Black Reel Awards 2014: 12 Years a Slave Breaks the Record

Posted on February 17, 2014 at 1:37 pm

12-years-a-slave-2I always look forward to the announcement of the Black Reel Awards, which each year pay tribute to the greatest achievements of African-Americans and people of the African Diaspora in feature and independent films and television.  This year, I was especially interested in the results because 2013 was unquestionably the best year in history for African-Americans in film — behind the screen, on the screen, and in the range of stories presented, from the real-life tragedies of “12 Years a Slave,” “Fruitvale Station,” and “Captain Phillips” to the genre films that may not have had lofty artistic aspirations but still gave African-American performers and film-makers a wider range of opportunities to tell their stories, even thrillers and romantic comedies.

12 Years a Slave,” a stunning achievement with a good chance of winning this year’s Best Picture Oscar, was the big winner at the Black Reel Awards, breaking the all-time record set by “Precious” with a sweep of eight awards: Outstanding Motion Picture, outstanding actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Outstanding Supporting Actress for dazzling newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, who also won Outstanding Female Breakthrough Performance, Outstanding Director for Steve McQueen, Outstanding Screenplay for John Ridley, Outstanding Ensemble, and Outstanding Score for Hans Zimmer.  “The fact that in one of the strongest years for Black film in recent memory, one film was able to be so dominant is a testament to the vision of Steve McQueen, the screenplay by John Ridley and the fantastic performances of the trio of actors led by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o,” said Black Reel Awards creator and Executive Director, Tim Gordon. “This will be a year no one forgets.”

Other notable awards went to “Captain Phillips'” Barkhad Abdi (Outstanding Supporting Actor and Outstanding Male Breakthrough Performance) and Danai Gurira (Outstanding Actress) for her role in “Mother of George,” the story of Nigerian immigrants living in Brooklyn and struggling with infertility.  Documentary honors went to “20 Feet from Stardom,” about the back-up singers who perform on hit records and are usually overlooked.  A documentary about gay rights in the African-American community, “The New Black,” won the award for Outstanding Independent Documentary.  Outstanding Independent Feature went to “Blue Caprice,” the story of the DC snipers.

The full list of awardees:

Outstanding Motion Picture
12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Actress
Danai Gurira | Mother of George

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi | Captain Phillips

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong’o | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Director
Steve McQueen | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Screenplay
John Ridley | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Documentary
20 Feet From Stardom | Morgan Neville

Outstanding Ensemble
12 Years a Slave | Francine Maiser

Outstanding Foreign Film
War Witch | Canada

Outstanding Score
Hans Zimmer | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Original Song
“Desperation” by Judith Hill | 20 Feet From Stardom

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male
Barkhad Abdi | Captain Phillips

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female
Lupita Nyong’o | 12 Years a Slave

Outstanding Voice Performance
Samuel L. Jackson | Turbo

Outstanding Independent Feature
Blue Caprice | Alexandre Moors

Outstanding Independent Documentary
The New Black | Yoruba Richen

Outstanding Independent Short
Black Girl in Paris | Kiandra Parks

Outstanding Television Documentary
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley | Whoopi Goldberg

Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Outstanding TV Movie Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor | Dancing on Edge

Outstanding TV Movie Actress
Anika Noni Rose | The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Outstanding Supporting Actor, TV Movie
Omari Hardwick | Being Mary Jane

Outstanding Supporting Actress, TV Movie
Octavia Spencer | Call Me Crazy: A Five Film

Outstanding Director, TV Movie
Spike Lee | Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Outstanding Screenplay, TV Movie
Mara Brock Akil | Being Mary Jane





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Awards Race and Diversity

Interview: Nicholas Britell, Composer of “12 Years a Slave”

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 8:00 am

One of the most powerful moments in the extraordinary film 12 Years a Slave has its main character, Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) joining with the other slaves to sing a spiritual.  It was a great pleasure to speak with the talented young composer, Nicholas Britell, who wrote “My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)” and “Roll Jordan Roll” as well as three traditional fiddle tunes on the soundtrack.  He painstakingly researched this lost form of music, which was never recorded and in many cases never written out, in an effort to bring the most accurate musical representation and help to tell this story.

Tell me a little bit about the research that you did to create music of this period.

It was a really unique challenge because the main character is a violinist and the movie itself, we knew, was going to have so much music in it, literally onscreen in the world of the characters.  And it’s interesting because the 1840s is such a long time ago that we don’t have recordings, obviously until 50 to 60, 70 years later.  And then on top of that, the spirituals themselves in the 1840s, there was really no music notation that was ever done of those songs.  We only started getting people attempting to notate the songs of the slaves around the Civil War time.  And even then, all the notes that they tried to write down, they all talked about how difficult it was, and how Western notation wasn’t really able to notate the sounds that they were hearing, people singing in the fields.  Today, we can imagine that it was because of the unique rhythms, the syncopations, the African rhythms, all of the different cultural influences of those people who were there in the field.  On the one hand, there is much as possible about whatever there was to be known but then we had to attempt to, essentially, recreate and re-imagine the sound because we’ll never really know what it actually sounded like in the 1840s.  So I went to the library, I read everything I could, I looked at primary source texts.  And there were two angles of the research: one was figuring out what was the music that Solomon would have played, and then what the slaves’ music would be.   So the first question is really “What would an African-American violinist have played in New York in 1841?”  Very interesting,  very specific question.

What I discovered was there is much more research on the string music traditions certainly that goes back many hundred years so I was able to ascertain pretty well that the music that he probably would have been settling was very influenced by Scottish and Irish folk tunes.  He wasn’t playing Beethoven but, interestingly, by way of re-imagining that world because it was so close to that era, this was within 12 years of Schubert’s death, essentially.  That’s where we’re talking.  Mendelssohn was still alive in Europe.  Schumann was composing in Europe so some of the music that might have been coming over was some of this classical music and I imagined Solomon was a very accomplished violinist.

That was the starting point of mine.  And because of that, I imagined that he might have had knowledge of a lot of different music potentially.  So, on the one hand, while he was playing some of his Irish and Scottish folk tunes, I actually worked very hard with the violinist Tim Fain, an amazing violinist.  We worked very hard to sort of imagine a unique sound for the violin that actually had elements of almost classical technique but not really.  We wanted it to have a different feel than what we imagined fiddling sounds like today just to really kind of re-imagine that sound and give it a unique quality so we even did things like, there’s research that indicate the fiddlers would have held the violin more low-slung on their shoulder, the tuning would have been different.  So we really tried to incorporate all of these thoughts into the way that, not only, the music was arranged and written because some of those are actually totally new songs that I wrote, some are arrangements of traditional songs that the research indicated might very well been played by Solomon.

But then the big thing was the sound.  We really wanted to make sure that it had a very interesting quality to it.

Where is this research?  Where do you go to look that stuff up?

I went to the library, I went on the internet, I spoke with people.  We spoke with many on the violin side.  I worked with Tim, the violinist, very closely.  We know a lot of people in the string music world so there were many different angles on the question but, frankly, a lot of it is just going back to very old books and history books.  It’s interesting because, actually, not that much was written on the music of the 1840s specifically.  There’s a lot more music history written, it seems, on the Colonial Era.  And then on the Civil War Era.

But the 1840s was an interesting period where, certainly, there was a lot of music going on in America.  This was a world in America where every town had its own sort of like brass band.  It was a very unique and fascinating musical world but, again, there just wasn’t much specifically on that decade so it was interesting.  The more challenging side was really with the spirituals because the spirituals themselves and the work songs are something that, just by their nature, weren’t being notated.  I think one thing I tried to be very conscious of was how much music changes in very short periods of time.  Even 20 to 30 years can be a long time stylistically in music.  It’s basically 20, 30 years between what the classical era of music and the romantic era of music.  It’s 30 years between the height of Jazz and then Rock ‘n’ Roll really.   So if you then imagine how different music would be a hundred years apart that I try to be very conscious of the responsibility of it.   I tried to balance and really come up with very strong rationale for why I was thinking in a certain way but interestingly, there is a lot that you can find.

There’s a lot of research on the lyrics.  It’s a lot easier to find information on the lyrics than the music itself.  So lyrically, certain things are true that there was definitely quite a bit of Biblical influence and also, lyrically, every culture has work songs going back to the dawn of time where these were songs that were sung to get through the day and actually to functionally sort of help you do your work.  So the work songs in the fields are like the song I wrote “My Lord Sunshine.” I spent a lot of time, not only lyrically trying to get it right and musically imagining it but rhythmically to figure out even just the tempo of it so it matched the swinging of the cane chopping which was another sort of variable to think about.  There were a lot of different sort of variables to get right and that song lyrics really were there’s Biblical influence.  And while I was writing, I felt like I tried to put myself in the mind of if you were working 10, 11 hours a day under the hot sun, what would you have been singing to get through that day.  I think that I imagined the Biblical influence of “my Lord.”  But also the sunshine is such an omnipresent element to that so the lyrics, things like “it’s late, it’s hot, my Lord Sunshine” things like that so it all felt very true to life to what might have been like.


