As Sarah and I have mentioned multiple times re: the 2021/2022 award season, it’s a very competitive year in several categories. Rebecca Hall’s Passing has been received solid reviews – including one from Sarah posted last week but it’s still considered an underdog because of all the other quality films in contention. The film’s stars, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, are currently not in the top five for predictions for the acting categories, but they do show up in the six to ten positions, so there’s some work to do if they’re to increase their chances.
About Passing though – Joseph Bien-Kahn reported an insightful piece last week for Vulture about “How To Get a Black-Led Indie Film Funded in Hollywood” and it says so much about how the financing challenges experienced by female filmmakers, especially when they’re telling stories about race, and when the lead actors are women of colour. Initially, the part of Ruth Negga’s racist white husband was to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch and it was because of Benedict’s involvement that they were able to secure investment. Even though, again, the film is about two biracial women.
“The role was tiny — it would shoot over three days and account for a handful of minutes onscreen—but for certain financiers, a Dr. Strange cameo was worth more than any of the other actors (including Thompson, who had appeared alongside Cumberbatch in Avengers: Endgame). By October 2019, it became clear Cumberbatch couldn’t make the timing work. Without the white star, a few of the financiers worried the movie would no longer be a viable investment.”
Sure enough, when Benedict had to drop out, they lost some of their financing. So they had to scramble to cast someone who could step into the role but who might also be a big enough name to bring in some money:
“It fell on Nina Yang Bongiovi — whose company, Significant Productions, was producing the film — to convince her investors the vision for the film was strong enough to survive the loss of a bankable white star. At one point, [Tessa] Thompson — also an executive producer on the film — came over as Bongiovi, [Rebecca] Hall, and producer Margot Hand were brainstorming Cumberbatch replacements. “She was like, ‘Should I call Chris Hemsworth?’” Bongiovi recalls. They considered it for a moment before moving on — it would read too much as stunt casting to reunite Thor and Valkyrie in this period piece. Still, Bongiovi was moved; it was clear Thompson grasped the realities of how Hollywood works.
“Should I call Chris Hemsworth?”
I mean, that says it all. Imagine how troubling it was for that team to know that their film is about two women who are navigating white supremacy and how it shapes their personal identities and still have to reply on white men to be able to tell their stories. Still, Tessa was willing to make that call because that’s how much the story means to her and, well, clearly she’s a pragmatist. That’s just the first part of the story, which is about how Nina Yang Bongiovi and her team hustled to make it happen and the work of independent production companies representing emerging filmmakers and diverse narratives. Forest Whittaker comes up and so does Ryan Coogler – it’s well worth your read.
As for Tessa, well, we’ve long known her commitment to diversity in film and television, and it’s a good example not only of her understanding of the realities of the business but also her pragmatism. Change is slow, and sometimes to get the thing you want to get made, it requires both push and compromise.
Tessa was honoured at the InStyle awards last night and, as usual, she wasn’t there to play it safe. She went with black Christian Siriano gown shaped like a tulip – a bold look that she paired with braids, minimal on the accessories, and low-key on makeup. I love it but I just wish the carpet was better lit, because it’s so hard to see the details:
Lana Condor also took a risk with her choice. Here she is in black and white and polka dots – shorts, with a half-sash and a train. While it’s not my favourite, I appreciate the effort and the fun. It doesn’t mean anything if it’s not fun.
Speaking of risks though, maybe the biggest risk was January Jones. Like, I’ll try to defend any offbeat look but this is beyond my abilities. That shade of green is so hard to get right and especially in this material. Also the boots just come out of nowhere and aren’t welcome.
Finally, it’s been a strong year for Alexandra, perhaps the most important so far of her career. She was outstanding in The White Lotus, her best performance so far – and with it I think she showed the industry that she’s capable of a lot more complexity and range than she was previously given credit for. It’s exactly the kind of work she can build on.
As for this red plaid outfit, I like it a lot – maybe not with the matching red lip – and in a way, it stands out from the sequins and the gowns, but I’m not sure this was the event for it at this time of year, with holiday decorations coming out in full swing now, it seems a little too… Santa’s Workshop staff? In February or March, the look plays entirely differently, right?