Alfre Woodard: Black Films Make Audiences ‘Realize What You’ve Been Missing’

Hollywood Film Awards are set to honor five black artists

Whether you call them “specialty films” or “adult dramas” or “alternatives to blockbusters,” it’s clear that 2013 is an exceptionally exciting year for films that quicken the pulses of movie fans and ratchet up the stakes for the annual awards season derby.

It’s also clear that one of the most exciting attributes of this awards season is the abundance of films focusing on African-American issues and experiences, many of them featuring outstanding work by new and established black filmmakers. This development is mirrored by the selections of the Hollywood Film Awards, including honors to director Lee Daniels and thesp David Oyelowo (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”), director Steve McQueen and thesp Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan.

But the season’s riches in terms of films with critically acclaimed work by black film artists and films about the African-American experience in the U.S. and elsewhere also extends to such standout contributions as the U.K.’s Idris Elba in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and Somali-born Barkhad Abdi’s turn as the pirate “Muse” in “Captain Phillips.” Also upcoming in late November is “Black Nativity,” Kasi Lemmons’ musical adaptation of the famous Langston Hughes play.

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Does all of this add up to mean there’s a new and long-awaited inclusiveness in the film business? Has some barrier actually been crossed or is this merely a coincidence of riches?

As an Oscar-nominated and Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award-winning actress, Alfre Woodard has long been one of America’s most cherished performers and is again in the limelight as part of the acclaimed “12 Years a Slave” acting ensemble. Still, Woodard compares the work of her fellow black film artists to “lilies in the desert,” noting that this season is drawing attention because “there’s been a drought. We’ve all been putting down roots in dry, dry land, but this year we see the blooms and frankly I think the reason it’s getting so much attention is because the public is tickled by it. The moviegoing public in general, whether they’re Caucasian, Latino, Asian or black is excited because a year like this makes you realize what you’ve been missing.”

As much as Woodard celebrates the achievements of her fellow black film artists, she also stresses “as anyone who’s been in the trenches for the past five to 20 or 30 years knows, there isn’t a ‘wave.’ No one planned for all of these films to open at the same time. Remember, it wasn’t ‘the Millennium,’ it was Tuesday and then Wednesday follows.”

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Woodard also sees this season of black film achievements in the context of what she calls “films as opposed to events, which is what the studios are focused on producing. They’re making amusement park rides and they are expensive and they have to make a lot of money on the first weekend. So I don’t call films like ‘12 Years a Slave’ ‘art films,’ I call them ‘people films’ because they’re by people and for people who respond to them the way that we’re seeing. And that’s what makes this year so exciting.”


WHAT: Hollywood Film Awards Gala

WHEN: Cocktails at 6, dinner 6:45 and awards at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21

WHERE: Beverly Hilton


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  1. John Doe says:

    “…ratchet up the stakes…” Not the best choice of words describing the increased number of African-American candidates this year for award recognition.

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