Ever since the first red band trailer for Straight Outta Compton was released in February, the N.W.A. biopic has been riding a wave of strong buzz, which grew bigger and bigger as the months went by. As we got closer and closer to the August 14 release, the glowingly positive reviews started to flood in. Now that Straight Outta Compton is a bona fide hit among critics (89% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences ($56.1 million at the box office this weekend) alike, there is still one question that remains: is Straight Outta Compton a true Oscar contender?
On Saturday night, one day after Straight Outta Compton hit theaters, the N.W.A. biopic was screened for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members at the 1012-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. The Hollywood Reporter reveals that, while most of these screenings draw small crowds, especially before Oscar contenders start hitting theaters in the fall, Straight Outta Compton's screening was between 80 to 85% full, according to an anonymous Oscar voter. This voter stated that a different screening last week brought in approximately 200 members. A Universal Pictures rep, who was monitoring attendance, said the screening drew well over 700 viewers.
The Oscar voters were reportedly so taken by the movie that, after a powerful scene before the N.W.A. biopic's opening credits was actually met with applause, a rare occurrence that, according to one member, has only happened a few times over the past few years. This anonymous member claimed that certain musical numbers in Chicago, Anne Hathaway's show-stopping song in Les Miserables and the heart-pounding finale in Argo are some of the only scenes that warranted applause from these Oscar voters. One voter also added that they spoke with several members after the screening and they were all very impressed. Here's what this anonymous voter had to say about the post-screening Q&A with producers Ice Cube and Scott Bernstein, producer-director F. Gary Gray and actors O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Antonio Hawkins and Jason Mitchell,
"They handled the crowd expertly. Ice Cube said to the crowd, 'I'm not anti-police,' even though there's a lot of police brutality portrayed in the film. He said, 'I support the police.'"
With all of that being said, does Straight Outta Compton have a shot at the Oscar Awards? Another anonymous voter revealed that, while the biopic succeeds on a number of levels, it's still very early in the awards season race. Here's what this Oscar voter had to say.
"It succeeds as a studio picture while transcending what that usually is. It's a very visceral, poetic, terrific film. It is worthy of some real consideration, particularly I think for acting, directing and even best picture - but, but, it's very early in the season, and there are a zillion other pictures coming out."
Straight Outta Compton also comes along at a time when the Academy has been trying to increase diversity among its membership. The Academy came under fire for their controversial Oscar snub of David Oyelowo for his critically-acclaimed performance in Selma. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Birdman. David Oyelowo himself said in an interview that he believes the Academy rarely recognizes performances from African-American actors, unless they are in "subservient roles." We'll have to wait and see if Straight Outta Compton can buck this trend.
2013's Best Picture winner, the powerful drama 12 Years a Slave, earned Lupita Nyong'o her first Oscar, for her performance as the slave Patsey. While some may believe this Oscar win proves the Academy no longer avoids matters of race, another anonymous voter said that isn't exactly the case. Here's what this Academy member had to say about his fellow voters.
"Just because [my fellow members] liked 12 Years a Slave does not mean they're all open to this. I loved 12 Years a Slave, but let's be honest, it's the Masterpiece Theatre version of that story, and we all know how popular Masterpiece Theatre is and who its audience is. I hate to say this, but when you think about all the members who will not see the film or who will watch it for 20 minutes at home and then say it's too violent - that may be a problem. Plus, a lot of members who do see it, won't get it - they just don't understand the richness, the variety, the rhythm of what movies can be. They still wish all movies were like The Sound of Music."
One thing Straight Outta Compton does have going for it, in terms of its Oscar chances, is it's a Los Angeles story set in the entertainment industry, films which have typically fared well during Oscar season. Recent Best Picture winners Crash, The Artist, Argo and Birdman are all either set in L.A. or feature some facet of the movie business, so this could certainly help Straight Outta Compton's chances to take home Oscar gold next year. Do you think Straight Outta Compton should be an Oscar contender?