Art Without Borders: Three Global Artists Breaking Boundaries at This Year’s Oscars
Hollywood has long thrived off the artistry and accomplishments of individuals from around the globe. Some of the industry’s earliest icons were immigrants and expats, such as British-born comedy legend Charlie Chaplin and Italian film idol Rudolph Valentino. Today, that legacy continues through the work of international directors, actors, producers and others, many of whom are driving the film community forward with new perspectives and stories. As movie fans get ready for this Sunday’s Academy Awards, here are three foreign nominees to keep your eyes on.
Daniel Kaluuya burst into pop culture consciousness with his acclaimed performance in Get Out, the genre-defying “social thriller” from director Jordan Peele. The son of Ugandan immigrants, the British actor grew up in a diverse, working-class district of London, an experience that shaped his perspectives on race and identity. In the UK, Kaluuya first gained attention through a lead role on edgy teen drama Skins, where he originally worked as a guest writer. The part helped pave the way for an expanding international career, with Kaluuya landing memorable appearances in crime thriller Sicario and dystopian anthology series Black Mirror.
Now, with Get Out, Kaluuya has quickly become one of the industry’s most compelling and buzzed-about young actors. The movie hinges on his performance as Chris, a photographer who uncovers a disturbing secret behind the liberal veneer of his white girlfriend’s family. Fusing horror and dark comedy with stinging social critique, Get Out has already been lauded as a watershed moment in Hollywood’s depiction of black themes and characters. Currently reaching new audiences as part of the cast for Black Panther, Kaluuya is nominated for this year’s Best Actor Award due to his work in Get Out.
A staple of British film and theatre for nearly two decades, actress Sally Hawkins has a reputation for tackling complex, challenging characters. Her breakout role came with her Golden Globe-winning turn in 2008’s Happy Go Lucky, a whimsical comedy helmed by famed British director Mike Leigh. She later earned critical praise in the Woody Allen satire Blue Jasmine, nabbing an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Now, Hawkins is potentially poised to win her first Academy Award for The Shape of Water, the surrealist Cold War fable from Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. Hawkins portrays the story’s main character Elisa, a mute custodian who forms a bond with a mysterious creature following its capture by the US military. When the creature faces a new threat from his captors, Elisa bands together with her eccentric neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and fellow custodian Zelda (Octvaia Spencer) to form a plan to fight back.
Delving into questions of disability, race, nationalism, and sexuality, The Shape of Water provides a retelling of history where society’s outcasts play the part of the heroes, all anchored by Hawkins’ touching (and entirely wordless) performance. Hawkins is among the nominees for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards.
Syrian director Feras Fayyad is determined to shine a light on the crisis and injustices taking place in his native country. Earlier this decade, Fayyad began documenting the experiences of ordinary Syrians as they staged demonstrations against the government of Bashar al-Assad – a project that led to his imprisonment by the state police. Now, several years later, Fayyad has turned his focus to another side of the conflict in his documentary Last Men in Aleppo.
Last Men in Aleppo captures both the anguish and heroism that defines the work of the White Helmets, the famous group of humanitarian volunteers. Using a stark, unvarnished technique, Fayyad follows the White Helmets as they rescue survivors of airstrikes and other attacks in the beleaguered city of Aleppo. Currently up for Best Documentary Feature, Last Men in Aleppo made cinematic history by becoming the first Syrian production to earn a nomination from the Academy. Yet the film’s production team initially wasn’t sure if they could even attend the event. Producer Kareem Abeed was originally denied a visa under the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban, before receiving a surprise, last-minute approval just this week.