Creed—the Rocky-spinoff boxing movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone—exceeded expectations at the box office over the Thanksgiving weekend. This year has seen a few films with black actors—The Perfect Guy, Straight Outta Compton, War Room—do notably well in ticket sales. But Creed has also earned critical acclaim—and a bit of Oscar buzz.
As Tomris Laffly argues for Film School Rejects, Creed is not just a crowd-pleasing sports flick, but "a prestigious picture with notable work from both in front of and behind the camera talent."
She's correct: While on the surface, the film might seem like a predictable, formulaic boxing story (fighter fights, fighter loses, fighter learns something, fighter wins) it is actually full of surprises and brimming with emotion. Creed is a not a story about boxing, really, at all—it's about heart. Love. What it really means to fight for something, and what it really means to "win." Laffly gushes that Michael B. Jordan "delivers a physically demanding, emotionally exhaustive and all-together a captivating performance with humor and infectious magnetism," and calls Ryan Coogler's directing "electric." It's an impressive combination. This movie deserves recognition and awards.
But will Oscar voters see it that way?
Last year, there were zero people of color in the four major acting categories at the Academy Awards—prompting an #OscarsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter. That season, actor David Oyelowo brought a transcendent performance as Martin Luther King to director Ava DuVernay's film Selma—but neither he nor she were nominated; actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw was stunning in Beyond The Lights, but she didn't get a nod, either. As Nico Lang points out at Salon, "this year’s honorees are shaping up to be just as white."
While the official nominations will not be announced until January, various critics and websites are offering predictions, and the majority of the actors mentioned are, once again, white. Lang notes that Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) and Will Smith (Concussion) seem to be out of the running, since neither of their films are being very well-received.
But it's tough to say whether Creed—which not only stars a black actor but is directed by a young black man, from a script written by two black men, and shot by a female cinematographer—will be embraced by those in the Academy who vote on the Oscar awards. In 2013, Cheryl Boone Isaacs was elected the Academy's first African-American president. Yet in that same year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Academy was 93% white and 76% male. And this issue persists: Earlier this year, a study conducted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that of the top 100 films of 2014, 73% percent of all roles were played by white actors, and only 30% of speaking roles went to women. Just this week, Chaz Ebert—wife of the late highly esteemed film critic Roger Ebert—wrote about the need for diverse voices in film criticism for The Daily Beast:
A wide spectrum of voices is critical in challenging the mainstream white male-dominated narrative that drives much of Hollywood and the popular media. Being introduced to diverse critical voices and opinions in the arts not only affects how we see the world but also has a profound influence on how we begin to heal it.
In other words, Hollywood is shooting itself in the foot by not focusing on diversity. But here we are. The industry is not inclusive, the people writing about the industry are not diverse, and the biggest award in the business is decided on by a bunch of old white guys. Does Creed even have a chance? Maybe. Laffly believes just talking about how great Creed is might help, noting that Jordan is worthy:
Any lesser actor would have been swallowed by the legacy of the franchise, but Jordan coolly makes his character his own…
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I wonder what would happen if all the same people who support and/or predict a Stallone nomination also got behind and advocated a Michael B. Jordan narrative, if they like his performance as much as I do. It’s worth a try.
She points to a tweet by Bilge Ebiri, who's a film critic at New York magazine:
And at Salon, Lang agrees that Michael B. Jordan could have a shot:
The Oscars won’t solve racism in Hollywood, but they should continue to address their own blind spots. Their best chance to do so—and avoid another all-white acting race—may be Michael B. Jordan, star of “Creed.” Jordan shines in the title role…
The movie is inspirational on so many levels. It made Barry Jenkins—another black filmmaker trying to make it in Hollywood—feel pumped:
All parties mentioned so far are not alone; Creed's won over many influential critics. A.O. Scott of The New York Times calls it "a dandy piece of entertainment, soothingly old-fashioned and bracingly up-to-date." Rolling Stone's Peter Travers deems it a "winner," Stephanie Zacharek at Time declares the film a "knockout," and David Sims at The Atlantic praises it as being "fresh" and "invigorating." Still, none of this may add up to Oscar recognition. But with rave reviews and a booming box office, Creed is proof that a film with a diverse cast and crew—an overlooked entity in Hollywood—deserves a chance to step into the ring. And really, the question is: If a movie largely fueled by black people has critical and commercial success and the mostly-white Oscars voters don't nominate it for an award, are the Oscars even fucking relevant?