12 Years A Slave leads at the SAGs nominations

Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor gained nods at the SAGs.

After failing to secure a win in recent critics awards, 12 Years a Slave gained a boost from The Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which honoured it with 4 nominations, for best ensemble cast, male actor in a leading role for Chiwetel Ejiofor, and supporting for Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o.  Directed by Steve McQueen, the film is an unflinching portrayal of slavery in early America.

Another film dealing with African American history, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which had been overlooked by other award competitions, received a new injection of life with 3 SAG nods: best ensemble cast, male actor in a leading role for Forest Whitaker and female actor in a supporting role for Oprah Winfrey.

These recognitions are a major triumph for black cinema, which has surged this year, critically and commercially, because the SAGs are the first major nominations in the award season and a leading Oscar bellwether, hence more accolades will most likely follow.

Other pictures with 3 nominations, including the best ensemble cast, were August: Osage County, which had been under the radar, and Dallas Buyers Club. American Hustle, which attained 2 nods, rounded out the best ensemble cast nominees.

Competing against Ejiofor and Whitaker in the male actor in a leading role category were Bruce Dern for Nebraska, Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.

The female actor in a leading role category was packed with veteran Oscar-winning thespians: Judi Dench for Philomena, Meryl Streep for August: Osage County, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks.

Vying with Michael Fassbender for male actor in a supporting role were James Gandolfini for Enough Said, newcomer Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips, Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club and Daniel Bruhl for Rush. Meanwhile 3 more ladies will be competing with Oprah Winfrey and Nyong’o in the female actor in a supporting role category: Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle, June Squibb for Nebraska and Julia Roberts for August: Osage County.

Glaringly missing in these nominations were Robert Redford for All is Lost, who won a critic prize last week;  Leonardo Di Caprio and Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street; Joaquin Phoenix for Her; and Ben Stiller for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Last year’s SAG winners  -lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, lead actress Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and supporting actress Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables- all went on to claim the Oscar.

The SAG awards will be handed out at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles on 18th January 2014.

The Butler rules again at the US box office

Without major openings to compete with this weekend, Lee Daniel’s The Butler continued to rule at the top of the US box office, drawing $17 million. Since its release last week, the star-studded drama, which cost less than $30 million to make, has grossed $52.3 million.

Jennifer Aniston’s comedy, We’re The Millers, held well too, claiming the second spot with $13.5 million. The film’s total gross in its third weekend of release stands at $91.7 million.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opened in the third place stateside to a meager $9.3 million over the weekend.

The British comedy The World’s End fared better in its US debut, grossing $8.9 million and landing in the fourth spot, even though it was released only in a limited number of screens.

The surprise hit animation Planes claimed the fifth spot, adding $8.6 million to its coffers, to reach a total gross of $59.6 million.

Overseas, the re-release of Jurassic Park in 3D lead the pack with $30 over the weekend. It was followed by Elysium, which was ranked 6th in the US, with $20 million. The sci-fi auctioneer worldwide gross stands at $139 million.

Monsters University leaped back to 3rd place with $19.6 million to reach a global total of $686 million. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and The Conjuring followed with $18.4 million and $17.7 million respectively.

The Butler overperforms and serves $25 million at the US box office

Lee Daniels’ The Butler shot to the top of the US box office on its opening weekend, grossing $25 million, nearly covering its production cost, which was less than $30 million.  The star-studded drama follows a black White House Butler, who served 8 US presidents, as the African-Americans people journeyed from servitude in the 1940’s to social equality in the 1960’s and ultimately to the presidency of the US in 2008.

Some experts have already attributed the film’s box office success to its biggest star, Oprah Winfrey, who plays the butler’s wife. No one doubts Oprah’s prodigious  public appeal, but The Butler is not the first race-themed movie to garner such commercial success. Just a few months ago, Jackie Robinson biopic 42 beat other high-budget blockbusters to the top of the US box office, and two years ago, the 60’s black maids drama, The Help, triumphed commercially and critically.

The Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis comedy, We’re The Millers, continued to hold on to the second spot with an impressive $17.8 million over the weekend, to reach a total gross of $69.5 million after only 12 days of release.

Actioner Kick-Ass 2 fell short of its predecessor’s nearly $20 million opening in 2010, debuting to only $13.6 million and settling in the third place. Made for $28 million, the sequel features Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Jim Carey, who refused to promote the movie due to its violent nature.

Tying with Kick-Ass 2, last weekend’s box office champion Elysium pushed its Stateside 10-day gross to $56 million. The $130 million sci-fi actioner added a further $20 million overseas, where it topped the box office, bringing its global total to $93.6 million.

Last weekend’s surprise success, animated picture Planes, continued to shine, drawing an extra $13.1 million to rank number 5 at the US box office and reach a total gross of $45.1 million.

The weekend also delivered two more summer flops. Steve Jobs’ biopic, Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher, bowed to only $6.7 million and thriller Paranoia, starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth and Amber Heard, did even worse, opening to a paltry $3.5 million.

