Best Picture Oscar winners with a non-white protagonist?

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  • Daniel Montgomery
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    #113385

    “12 Years a Slave” has the potential to win Best Picture, and it could be extremely historic. I’m wondering, though, if I have my facts right on exactly how historic.

    Of course Steve McQueen would be the first black director to win Best Director (and more surprisingly, only the third nominee), but what about the film itself? Doing a little research, I was shocked to find that so few Best Picture winners have featured a non-white protagonist — “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Last Emperor,” “Gandhi,” and “In the Heat of the Night” may be the only ones, unless I’ve missed any. And of those, only “Slumdog,” “Gandhi,” and “Last Emperor” lacked a white co-lead. (“Miss Daisy” and “Heat” actually won their Oscars for their white co-leads.)

    I haven’t seen all Best Picture-winners, though, and am not entirely sure about “Heat of the Night” (haven’t seen it, was Sidney Poitier a bona fide lead in that?). But if it wins Best Picture, would “12 Years a Slave” be the first to tell its story from an exclusively black point of view?

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    Anonymous
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    #113387

    It’s sad that we still have a grand total of zero East Asian lead nominees.
    And only one supporting East Asian nominee still alive of each gender.

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    Halo_Insider
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    #113388

    Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger were definite co-leads, Daniel. Their dynamic drives the film forward as they attempt to solve the case.

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    babypook
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    #113389

    Well, can we count “Marty” for having homely white people, or Return of the King with it’s Orcs and Hobbits and Dwarfs and Elves?
    Kidding Daniel.

    Bridge on the River Kwai has an Asian co-lead (imo) or, at least  supporting. Asians everywhere, and the enemy of course.
    Dances With Wolves features First Nations peoples, but of course both leads are not. Naturally the assimilated white person was “kidnapped” and adopted.
    Shall we mention Crash? (how dare that film….) Who are the Leads?

    Talk about picking through straws. 
    I think, if there’s any political reason for 12 YaS to win BP, you may have hit the nail on the head Daniel. Even more, than the subject itself. 

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    Scottferguson
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    #113390

    Here’s what I come up with, including co-leads and including Latinos as non-white (possibly dubious)

    Bridge on the River Kwai, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night, Gandhi, Last Emperor, Driving Miss Daisy, Slumdog Millionaire, Argo

    LOTR:ROTK a separate issue but valid to mention of course

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    KT
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    #113391

    Yes, The Last Emperor has a non-white protagonist, definitely Slumdog Millionaire.  I’d probably go with Gandhi too.  Of course, Rod Stieger won the Oscar for In the Heat of the Night, but Sidney Poitier got the famous line.  Both this film and Driving Miss Daisy though, are white perspective-driven.  I’m not sure West Side Story counts with Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, nor Argo with Ben Affleck as the lead.  In these examples, I don’t think race is really a perspective, shaping the vision of the film.

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    Scottferguson
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    #113392

    Poitier also got the two sequels. He was the protagonist of Heat, though Steiger was co-lead (though not the protagonist).
    In WSS there are two parallel stories, one Latino, one white, so I think it qualifies. Certainly ethnicity was a big element of that film.
    Driving Miss Daisy – b/w equals, I think the driver of the title was slightly more lead
    Menendez’ ethnicity was not an issue in Argo, but it is a film with a Latino protagonist, certainly not a contributor to its winning if this sort of thing ever is a factor

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    KT
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    #113393

    The difference is 12 Years is a story from the black perspective.  It has more than just a black protagonist.  Sure in West Side Story, Wood is supposed to play an ethnic person, but really race holds a very minimal role outside of the accents; at the film’s core, it’s a love story between two people from rival gangs.  Argo has a Latino protagonist played by a white actor, but still race plays no part.  I think there’s a difference…having a non-white protagonist is one step, but we can narrow the Best Picture winners even further to find the films that are non-white perspectives/stories.

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    Tye-Grr
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    #113394

    ^@SF: The Latino protagonist goes out the window when the non-Latino Ben Affleck is playing him. I suppose an argument could be made for ‘Crash’. I know some folks who consider Don Cheadle the lead.

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    Scottferguson
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    #113395

    KT -I don’t disagree. But don’t underestimate the equal power, though the director was white, that In the Heat of the Night had at its time. Listen to the reports of now much older black filmmakers about the impact of seeing that film in theaters when it came out – it seemed revolutionary. And its racial content was the deciding factor in its win (along with being a pretty good film, for me the second best – after Bonnie & Clyde by a huge gap – of the nominees).

    Tye-grr – I included Argo because it qualifies under the headline of the thread. The protagonist of the film was non-white (assuming Latino qualifies, which it often shouldn’t). I understand it had no issue with that not being a factor in its win. I thought of Crash, which is a possible contender other than the film really doesn’t have a true protagonist, but its racial awareness was part of its appeal to Academy members.

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    babypook
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    #113396

    Well, let’s take a look at FLF’s……….

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    nkb325
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    #113397

    Isn’t it kind of better that we can have some films with a non-white protagonist and their race isn’t the focus of the film?  I feel like we should be looking forward to a time when a best picture winner can have a black or asian lead and have their race not be the important part of the movie. Like a movie with a black lead should be able to win best picture without HAVING to be about slavery or civil rights, which is why I think Argo is a good example

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    babypook
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    #113398

    Isn’t it kind of better that we can have some films with a non-white protagonist and their race isn’t the focus of the film?  I feel like we should be looking forward to a time when a best picture winner can have a black or asian lead and have their race not be the important part of the movie. Like a movie with a black lead should be able to win best picture without HAVING to be about slavery or civil rights, which is why I think Argo is a good example

    You’re right of course. I long for a day to come where none of this matters; that everyone realizes that skin colour is simply nature and that we are all the same. As long as we can hold on to that truth collectively, one day, it will happen.

    Your example of Argp however, doesnt apply, at least not for me.

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    Tye-Grr
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    #113399

    [quote=”nkb325″]Isn’t it kind of better that we can have some films with a non-white protagonist and their race isn’t the focus of the film?  I feel like we should be looking forward to a time when a best picture winner can have a black or asian lead and have their race not be the important part of the movie. Like a movie with a black lead should be able to win best picture without HAVING to be about slavery or civil rights, which is why I think Argo is a good example

    You’re right of course. I long for a day to come where none of this matters; that everyone realizes that skin colour is simply nature and that we are all the same. As long as we can hold on to that truth collectively, one day, it will happen.

    Your example of Argp however, doesnt apply, at least not for me.[/quote]

    It doesn’t apply for me either. If the lead was played by an actor of hispanic decent, then I’d be all for using ‘Argo’ as an example. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.  

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    Scottferguson
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    #113400

    But doesn’t a Jewish actor playing a Latino in a film in which the character’s ethnicity not emphasized an example of achieving a degree of colorblindedness?

    And seeing pictures of Affleck and the younger Menedez, they look similar. It did deny a Latino actor the role, but without Affleck in the lead for financing purposes (his draw, likely taking little money up front) might not that film never have been made?

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