It might seem that the glamorous blood red carpet and ball gowns of the Oscars have nothing to do with the South. The highly nominated La-La Land and critical favorite Manchester by the Sea exist in places and cultures far beyond the Mason-Dixon line. However, despite the Hollywood hype, four films with a Southern flavor have accumulated numerous nominations.
This historical drama documents the heroic service of Virginia native Desmond Doss, the only conscientious objector awarded the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty. During the Battle of Okinawa, Doss refused to use or carry weapons of any kind and still managed to save seventy-five of lives as a medic. Southern viewers will recognize the familiar drawl of Desmond Doss’ accent and his unwavering devotion to his religious beliefs. As director Mel Gibson said in his video clip honoring Veterans Day, “(Doss) tapped into something way bigger than himself, which I believe was the strength and power of God, so did he, by the way.”
Like a unique Southern Gothic love story, Moonlight follows a young black man’s journey through sexuality and acceptance in Miami, showing how a shy boy can grow bitter in a world of neglect, betrayal, and drug-induced oblivion. Much of the urban South today sings dark notes as too many of our youth crisscross the path of criminality. This film is a sobering reality check, spotlighting the untreated wounds in our cities that have become infectious, but at the same time illustrating the infinite power of love to enable us to transcend our personal tragedies.
Based on the book by Margot Lee Shutterly, the film follows three female “colored computers,” brilliant mathematicians, from Virginia-based Langley Research Center that helped prepare for the U.S’ first manned space flight. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson represent the best parts of the essential American spirit, pursuing their dreams despite the hateful ignorance of others. These ladies have the gumption of authentic Southern belles, not afraid to scuff their heels in the name of the greater good. We all could stand to learn from them what a meaningful Southern legacy looks like.
Based on the events surrounding Loving V. Virginia, the film portrays the romance of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple whose marriage was consecrated and legalized in D.C. but not recognized in their home state of Virginia. Simply because of their varying skin shades, their marriage is illegal. The Lovings humble desire to live together in their home state as husband and wife become a complicated legal battle. By order of the court, they flee to Washington to escape prosecution but eventually come back to Virginia, determined to raise their children in their home state. In the film, when asked by his lawyer what to say to the Supreme Court, Loving (played by Joel Edgerton) said: “Tell them I love my wife.” Loving’s dream to continue loving his wife, and the mathematicians’ dream to succeed in Hidden Figures, are the dream Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about.
Hidden Figures and Loving, depict the trials of living in rural Virginia around the time of the Civil Rights movement. Though these two movies draw focus to an extremely unfortunate time in Southern history, they help us remember the mistakes of the past with better accuracy and work toward a brighter, more inclusive future.
One important fact to note about this year’s Oscar nominations is that many African American stars received nominations, in contrast with the two-years prior streak of #Oscarssowhite. This outcry for diversity stemmed from the fact that only white people were represented in the 20 actors nominated for the lead and supporting acting categories in 2015 and 2016, according to USA Today. Now a record six African American actors received nominations, and three films with a predominately black cast join the running for Best Picture. It seems diversity has made a comeback in the Academy, though of course other minority groups still await better representation in Hollywood. The overwhelming presence and support for these diverse Southern films should encourage film fans and hopefully lead to more features of this caliber.
*Links to the trailers on the Oscars website, in order of mention, can be found here. We claim no rights to them or the pictures borrowed from the site. Enjoy.