The case for and against ‘BlacKkKlansman’

We’re just days away (thank god) from the Academy Awards, and, after a topsy turvy precursor season, we still genuinely have no idea what’s winning Best Picture. Every so-called “frontrunner” has both strong positives and damning negatives against their Oscar campaign, leaving us prognosticators scratching our heads for what to declare our final prediction this year.

So, like in previous years, The Jam Report is here to analyse the films nominated for Best Picture and present the case for and against each nominee being our eventual winner. As we know, winning Best Picture is not just about being a great film. There are other factors at play here that we all need to take into consideration.

First cab off the rank is Spike Lee’s unflinching and uncompromising masterwork, BlacKkKlansman. After a chequered history with the Oscars, Lee returns to form with a vengeance with a powerful film that has run an impeccable campaign since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival all the way back in May. With six key nominations and a powerful chorus of support, could this prove to be the upset victory that will bring the house down?

Why it could win Best Picture:

The Spike Lee narrative. There are many who still remember the egregious crime that was the Oscars’ snub of Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing. Not only did they fail to nominate the film for Best Picture, but Lee was also not nominated for Best Director and he lost Best Original Screenplay to Dead Poet’s Society. The Academy also failed to acknowledge Lee’s direction or writing of Malcolm X in 1992. To say he’s overdue for some Oscar love is an understatement. The man is highly respected and adored within the industry, and many will be rooting for him to not only take home Best Adapted Screenplay but see him walk off with the major prize too.

It’s overperformed. With its “outside the Oscar season” August release date, many thought BlacKkKlansman had arrived too early to make a dent in awards season. But it’s consistently proven the naysayers wrong by showing up in the nominations of every major awards show thus far. It captured the all-important SAG Ensemble nomination. It’s there for the other three big guilds in PGA, DGA, and WGA. Its six Oscar nominations are in six major categories, showing the film is beloved by all sectors of the Academy. It’s been the one film this year people have constantly underestimated. Underestimating its Best Picture chances could prove equally perilous.

The importance factor. As we’ve seen time and time and time again, the film that takes Best Picture often stands as the most “important” film of the year. With its timely narrative and relevant connection to the current state of race relations in the U.S., nothing feels as important as BlacKkKlansman this year, particularly after the film’s damning conclusion that connects a 1970s Ku Klux Klan rally to the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. This is the film America needed to see right now. It’s a piece of cinema to wake up a generation sleeping on the rise of white supremacy, led by the man in the White House who refused to condemn something so undoubtedly condemnable. The film’s relevance could make it unstoppable.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

It hasn’t won anything. While it may have surprised some pundits by receiving key nominations across the board this season, BlacKkKlansman hasn’t won a single award at any of these major ceremonies. Sure, it took out the Grand Prix at Cannes, but victories at Cannes are fairly superfluous to the Oscar race. Since 1967, no Grand Prix winner has gone on to take Best Picture (most aren’t even nominated), so it’s an issue that BlacKkKlansman hasn’t seen a win anywhere else this season. Lee hasn’t had the chance to give a great and powerful victory speech, which we know can change the trajectory of a film’s chances. The lack of wins could give a perception the film is not a real contender and not something worth wasting your vote on.

It’s a “feel-bad” film. It may sound absurd, but films with conclusions that leave you feeling rather depressed rarely win Best Picture, especially in the last decade. There’s no denying the ending of BlacKkKlansman is enormously powerful and compelling, but it’s also bleak, alarming, and downright unsettling. That’s exactly how Lee wants it, but it’s not the kind of ending that causes people rushing to their Oscar ballot. The climax stands as a furious call to action, but it also raises terrifying alarm bells at how dire the situation is right now in America. Even something as dour as Schindler’s List managed to end on somewhat of a positive note. There’s rightly very little positivity to be found in BlacKkKlansman, and, sadly, that’s an issue.

Not everyone in Hollywood is a liberal. While the arts community has generally leant towards the left side of the political aisle, not everyone in the Academy falls into this group. There’s a hefty dose of right-leaning members who won’t take kindly to something like BlacKkKlansman. There are likely quite a few Trump supporters to be found in the Academy’s ranks, and the film’s direct target on the President won’t sit well with them. Lee holds no punches. Nor should he. But when you need to win over a consensus vote on a preferential ballot, getting political is the easiest way to lose potentially half the vote. Is there an element of inherent racism here too? Perhaps, but the recent victories of Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave have cast doubt on whether race still plays a part in the Best Picture race.

Major wins: None

Major nominations: PGA, DGA, WGA, SAG, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, AFI

Can the film many have underestimated all season pull off an unexpected victory? Will it be the first film in years to win Best Picture without a single major victory preceding it? Is this finally the year of Spike Lee? Am I actually predicting BlacKkKlansman to win Best Picture? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday, February 24.

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