The 10 Blacks Breakouts of 2011By Wilson Morales
December 27, 2011
As the 2011 year is set to close in a few days, it’s time look back and acknowledge some of the performers that stood out this year from newcomers and veteran talent who elevated their game to another level.
There were plenty of directors, producers, and actors that brought attention to the films they did and while some of theses films may not have the luxury of having played in numerous theaters or becoming box office hits, the journey that each took or displayed was worthy of attention that captured audiences throughout the year.
In no particular order, here are the 10 Black Breakouts of 2011.
First shown at Sundance as a short story in 2008, writer/director Dee Rees came back to the festival in 2011 with ‘Pariah’ as a full length feature and the raving articles and accolades the film has received thus far have been well deserved. Not only has she written a universal coming-of-age film about a lesbian teenager who unsuccessfully juggles multiple identities to avoid rejection from her friends and family, but ‘Pariah’ boasts some strong performances from its cast (Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Pernell Walker, Charles Parnell, Aasha Davis and Sahra Mallesse). Rees recently won Breakthrough Director at the 2011 Gotham Independent Awards, Best Director and Best Screenplay from The Black Film Critics Circle, and is nominated for several awards in the upcoming Black Reel Awards. Coming up for Rees is a project she’s developing for HBO with Viola Davis.
Having spent years playing supporting roles, including receiving many accolades and an Academy Award Best Supporting Actress nomination in 2008 for her role in ‘Doubt,’ Viola Davis stepped her game up with an amazing performance in ‘The Help,’ and might be the first African American actress to receive a second Oscar nomination, but for a different category, Best Actress. Currently on screen in a supporting turn for Stephen Daldry’s ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,’ Davis’s next leading role is opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal in Walden Media’s ‘Won’t Back Down.’
A year ago, most people can honestly say they never heard of her. Yes, we had seen her in films but couldn’t place her name. Much like her fellow colleague Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer had spent over ten years playing small parts in numerous films. When the time and role came for her to “show ’em what you got,” she gave us an electrifying performance as Minnie the maid in ‘The Help’ that will eventually merit an Oscar nomination and bigger roles in the future. One of her next films is a role opposite Julianne Hough and Russell Brand in Diablo Cody’s directorial debut.
Ava Duvernay spent her early years working and promoting talent as a publicist, but Duvernay became the talent when she fulfilled her dream and directed an independent feature film called ‘I Will Follow.’ Bucking the studio system, DuVernay even started her own distribution company AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) that will allow filmmakers another option for theatrical release. AFFRM’s second film to be released in 2011 was the critical favorite ‘Kinyarwanda,’ while DuVernay’s second feature ‘Middle of Nowhere’ will make its debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Who knew that a small sci-fi alien film that starred a host of up-and-coming Black actors would make a star out of John Boyega? As the leader Moses in Joe Cornish’s ‘Attack the Block,’ Boyega showed that at a young age, he has the chops to be a leading actor. Hollywood is constantly trying to promote a new actor every year and lavish them with three or four leading roles. Let’s hope they can do the same with Boyega and he’ll prove them right. Look for him next in Spike Lee’s new HBO’s series, ‘Da Brick.’
While Steve McQueen was already acknowledged overseas a few years ago for his work with Michael Fassbender in ‘Hunger,’ most American audiences got to know him this year as he teamed again with Fassbender in the controversial sex film, ‘Shame.’ With a cast that also included Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale and Nicole Beharie and shot in the heart of New York City, McQueen put himself in a new lineup of directors whose films people want to see. His next film ’12 Years As A Slave’ reunites him again with Fassbender, and will feature also Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt.
Yes, we know Kevin Hart‘s been acting for a minute now and hasn’t had the best film credits to his name (‘Paper Soldiers,’ ‘Soul Plane,’ ‘In The Mix,’ ‘Meet Dave’) thus far; but Hart stuck with it for years and when his time came up to deliver again, he brought the house down with his stand-up film, ‘Laugh At My Pain.’ Distributed by Codeblack Entertainment and shown in fewer theaters than the average independent film, the film’s opening week numbers took Hollywood by storm as it grossed over $2 million dollars. Look for Hart to bring you more laughs in 2012 in the Will Packer produced film, ‘Think Like A Man.’
Christopher “C.J.” Wallace, Jr.
When Will Farrell’s independent film, ‘Everything Must Go,’ was shown in festivals before hitting theaters, no one knew that the breakout star of the film would be Christopher Jordan Wallace, Jr.,son of the late Biggie Smalls and Faith Evans. Although he made his film debut in his father’s 2009 biopic ‘Notorious,’ the 14-year old really held his own opposite Farrell as he played a neighborhood boy who befriends the struggling and depressed Ferrell and helps him through his emotional and financial crisis.
While Oliver Litondo‘s film credits includes character roles in ‘The Wilby Conspiracy’ with Sydney Poitier and Michael Caine, ‘The Bush Trackers,’ and the TV movie ‘Ivory Hunters’, he was given the lead role opposite Naomie Harris in ‘The First Grader,’ a film about Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, the world’s oldest primary school student at the age of 84. Litondo gave in a tremendous performance. As the former anchorman for Voice of Kenya (currently Kenya Broadcasting Corporation–KBC) and anchorman for Kenya Television Network (KTN), the 63-year old was recently awarded the Best Actor prize from the Black Film Critics Circle.
For years, the Elmo puppet doll has been a fixture in making kids smile and happy. We finally got to meet its creator, Kevin Clash, of this extraordinary Muppet and still growing phenomenon in the superb documentary ‘Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.’ From a young adolescent who brought his creation to school to working with Captain Kangaroo to meeting his idol Jim Henson and then creating Elmo and being part of the Sesame Street family, Clash’s story is one that must be seen.
‘Viva Riva!’ is the tale of Riva (Patsha Bay), a small time operator who has just returned to his hometown of Kinshasa, Congo after a decade away, with a major score: a fortune in hijacked gasoline. Directed by Djo Tunda wa Munga, with a cast that also included Manie Malone, Hoji Fortuna, and Marlene Longange, the film went on to win 6 African Movie Academy Awards and was the recent recipient of the 2011 MTV Movie Award for best African film. With no movie theaters on site, it was the first movie to be filmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in over 20 years. It’s a wicked, seductive, Scarface-type drama that deserves to be seen and appreciated.