TIFF 2019: In ‘Dolemite Is My Name,’ Eddie Murphy makes a way out of no way Hollywood loves films about itself. Finally, we’ve got one from a black perspective.

TORONTO — If there’s one thing that Hollywood loves, it’s films about the hometown business. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Hail, Caesar!, La La Land, The Artist, Sunset Boulevard, Tropic Thunder, The Day of the Locust, Slums of Beverly Hills, Trumbo, Saving Mr. Banks and Hollywoodland, just to name a few. (Then there’s a subset of this genre dedicated entirely to stories about Marilyn Monroe, a well that never seems to run dry.)

There’s just one issue with these films: They suffer from a self-indulgent racial myopia. Films that tell stories of what it’s like to be a minority in Hollywood are all too rare. Enter Dolemite Is My Name, a new Netflix film starring Eddie Murphy that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

In Dolemite Is My Name, Eddie Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who dreams of making it big but is down on his luck.

Courtesy of TIFF

Directed by Craig Brewer, Dolemite Is My Name shares some familiar beats with your typical film about the movie business, namely a persevering protagonist who dreams of making it big but is down on his luck. This time, he’s played by Murphy, who stars as Rudy Ray Moore, the real-life figure who crafted the Dolemite character and the blaxploitation-era films centered on him.

Moore is an over-the-hill vaudevillian with a potbelly who works as the assistant manager of a record store in Los Angeles and never seemed to catch a break. He sings, he dances, he tells jokes. When he left his sharecropping daddy back in Arkansas, he dreamed of becoming a movie star.

Dolemite Is My Name tells the story of how that finally happened and the challenges that Moore faced getting Dolemite made. Although he didn’t know a thing about filmmaking, Moore miraculously assembled a team through his own grit, hustle and charisma. He persuades a hoity-toity thespian named Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to co-write the first Dolemite film with him after the character he’s created becomes a hit on the black nightclub circuit. Dolemite wears a wig, carries a cane, dresses like a pimp and tells jokes in verse. Moore doesn’t have the looks, acting ability or panache of Harry Belafonte or Sidney Poitier, but he has something else: a tremendous knack for entertaining, and an understanding that sometimes a little crude humor makes you forget that you’re broke.

Moore’s director, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) is a lot like Jerry Jones: a black actor with real credits who can’t break out of the shadows and into the meaty, demanding roles that go to white leads. Snipes gives Martin an assortment of truly gut-busting affectations, from a pinkie nail perfect for escorting a bump of cocaine to his nose to an eye roll that’s just begging to be memed. It’s Snipes’ funniest and most inspired comic role since he played Noxeema in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, which came out in 1995. He upstages Murphy, who plays Moore as a showman who’s been humbled but not broken, in just about every scene the two share.

Genocide, systemic injustice and police violence were among the themes that dominated the TIFF films I saw this year, and frankly, Dolemite offered a welcome reprieve. What a relief to see something so nakedly committed to entertaining its audience, and which made the case for doing so with such passion.

What a breath of fresh air to see a film in a genre that’s way too dominated by whiteness, revealing, in funny and stylish fashion, how black artists make a way out of no way.

But Dolemite Is My Name offered more than belly laughs and a light bit of popcorn fare about how a low-budget Shaft-inspired comedy came to be a hit. So many of Moore’s struggles, which largely center on drumming up the money to give himself work when no one else will, are still relevant for black artists trying to make it in the film business today. I’ve spoken to many promising black artists who, like Moore, have had to beg, borrow and steal to get their art made in front of people’s eyes. That’s the story of the early days of Numa Perrier, Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, and of so many black directors of the L.A. Rebellion. So many talented black directors are forced into becoming new iterations of John Cassavetes because Hollywood still struggles to see how employing them is profitable.

Despite their limited viewpoint, I enjoy films about classic Hollywood more often than not. The best ones help us understand what an enormous undertaking it can be to make and release a feature film, and how many people and jobs are involved in such an enterprise. They shed light on eras gone by and the troubles that characterized them, such as the tyranny of the studio system and the struggles against McCarthyism. Plus, the costuming is just delicious.

Costuming, by the way, is essential to Dolemite Is My Name. Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter makes the film a feast for the eyes with an array of 1970s trends, from wide-lapel suits in eye-searing colors to polyester getups that look as though they’ll burst into flames if they come too close to a naked lightbulb. What a breath of fresh air to see a film in a genre that’s way too dominated by whiteness, revealing, in funny and stylish fashion, how black artists make a way out of no way. With any luck, Dolemite Is My Name will make the case for more such films to come.

