Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its annual list of filmmakers and performers who have been invited to join the prestigious group, which is responsible for awarding scholarships and overseeing script contests, but most importantly for voting on the Oscars. The new class of Academy invitees is the first group to be brought in after the implementation of new Academy policies about diversity, following two years in which black films and black filmmakers failed to receive a single nomination in any of the major Oscar categories, which in turn spawned the Twitter movement #OscarsSoWhite. As a group, the new invitees are encouragingly diverse; 46 percent of potential new members are female, and 41 percent of the invitees are people of color. The new group of Academy invitees has worked all over the world, in a variety of mediums, often taking on more than one role in the process of making their films, but as the very lateness of some of these invitations proves: Not all great work gets noticed immediately. We at MTV figured we could introduce you to a handful of the names that might not be as recognizable as newcomers like Idris Elba and Oscar Isaac, but who still got us excited when we were looking at the list.
Devine is a character actress who has starred in over 70 films over the course of her career. In the '90s, she had a run of successful starring roles, including in the 1995 women’s drama and soundtrack favorite of moms everywhere Waiting to Exhale, alongside costars Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston. Devine has also had recent success on television, both as a regular performer on The Carmichael Show and in guest performances, including the performance she gave as Adele Webber on Grey’s Anatomy, which won her an Emmy. But even when Devine is only a supporting player — as she has been for the majority of her filmography — she remains one of the most distinct presences in American film today. Her raspy voice, her natural comic timing, and her warmth make every appearance an appearance worth remembering.
Sofian El Fani
El Fani was the cinematographer on two recent films that made waves following their debuts at the Cannes Film Festival, Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu and Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color. Sissako was invited to join the Academy last year and Kechiche is a fellow member of the class of 2016, but El Fani has been working as a crew member on Kechiche’s camera team since the 2003 film Games of Love and Chance. As cinema increasingly depends on digital filmmaking, El Fani’s eye for spontaneous compositions, natural light, and vibrant colors within a digital format will be an asset to the Cinematography branch.
Only 2 percent of cinematographers of the top 250 films released in 2012 were women, but Caroline Champetier has been shooting films in France for decades with some of the greatest filmmakers of any language — recently with Leos Carax for his 2012 film Holy Motors. As with any prolific cinematographer, she is able to adjust to the visual needs of any filmmaker, whether she’s making a film shot entirely at night for Chantal Akerman or a chic urban drama with Benoit Jacquot.
Frequent Pedro Almodóvar collaborator and saving grace of bad Woody Allen movies, Sonia Grande has worked as a costume designer for 30 years. She has worked in both period and contemporary films, but regardless of the time period, she has shown a gift for managing color within the frame through her costumes and for creating statement pieces that enhance the emotional tenor of the scene without distracting from the movie’s narrative.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Amirpour made her first feature in 2014, with the Persian-language black-and-white vampire thriller, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. She has just wrapped her second feature, The Bad Batch, a zombie film starring Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves, which is scheduled to come out this year, courtesy of Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures.
Cheryl Dunye became a hero of the New Queer Cinema movement in the 1990s with her self-referential first film, The Watermelon Woman, in which she starred as Cheryl, a lesbian filmmaker looking to make a movie about an uncredited woman she saw play a mammy in a 1930s movie. Her recent film The Owls, played at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2010. It featured Dunye in collaboration with lesbian writers, producers, as well as a couple of her co-stars from The Watermelon Woman — including Guinevere Turner, star of the best Taxicab Confession of all time — as Older Wiser Lesbians, hence the title The Owls.
Melvin Van Peebles
At 83 years young, Melvin Van Peebles has lived in one lifetime what most people wouldn’t try to fit into five. He’s worked as a cable car driver, a B52 pilot, a novelist, a stock trader, and a spoken word funk performer, among other gigs, but as a filmmaker, he is best known for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the story of an indomitable black man who escapes from LA after beating down a group of corrupt cops through the good graces of the many women who want to fuck him. The film became a smash hit in 1971, earning what then would have been an astounding $15 million at the box office despite being rated X by the MPAA for the film’s scenes of unsimulated sex—though Van Peebles publicity campaign “Voted X From An All White Jury” probably helped to undo some of the stigma of the rating. Van Peebles starred in the film as the titular Sweetback, and was also responsible for writing, directing, producing, scoring, and performing the stunts (read: the sex) for the film. More than any of the filmmakers invited to join the Academy this year, I wonder if Van Peebles will accept?
One of the filmmakers of the movement known as the L.A. Rebellion, Gerima's techniques both as an artist and as a distributor inspired generations of black artists, maybe most prominently Ava DuVernay, who helped Gerima last year in his work securing funding for a new film. His inclusion in the documentary section and not in the Directors branch strikes me as a little odd, as Gerima’s most successful films from Bush Mama to Sankofa are narrative features, but his voice would add to any room.
Trinh T. Minh-ha
As a postcolonial documentarian, much of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s work has focused on disturbing traditional colonial constructions of ethnography. In her first film, Reassemblage, Trinh ventured to Senegal, but rather than presenting the cultures she found as if she could be an authority on them, Trinh mostly presented the images in silence, including only narration that was unrelated to the people we see as a means to intentionally frustrate a Western audience’s expectations to be able to understand an entire culture from a 40-minute movie. Her work since that first film in 1982 has continued to point to the exoticized nature of making films about different cultures, and she currently works at the University of California, Berkeley as a professor of gender and women’s studies and rhetoric.
Editor extraordinaire for filmmakers including Todd Haynes, Ira Sachs, and Benh Zeitlin, Gonçalves has a gift for cutting images to preserve the rhythms of silent communication, often getting as much meaning out of holding a glance or a pose as he does out of cutting for dialogue.
A key member of an ongoing cinematic movement that has been dubbed the Chilean New Wave, Sebastián Lelio has written and directed four films — most memorably the 2013 film Gloria, about the most fabulous mom in the world, who wears amazing mom glasses, has good sex, has a solid relationship with her daughter, who isn’t about to put up with shit from a man just because she’s not 25 anymore, and who might be a metaphor for Chile after the fall of the dictatorship. It’s unclear why Lelio was only included in the Academy as a writer and not as a director, but for everyone who ever wished the Academy would recognize more films like Bridget Jones, except where Bridget is 20 years older and an actual role model, there’s no better authority in world cinema than Lelio.