Hollywood doesn’t have an especially favorable history when it comes to supporting Black filmmakers. Representation has improved over the last decade, however, and now “Judas and the Black Messiah” could take that one step further. The Warner Bros. release tells the true story of the FBI’s assassination of Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), and if it’s nominated for Best Picture it would be the first film ever nominated with exclusively Black producers.
Director and co-writer Shaka King is one of the film’s producers, along with Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler. This would be the first Oscar nomination for all three, though a couple have been in the awards conversation before. Charles D. King worked on Oscar contenders “Fences” (2016), “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” (2017), “Mudbound” (2017) and “Harriet” (2019). And Coogler directed Oscar nominees “Creed” (2015) and “Black Panther” (2018).
For the vast majority of Oscar history, Black producers were virtually nonexistent. Over the awards’ first 81 years, there was only one Black nominee for Best Picture: Quincy Jones for “The Color Purple” (1985). But since 2009, 11 more nominations have gone to Black producers: Lee Daniels (“Precious,” 2009), Broderick Johnson (“The Blind Side,” 2009), Reginald Hudlin (“Django Unchained,” 2012), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave,” 2013), Oprah Winfrey (“Selma,” 2014), Denzel Washington (“Fences,” 2016), Pharrell Williams (“Hidden Figures,” 2016), Kimberly Steward (“Manchester by the Sea,” 2016), Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” 2017), and then Peele and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman,” 2018).
McQueen won Best Picture, which makes him the first (and still only) Black winner in the top category. Peele is so far the only Black producer to be nominated more than once. And remarkably, “BlacKkKlansman” is the only film to date to be nominated with multiple Black producers. To say the least, that’s not a very encouraging track record.
But the times they are a-changin’. In addition to “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Best Picture nominations could go to “Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” all of which have Black producers working behind the camera. If all four films make the cut, it would be the first time that many films with Black producers are nominated in the same year.
Thus far, most of the awards support for “Judas and the Black Messiah” has gone to Kaluuya, who just won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes. But it was named one of the 10 best films of the year by the American Film Institute, and its original screenplay was nominated by the Writers Guild. Since the movie just premiered in theaters and on HBO Max on February 12, there’s a chance it’s peaking at just the right time with Oscar voting set to begin on March 5, which could lead to an unprecedented nominations morning on March 15.
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