Today in black history: Happy birthday, Charles Barkley and Sidney Poitier, first black umpire certified, RIP Frederick Douglass, and more The Undefeated edition’s black facts for Feb. 20

1895 — Abolitionist Frederick Douglass dies in the District of Columbia. The famous abolitionist, lecturer, orator and writer died in his Anacostia Heights, Washington, D.C., home at 78.

1927 — Happy birthday, Sidney Poitier. Born in Miami, Poitier became the first African-American to win an Academy Award in 1964 for his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963).

1936 — John Hope dies at 67. Hope was the first black president of Morehouse College (1906) and Atlanta University, the first graduate school for blacks (1929). Hope was also a founding member of the Niagara Movement, a predecessor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

1937 — Nancy Wilson is born. Wilson won Grammys for best rhythm and blues recording for “How Glad I Am” and best jazz vocal album prizes for R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) in 2004 and Turned to Blue in 2006. In 2002, the singer won a George Foster Peabody Award for her NPR radio show, Jazz Profiles. She died in 2018.

1951 — Emmett Ashford becomes the certified first black umpire in organized baseball.

1963 — Happy birthday, Charles Barkley. At the conclusion of his 16-year NBA career, Barkley was one of four players in league history with at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone. Barkley is now a TNT NBA analyst.

1976 — Muhammad Ali knocks out Belgian boxer Jean-Pierre Coopman in five rounds in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a fight sometimes referred to by fans as a “glorified sparring session.”

New documentary shows us that Lorraine Hansberry of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ was one tough-minded woman ‘Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart’ portrays a ‘left-wing radical’ who spoke truth to power

Here’s a phrase I bet you thought you’d never read: Be prepared to fangirl over Lorraine Hansberry.

Told ya.

Friday at 9 p.m., PBS is airing Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, a documentary on Hansberry, whose life story has been collapsed into a criminally incomplete Black History Month tidbit. She wrote A Raisin in the Sun, and then Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee starred in the movie adaptation. At some point you watched it in middle school one February and didn’t pay much attention because it was in black and white. Or someone in your class cracked a joke about Poitier always being ashy.

But Hansberry was so much more. As Dee says in an interview in Sighted Eyes, “She seemed to know something about everything. She was a profound thinker.”

Thank goodness for director Tracy Heather Strain, who committed years to research and gathering the funds and archival footage necessary to make Sighted Eyes. The film transforms the memory of Hansberry from that polite woman who wrote one really important play to, as Hansberry’s friend Douglas Turner Ward deemed her, a “left-wing radical.”

I first saw Sighted Eyes at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and about 20 minutes into it I scribbled in my notebook, “I think I love this woman.”

Hansberry had a wit that would have fit perfectly in today’s times, examining the traps of respectability politics and sending them up. Toward the end of her life, she bought a bucolic compound in a predominantly white area of upstate New York and winkingly named it Chitterling Heights. It was a nod, I think, to the efforts of her father to integrate Chicago’s then-white neighborhood of Woodlawn when she was 7. One of the formative experiences in Hansberry’s life was when a crowd gathered outside the Hansberry house in Woodlawn and someone threw a piece of mortar through their front window that just missed her head. What better way to throw a middle finger to white supremacy than to move into a neighborhood and give your house the blackest name you could think of?

Lorraine Hansberry surrounded by clapping African-American teens at Camp Minisink in upstate New York.

Courtesy of Gin Briggs/Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust

Let’s not disregard the significance of A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry crafted a play in 1959 about a family living on the South Side of Chicago that dared to show black people as, well, people and not buffoons, and she wrote it by drawing from her own experiences. But Hansberry was also a fearless agitator for civil rights, a feminist inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which she said “might very well be the most important work of this century,” a nervy woman who had mapped out a plan for her life by the age of 23 and miraculously stuck to it. She was privately queer and unapologetically black, and undoubtedly someone who would have transformed American culture even more had she lived past the age of 34 (she died of pancreatic cancer). Hansberry married Robert Nemiroff, a producer and champion of her work, in 1953. He left his white wife to be with her, and he was so devoted to her and in awe of her that even though they divorced in 1962, Nemiroff publicly served as Hansberry’s beard for many years.

Hansberry began her writing career as a journalist for the black newspaper Freedom, which was founded by Paul Robeson. She began writing about racism, sexism, poverty and imperialism, which caught the negative attention of one J. Edgar Hoover. Even as civil rights agitators were being identified and surveilled by the FBI, they persisted in their work, and Hansberry was one of them.

She bought a bucolic compound in a predominantly white area of upstate New York and winkingly named it Chitterling Heights.

Lorraine Hansberry holds hands and sings with singer Nina Simone and other activists at a pre-benefit gathering for the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in June 1963 in the home of activist/singer/actor Theodore Bikel.

Courtesy of Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust

A group of black activists and artists assembled by James Baldwin to meet with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy included Hansberry, Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. The May 1963 meeting was meant to pressure the Kennedy administration on civil rights or, at the very least, gain its sympathy.

