13th, I am Not Your Negro and O.J.: Made in America in running for major honor
The dream of a post-racial society -- so hopeful an aspiration in the wake of President Obama's election in 2008 -- now seems like a risible delusion in Trump's America.
Just how far we are from achieving anything approaching equality or racial harmony is evident in the nominations for the Film Independent Spirit Awards announced on Tuesday. Half of the six films recognized for Best Documentary expose the deep fissures in America's race relations.
Ava DuVernay's 13th, I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck and the 464-minute long opus O.J.: Made in America directed by Ezra Edelman are the three race-focused films in the running for the Indie Spirit Award.
Of those three only the O.J. doc also earned a nomination Tuesday from the Producers Guild of America as best feature documentary.
Ava DuVernay's film demonstrates how the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which ostensibly eliminated slavery and involuntary servitude -- except as punishment for a crime -- has led to enslavement of black people by other means. African-American males, in particular, are now incarcerated to such an extent that prison bars substitute for the slaverholders' shackles.
I Am Not Your Negro is based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin who intended before he died to memorialize three of his assassinated friends -- Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Baldwin's words focused largely on the 1960s when each of those men was killed, but his analysis of the racism of that time speaks to our present moment with startling clarity.
Ezra Edelman's documentary on O.J. Simpson embeds the star athlete's life in the broader context of race in America, and his murder trial in the particular context of race relations in Los Angeles. One of the jurors who acquitted Simpson acknowledges in the film, for instance, that the verdict was "pay back" for the failure of a jury in Simi Valley, California to convict white officers on state charges in the beating of Rodney King.
Three other films will compete for best documentary at the Independent Spirit Awards:
>Cameraperson, directed by Kirsten Johnson. The debut film by the renowned cinematographer explores the ethical and moral implications of her craft.
>Sonita, directed by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, the story of an Afghan refugee in Iran who dreams of becoming a rap star. At the Sundance Film Festival last January Sonita won both the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for documentary and the audience award for World Cinema Documentary.
>Under the Sun, directed by Vitaly Mansky. The Russian filmmaker gained permission from the North Korean government to film a girl and her family, but came away with much more revealing footage than what government censors had in mind when they invited him in.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.