The top-four list in the international box office was filled by US box office disappointments. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters took the second spot behind Elysium with $21.8 million, followed by Pacific Rim and The Smurfs 2, both adding a $20 million to their coffers, reaching a global total of $384 million and $206.9 million respectively.

Oprah Winfrey: African American people are real people – Interview

Oprah Winfrey is considered the most influential and most powerful woman on earth, has been ranked the richest African-American in the 20th century and the greatest black philanthropist in American history, presents The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated programme of its kind in history and delivered an estimated one million votes for president Barack Obama in 2008, yet when she recently stepped into a shop in Zürich, Switzerland she was refused the chance to examine a luxury handbag. “That happens to lots of black and brown people every day in their lives, but it was unusual to me, because people usually get excited when I am shopping,” she laughs.

The incident prompted the Swiss government to issue an apology to the queen of talk, who later regretted mentioning it. “I am really sorry that the incident has gotten blown up that way it has,” she says.

In spite of her worldwide fame and recognised face, which often shield her from the racial experiences that other African-Americans have to constantly endure, Oprah has her own tales to tell. In late 1990’s, a store in New York refused to open the door for her, when they saw that she was black, claiming they were closed, although they had just told her over the phone that they were open. And when she complained to the store, upon returning to her home in Chicago, they told her that they had been robbed by two black transvestites.

“What happened to me in that store, it happens to people all the time,” she says. “Black people there are followed, and people think that you don’t have any right to be here. But my experience of race in America is different from other blacks. Literally it does not happen to me that way, because I have always been a part of the corporate world and owning myself and developing my business and career.”

Race is the theme of her new movie, in which she plays Gloria, the wife of eponymous The Butler. Directed by Lee Daniels, the film follows the harrowing journey of African-Americans through the eyes of a White House butler, who served 8 US presidents, from oppressive servitude in the 1940’s to social equality in the 1960’s and ultimately to the presidency of the United States in 2008.

The story of the film reflects the lives of many African-Americans who overcame the hurdles of racism and ascended to the top of the American society. Oprah herself was born in a rural poverty in Mississippi to an unmarried teenage mother and raised by her grandmother, who was so poor that Oprah often wore dresses made of potato sacks. The old lady taught her to read before the age of three and punished her when she misbehaved. By the age of 13, she moved to live with her father in Nashville.

At high school, she became an honours student, was voted the Most Popular Girl and joined the school’s speech team, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretations. Her luminous talent quickly gained her a job at a local black radio station WVL at the age of 17. From there, she moved to Nashville WLAC-TV and then Baltimore’s WJ-TV, where she co-anchored the six o’clock news at the age of 19. Seven years later, In 1983, she moved to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s talk show AM Chicago, which she turned into a phenomenal success and in 1986 renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Oprah’s acting career, however, is quite limited. She co-starred in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1984), for which she garnered an Academy Award nomination, and starred in Beloved in 1998. Hence she approached The Butler  with anxiety and trepidation. “I had not done this for fifteen years and I had given up acting because of my daily job and the work and the time was required to put into the Oprah show,” she says. “I was never able to find the work or find the director or producer, rightfully so for them who could fit my schedule.”

But when she saw Lee Daniels’ award winning movie Precious in 2009, she felt that she had found the right director to work with. “But I was not sure that I still had it,” she laughs. So she hired an acting coach Susan Batson to teach her how to cry. “There was going to be a lot of crying in this scene and I wasn’t sure I could execute it because I didn’t know if I had the technical skill to do that on cue,” Oprah laughs. But within a 20-minute chat with the coach, Oprah was bawling on the sofa. “I am going to need a confidentially agreement for everything I just told you,” Oprah told her. It turned out that the most powerful woman in the world still had vulnerable spaces to tap into in order to connect with Gloria, who had to suffer the life of a black wife and mother when her people were fighting for their civil rights.

That was not enough. Oprah, who has little in common with housewife Gloria, had to surrender her Oprahness in order to connect with the spirit and absorb the energy of her character. She even learned how to smoke, drink and curse, patiently practicing all these bad habits that she eschews and preaches against in real life and wandering around with a pack of herbal cigarettes in her pocket for two months.

There were other challenges for the media mogul, who was forming her OWN network and running her show while filming. “I literally would go shoot a scene and then go do an interview, or get on the phone with my team about the network,” she says. But doing this film was worth it, because the story moved her deeply and because she believes that her role in this universe is to connect people to meaningful stories, so they can see their lives through them.

“I want people to see African-American people as real people, as a family, with tenderness and love and connection, and faith and nurturing and support,” she enthuses. “I want people to feel that and understand the history. I want people to see the context of history against the backdrop of the emotions of the family and come away feeling like wow, wasn’t that something that our country went through?”

In spite of her immense wealth and worldwide fame, Oprah seems like a genuine caring mother, who touches and cuddles everybody around her and smothers them with love and affection. The dark and difficult subject of racism that we dwelt on for over 45 minutes at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills didn’t dim her spirit or wipe the smile off her face. No wonder she is adored by so many people around the world.