Baldwin wrote about how frustrating the meeting was because rather than listen to what black Americans were enduring, particularly in the South, Kennedy became defensive, insisting that the Justice Department supported the civil rights movement. There was an undercurrent to his words intimating that those gathered who did not agree with him were ungrateful for the administration’s (frankly, rather meager) efforts.

Jerome Smith, a CORE activist who had been attacked and thrown in jail for protesting in Mississippi, bitterly recounted his experiences and refused to dress them up for the attorney general. He decried the Justice Department’s lack of action as activists were being beaten, arrested or worse.

“Mr. Kennedy, I want you to understand I don’t care anything about you and your brother,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail party patter.”

Hansberry also refused to cower before the face of the American government. She didn’t worry about alienating what the group hoped could be its most powerful ally. Instead, Sighted Eyes recounts, she, too, gave Kennedy a piece of her mind.

“You’ve got a great many very, very accomplished people in this room, Mr. Attorney General,” Hansberry told Kennedy. “But the only man who should be listened to is that man over there,” she said, referring to Smith.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail party patter.”

Sighted Eyes is part of a trifecta of recent documentaries that have given us colorful new insights into the lives of those we often see in black and white. With What Happened, Miss Simone? and I Am Not Your Negro, about Baldwin, directors Raoul Peck and Liz Garbus produced chapters of an anthology about black intellectuals and artists who were contemporaries and friends. These directors give us insight into how the lives of Hansberry, Baldwin and Simone bled into each other, how their friendships provided solace and comfort to each other, how they lived as members of a community and not just as singular figures. They come alive.

Hansberry’s experiences, often told in her own words, come to life in Sighted Eyes thanks to voiceover from actress Anika Noni Rose reading from Hansberry’s journals and other archival material.

Strain, an experienced documentary filmmaker (I’ll Make Me a World, Race: The Power of an Illusion) and professor at Northeastern University became interested in Hansberry after seeing a community theater production of Hansberry’s play To Be Young, Gifted and Black in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The play, assembled from Hansberry’s own words after her death, shares its name with the Nina Simone song, which Hansberry inspired Simone to write.

With Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, Strain has created a portrait of Hansberry that’s as complete and well-rounded as the portrait of black family life that Hansberry captured in A Raisin in the Sun. In doing so, she’s transformed Hansberry from more than just a pretty young playwright who died tragically young. She’s rightfully preserved her place in American history.

Oprah struck the perfect tone at the Golden Globes, on a night when almost no one else could Her speech remembered the women our society too often forgets

I don’t know what we’d do without the first black woman to be awarded the Cecil B. DeMille award by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. But, by God, what I know for sure is this: We don’t deserve Oprah Winfrey.

Sunday night, Oprah pretty much rendered the rest of the Golden Globes irrelevant, glib and forgettable. The night was supposed to be serious and glamorous but not frivolous, and somehow also funny.

Mostly, it was just weird.

There was a distance and an awkwardness to the show, which is usually a rollicking good time because its guests are spit-shined and boozed up. Sunday’s event had to adjust for the sobering revelations driven by months of #MeToo, days of #TimesUp and an endless parade of expensive black protest dresses. The pendulum indicating the tone of the evening kept swinging wildly and not quite stopping anywhere that felt right, save for host Seth Meyers’ pull-no-punches opening monologue.

Even though #MeToo was the central focus of the evening, even though the movement’s creator, Tarana Burke, was in the room, there was an inescapable whiteness to the celebration. There were the multiple wins for Big Little Lies, which took on the well-heeled lives of quiet desperation led by rich white women in Monterey, California, and barely bothered to consider the details of its one black character, played by Zoë Kravitz. It was also a predictably big night for the adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which made women of color and the racism they face an afterthought. There were the multiple wins for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film whose worst problem may be that it advances the idea that being an incompetent buffoon of a policeman is somehow a worse character flaw than being a violent, power-abusing racist so long as he tries his best to capture somebody’s rapist.

And then Oprah, in a black velvet gown and hair that recalled the glory of her 1998 Vogue cover shot by Steven Meisel, swooped to the stage of the Beverly Hilton like a patronus, not just for Hollywood but for the nation, and delivered the speech we desperately needed to hear.

In 10 minutes, she told us a story that began with Sidney Poitier and the importance of feeling seen, crested with the recognition of invisible women and ended hopeful, joyous and inspiring. She remembered the oft-forgotten women who, she said, “have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farmworkers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”

Oprah brought us back to earth and out of whatever alternate dimension the rest of the room seemed to be swimming through, and then lifted us up as though she’d been giving Barack Obama speech lessons. When she said, “Their time is up!” she spoke with the authority of a sexual assault survivor who believed what she was saying and made us believe it too.

