying the legendary hip-hop group. It was critically acclaimed and somehow didn’t make the cut. Not saying that it should have won, but it deserved some recognition considering how well both critics and moviegoers received it.
Best Original Song
Erykah Badu & Common’s “Love Of My Life,” Brown Sugar (2002)
Look, the right song won that year when Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” took top honors. However, Erykah Badu and Common’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)” deserved some recognition. The song was absolutely fitting for the movie and went on to spend four weeks at number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, and reached number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Hell, it won a Grammy in 2003 for “Best R&B Song.” So why didn’t it get nominated? Perhaps two urban songs nominated at the same time was just too many for The Academy to handle. Or, the old folks who vote simply had no clue that “Brown Sugar” even existed.
Best Supporting Actor
Larenz Tate, Menace II Society (1993)
Larenz Tate should thank Tupac for getting tossed off this film for being a headache (which led to Tupac infamously assaulting The Hughes Brothers six months after the firing) because he was an absolute revelation as O-Dog. His type of crazy was so believable and Tate chewed up every single scene he was in from the opening convenience store robbery to the finale. What makes Tate’s performance even more remarkable is when you look at his later performances and you realize that he’s nothing like O-Dog. But, boy, we were sold on Tate being an absolute lunatic. It would have been nice if The Academy had recognized him for “Best Supporting Actor” in place of Pete Postlethwaite.