“Straight Outta Compton” tells the true story of famous musicians, just like recent Oscar contenders “Shine,” “Ray,” “Walk the Line” and “La Vie en Rose.” And “Compton” is one of the biggest hits of the year, making more than $200 million worldwide to date. Add in very positive reviews (72 on MetaCritic, 89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and this Universal release should be considered a serious contender for Best Picture. But it’s an underdog according to our latest predictions. Are we underestimating it?
In addition to its critical and commercial success, “Straight Outta Compton” also has a modern social resonance that most of this year’s other top contenders don’t. It tells the story of the formation of the groundbreaking hip-hop group NWA, which popularized “gangsta rap” and expressed rage against racially motivated police violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As they wrote in their controversial protest song “Fuck tha Police,” “Police think they have the authority to kill a minority.”
The climate hasn’t changed much in the quarter-century since NWA rose to fame. In this age of social media, national awareness of police violence against unarmed black men and women has increased, so “Straight Outta Compton” uniquely captures the spirit of the times.
But will the academy be receptive to the film’s message? Remember that “Selma” was all but snubbed at last year’s Oscars after addressing some of the same themes. Yes, it contended for Best Picture but received no nominations for writing, directing or acting – just Best Song, which it won. As it was the only major awards contender last year by black filmmakers and featuring a predominantly black cast, that sparked controversy over the academy’s, and by extension the entire film industry’s, lack of diversity.
An oft-cited 2012 survey by the Los Angeles Times revealed that the motion picture academy is 94% white. In the years since, the academy has made efforts to diversify. “The academy is committed to bringing new voices into our ranks,” academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in 2014 after minority Oscar winners and nominees like Pharrell Williams, Lupita Nyong’o, Barkhad Abdi and Robert Lopez were invited to join the academy’s ranks. But it’ll take more than a couple of years for the academy’s membership to look more like the American public.
In the meantime, the academy may face yet more criticism this year since the only major awards hopefuls with minority filmmakers and/or minority casts are “Compton,” the African war drama “Beasts of No Nation” and the surprise critical hit “Creed.”
But “Compton” has more than a fighting chance. As of this writing, five of our 21 Oscar Experts (film journalists we’ve polled from outlets like Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Deadline and more) are predicting it will be nominated for Best Picture: Tim Gray (Variety), Scott Mantz (Access Hollywood), Kevin Polowy (Yahoo), Keith Simanton (IMDb) and Gold Derby’s own Paul Sheehan.
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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures