The 2017 Oscars are just days away and the best picture race is heating up with a late push for the hit biopic Hidden Figures. With over $163 million in ticket sales, Hidden Figures remains a popular film with domestic moviegoers, although musical La La Land remains the strong favorite to win on Sunday.
Oscar statues to be used for Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards red carpet stand in a parking lot near Hollywood Boulevard. [Image by Chris Pizzello/AP Images]
Public opinion on which film deserves Best Picture honors is decidedly split. In a poll conducted by movie website Fandango, Hidden Figures managed to squeak out a win over La La Land with the final tally being 26-25 percent. Hidden Figures also pulled off an upset win over the competition in the Outstanding Performance by a Cast category at the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards held in January.
Taraji P. Henson, from right, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, Kimberly Quinn, and Saniyya Sidney, foreground left, accept the award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture for “Hidden Figures” at the 23rd annual SAG Awards. [Image by Chris Pizzello/AP Images]
Though La La Land wasn’t even nominated for a SAG, Hidden Figures win still chipped away at the inevitability of a Best Picture win for the Damien Chazelle directed musical. As USA Today noted, four of past six winners in the Outstanding Performance by a Cast category at the SAG awards have gone on to claim the most coveted award at the Oscars. Also, standing in the way of La La Land‘s chances is the fact that it would be only the second film in history that won Best Picture after being snubbed by the SAG awards (the first was Mel Gibson’s Braveheart).
In spite of its positive story and praised acting by leads Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures has faced criticism for its conventional storytelling and direction. In his review for A.V. Club, Jesse Hassenger stated that film was flawed due to director Theodore Melfi’s penchant for “cuteness and obviousnesses.”
New dish post: Hidden Figures is just not that good of a movie. https://t.co/1CpEzHDq5c
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) February 23, 2017
"One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong." https://t.co/KiDFKKMtd9 pic.twitter.com/3Vu9XPRKxw
— Radheyan Simonpillai (@JustSayRad) February 23, 2017
So how could Hidden Figures pull off the upset? For starters, it is the type of feel-good, tearjerker film that Oscar voters have historically embraced. Based on real-life events, Hidden Figures tells the story of three African-American trailblazers at NASA overcoming racism and sexism. “It hits every single sweet spot,” says Vanity Fair editor Krista Smith.
Hidden Figures may also be benefiting from a backlash building against La La Land. Once praised for its escapist vibe and lush imagery, La La Land has faced criticism for its lack of realism and depoliticized tone. “For the millions of Americans who are depressed and anxious about the state of the nation,” The Guardian writer Noah Gittel wrote, “La La Land is a trifle that seems more substantial because of our need for distraction.”
Another criticism that La La Land has faced is its depiction of jazz music. Though he has been praised for his performance as a jazz purist, critics have expressed unease at Ryan Gosling’s character representing the embodiment of artistic integrity and traditionalism. The film, argues Seve Chambers in a piece for Vulture, pushes a “conservative vision” of what jazz is through Gosling’s Sebastian.
There are also those who are pushing for a Hidden Figures win because it is a rare box-office success story where a film starring black women is embraced by mainstream audiences and critics alike.
In the aftermath of 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, there has been speculation that Oscar voters may feel pressure to atone for a lack of diversity in previous years.
During an interview with CNN, #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign referenced Hidden Figures specifically as a film with a diverse cast that succeeded based first and foremost by connecting with audiences through good storytelling and acting. “When given the opportunity,” Reign noted, “films that reflect the diversity of this country will shine.”
It remains to be seen if Hidden Figures walks away with an improbable win at the Oscars, but the film should not be counted out just yet. The film’s acclaim, cultural impact, and inspirational tone make it a strong contender to stop La La Land from claiming the big prize on Sunday night.
[Featured Image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]