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Composers Interview Music

Alliance of Women Film Journalist Awards 2013

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 6:00 am

I’m honored, as always, to be a part of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and proud to announce our awards for 2013


12-years-a-slave-2Best Film

  • 12 Years a Slave

Best Director (Female or Male)

  • Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Best Screenplay, Original

  • Her – Spike Jonze

Best Screenplay, Adapted

  • John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave

Best Documentary

  • Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley

Best Animated Film

  • The Wind Rises – Hayao Miyazaki

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Dallas-buyers-clubBest Actor

  • Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Best Ensemble Cast

  • American Hustle

Best Editing

  • Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger

Best Cinematography

  • Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Film Music Or Score

  • Inside Llewyn Davis – T-Bone Burnett

Best Non-English-Language Film

  • The Hunt – Thomas Vinterberg – Denmark

These awards honor WOMEN only.

enough-saidBest Woman Director

  • Nicole Holofcener – Enough Said

Best Woman Screenwriter

  • Nicole Holofcener – Enough Said

Kick Ass Award For Best Female Action Star

  • Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Best Animated Female

  • Anna (Kristen Bell) in Frozen

Best Breakthrough Performance

  • Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave

Actress Defying Age and Ageism

  • Sandra Bullock – Gravity

AWFJ EDA Female Icon Award
(Presented to an actress for the portrayal of the most positive female role model, or for a role in which she takes personal and/or career risks to plumb the female psyche and therefore gives us courage to plumb our own, and/or for putting forth the image of a woman who is heroic, accomplished, persistent, demands her rights and/or the rights of others.)

  • Angelina Jolie for continued commitments to humanitarian causes, and for promoting awareness about breast cancer.

This Year’s Outstanding Achievement By A Woman In The Film Industry
(Presented only when warranted to a female who has had a banner-making, record-breaking, industry-changing achievement during any given year.)

  • Haaifa Al-Mansour for challenging the limitations placed on women within her culture by making the film Wadjda.


the-counselor-posterAWFJ Hall Of Shame Award

  • The Counselor – Ridley Scott

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent

  • Cameron Diaz for The Counselor

Movie You Wanted To Love But Just Couldn’t Award

  • The Counselor

Unforgettable Moment Award

  • 12 Years A Slave – Solomon Northrup hanging

Best Depiction Of Nudity, Sexuality, or Seduction Award

  • Her – Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix for their digital lovemaking.

Sequel or Remake That Shouldn’t Have Been Made Award (Tie)

  • Carrie
  • Oz, Great and Powerful

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Leading Man and The Love Interest Award

  • Last Vegas – Michael Douglas and Bre Blair
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Washington Area Film Critics Association: 2013 Awards

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

And the winners are….

Best Film:
12 Years a Slave

Best Director:
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Best Actor:
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Best Supporting Actor:
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Supporting Actress:
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Best Acting Ensemble:
12 Years a Slave

Best Youth Performance:
Tye Sheridan (Mud)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Best Original Screenplay:
Spike Jonze (Her)

Best Animated Feature:

Best Documentary:

Best Foreign Language Film:
The Broken Circle Breakdown

Best Art Direction:
Production Designer: Catherine Martin, Set Decorator: Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Cinematography:
Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, A.M.C. (Gravity)

Best Editing:
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger (Gravity)

Best Original Score:
Hans Zimmer (12 Years a Slave)

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC:
Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Members of WAFCA discuss the awards on this special edition of Keeping it Reel:

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Awards 2013: Gotham, National Board of Review, NY Film Critics

Posted on December 5, 2013 at 8:29 pm

The first movie awards of 2013 are in.  I’ve already cast my first round of votes for three more upcoming awards and will vote on the Washington Area Film Critics Awards over the weekend.

National Board of Review

Best Film:  HER

Best Director: Spike Jonze, HER

Best Actor: Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA

Best Actress: Emma Thompson, SAVING MR. BANKS

Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, NEBRASKA

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, FRUITVALE STATION

Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Best Animated Feature: THE WIND RISES

Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan, FRUITVALE STATION
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR

Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, FRUITVALE STATION

Best Foreign Language Film:  THE PAST

Best Documentary: STORIES WE TELL

William K. Everson Film History Award: George Stevens, Jr.

Best Ensemble:  PRISONERS

Spotlight Award: Career Collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: WADJDA

Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award: GRAVITY


Top Films
(in alphabetical order)











Top 5 Foreign Language Films

(In Alphabetical Order)







Top 5 Documentaries

(In Alphabetical Order)








Top 10 Independent Films

(In Alphabetical Order)












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