Entertainment reporter/Internet hate object Nikki Finke reacted to the death of Nelson Mandela by tweeting that the icon was the subject of a movie, out now in theaters, and brimming with “award buzz.” Because the Internet is what it is, this sparked a hate-wave of tweets attacking Finke’s callousness. I think Sonny Bunch gets the story exactly right:
Nikki Finke is an entertainment reporter who is myopically focused on the business. A key part of her job is talking about awards season. There is a movie about Nelson Mandela out now. It is, in fact, garnering awards buzz. This is her beat. It’s what she covers. What would you have preferred? Yet another RIP tweet? A deep examination of the geopolitics of the United States’ reluctance to support him during the Cold War? A personal story about how he changed her life?
Also, it’s getting to that time of year when members of the academy nominate actors, editors, costume designers, and sound editors for Oscars. Insofar as the Oscars are a media story, the death of Mandela right before voters decide whether to honor Idris Elba for playing Mandela is an interesting wrinkle. Will it help him get a nod for a movie that’s being gently panned by critics as a “lesson in how not to make a historical biopic?” Probably, yeah, sure. The Iron Lady was a cinematic shonda, which reduced the career of Margaret Thatcher to some voice lessons and yelling, and it nabbed an Oscar for Meryl Streep.
This should be a warning: The 2014 Oscar race for Best Actor threatens an avalanche of think-pieces. If the five nominations came down today, they’d probably look like this.
Idris Elba, for playing world hero and racism-defeater Nelson Mandela
Chiwetel Ejiofor, for playing a man kidnapped and sold into slavery
Matthew McConaughey, for playing a straight man who caught AIDS and became a FDA-beating hero drug smuggler
Tom Hanks, for playing a captain who was kidnapped by Somali pirates and rescued by American military power
Forrest Whitaker, for playing a humble black butler who served white presidents and saw the civil rights struggle up close
All five of these characters are based on real people; only Whitaker’s is highly fictionalized, but the concept was taken from a profile of an actual butler. Four of them portray epic moral victories over oppression and bigotry. Compare that to the 2013 field, which pit Jean Valjean against Joaquin Phoenix’s creepy cult member (The Master), or the 2012 field, which asked voters to choose between a statistics-obsessed baseball manager (Moneyball), a guy negotiaiting a real estate sale (The Descendents), and an out-of-luck actor (The Artist). Is there any way to pick a winner this time and not re-enact 2004’s outrage over the defeat of Brokeback Mountain?