‘Soul’ writer Kemp Powers could make Oscars history with screenwriting nominations

Pixar’s “Soul” continues to hold strong as a back-end Best Picture contender: with 22/1 odds of scoring a nomination, it sits in the 10th position on the Gold Derby Experts’ rankings for the Oscars’ top prize. Overall, 13 Experts have “Soul” making the Best Picture cut, including Erik Davis (Fandango), Anne Thompson (Indiewire), Eric Deggens (NPR), and Matthew Jacobs (HuffPost). 

But while “Soul” could possibly become just the fourth animated feature ever nominated for Best Picture following “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Up” (2009), and “Toy Story 3” (2010), the film has the potential to make an even bigger historical mark on the 2021 Oscars ceremony. That’s because co-writer and co-director Kemp Powers is poised to receive an Original Screenplay nomination for “Soul” to match the expected citation he’ll earn for “One Night in Miami,” the script for which Powers adapted from his own play.

“Soul” currently has broad support from the Gold Derby Experts in the Original Screenplay category, with 17 participants betting on a nomination. If that prediction holds true — a likely scenario for a film so cleverly constructed and sneakily profound — Powers would receive Oscar nominations in both the Original and Adapted Screenplay categories, making him just the second person to ever earn the dual honors following Francis Ford Coppola. (Coppola was nominated in the two categories at the 1975 ceremony for writing “The Godfather Part II” and “The Conversation.”)

SEE 2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Animated Feature

“I’m not expecting anything like this to happen again,” Powers said in a recent interview with Uproxx. “I’m just calling this my Michael Green year. A friend of mine, Michael Green, a couple of years ago, he wrote ‘Logan’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and ‘Murder on The Orient Express’ and they all came out the same year. Things happen when they happen. So, I’ll take it when I can get it! But yeah, I’m very proud of both films.”

Set in New York City, “Soul” focuses on a middle school music teacher named Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who harbors dreams of making it as a musician. But after a freak accident leaves him on the cusp of death’s door, Joe conspires with an unborn soul (voiced by Tina Fey) to get back to Earth and fulfill his dreams. “Soul,” which Disney released via Disney+ on Christmas Day, marks the first time in its history a Pixar movie has featured a Black protagonist. Powers, who is Black, is the first Black feature director Pixar’s ever hired.

“The central themes of the film, questions like, ‘What am I meant to do with my life?’ are not something that just Black people are sitting around thinking about. It’s something we’re all thinking about,” he told Slate in a recent interview. “But you also want to make sure that the world that you’re creating feels like an authentic world, whatever that world may be, so that someone who is of that group—in this case, if you happen to be a Black person from New York—doesn’t bump and say, ‘That is nothing like the world I’ve ever seen.’ You don’t want to take them out of it. And in the best sense, in the perfect world, you want people who are from that group to feel that someone like them had a hand in creating it. And that’s often evident. You can often tell when there’s Black characters but Black people had nothing to do with the creation of those Black characters.”

If Powers earns a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, it would be the 10th time an animated feature wound up in either of the screenwriting categories at the Oscars and the first since “Inside Out” (2015).

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