She humbled us with her invocation of Recy Taylor, the woman who died recently at 97, never having experienced justice after she was brutally raped by six white men one night in 1944 and threatened with death if she spoke one word about what had happened. Oprah made sure the country knew that there are women who had not just their livelihoods but their very ability to live and breathe threatened by men more powerful than them. She recognized Rosa Parks as more than just a sweet lady who refused to give up her seat on a bus but rather as a woman who kicked off a movement for civil rights because she was tired of black women being violated freely and without consequence.

Oprah took all the rage and confusion and hurt and shame and frustration of the past few months and somehow, in her magical singularity, transformed it into not just a light but a beacon.

Jamie Foxx is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such The ‘Baby Driver’ co-star is amazingly unpredictable — as usual

A staple of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon is a segment called Musical Genre Challenge. Guests perform pop songs, but in the form of unexpected genres. Jamie Foxx appeared on the May 25 episode, and his first act was to perform Baja Men’s 2000 “Who Let The Dogs Out” in the style of a Broadway musical. He followed that up by singing Rihanna’s 2015 “B—- Better Have My Money” — operatically. Foxx absolutely nails both performances, hitting long notes with genius precision while also adding comedic timing. His performance is equal parts entrancing and hilarious.

Foxx — the former Terrell, Texas, high school star quarterback who stars in this week’s already heralded Baby Driver and hosts Fox’s new hit game show Beat Shazam — is 49 years old and has been entertaining for nearly 30 years. He has an unimpeachable catalog of accomplishments. A classic, unendingly quotable 2002 stand-up special, I Might Need Security (HBO). The Jamie Foxx Show (The WB, 1996-2001), which showcased Foxx’s supernatural knack for impersonations, and his brilliant timing. He’s created five studio albums, with millions of copies sold. His 2005 Billboard-topping Unpredictable culminated in a Grammy for the infinitely catchy “Blame it,” featuring T-Pain (and sadly one of the last bastions of auto-tuned R&B radio supremacy).

Finally and most notably, in 2005, Foxx won the Academy Award for best actor for his title role in Ray, bringing Ray Charles to life in one of the most transcendent, pitch-perfect biographical performances in movie history. Along with Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, he is one of only four black male actors to win in the lead category. To be great at one of these things — comedy, drama, singing/songwriting — would make Foxx an entertainment powerhouse. To have mastered them all makes him a once-in-a-generation talent. Foxx — not Will Smith, not Dave Chappelle, not even Beyoncé — is the supreme entertainer of our era, and it’s time to recognize him as such.

And it all started with a character called “Wanda.”

When Jamie Foxx made his television debut, on the third season of Keenan Ivory Wayans’ sketch comedy show In Living Color in 1991, it was after years of working his way through the stand-up comedy circuit, most famously at Hollywood’s The Comedy Store, a mecca for comedians such as Cedric The Entertainer and Jim Carrey, who would perform at open mics.

On Color, Foxx appeared alongside future superstars Carrey, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Kim Coles, Damon Wayans and Larry Wilmore, not to mention Anne-Marie Johnson, David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson.

He stood out from the pack, especially in black households across the country, for playing Wanda, a homely woman with a large fake butt, humongous lips and a wonky eye. Foxx-as-Wanda would try to pick up men (most frequently played by Davidson as a well-put-together businessman) and made the faux seductive “Heyyyyy” a catchphrase. It was combined with a patented cross-eyed gaze. Foxx’s commitment to the character made Wanda a tentpole for In Living Color.

You would be forgiven for thinking the show showed off the breadth of Foxx’s talent. That is, if you hadn’t seen him on Roc.

Foxx stepped in to portray the iconic Willie Beamen, a confident, young black quarterback who replaces a worn veteran QB.

Roc (Fox, 1991-94) was a family sitcom from the people who created Cheers and Taxi; it starred Charles Dutton, Ella Joyce and Rocky Carroll as a middle-class black family in Baltimore. The show has earned cult status for Dutton’s resonant performances and Joyce’s endearing character work, and it was where it became clear that Foxx was more than Wanda. Foxx appeared for nine episodes in the second and third seasons as a neighbor with special needs: “Crazy George.” This was a three-dimensional Foxx. He still used his over-the-top comedy, but Crazy George was so lovable and full of compassion, it became clear there was more to Foxx than impressions.

Foxx continued his growth in 1993 with the HBO stand-up special Straight From The Foxxhole. The special was full of memorable lines and his mirror-image impressions. But that was to be expected. What caught audiences off guard was when, toward the end, he took to his piano (with his grandmother’s encouragement, he studied classical piano from the age of 5) and blended his stand-up act with musical compositions — and even went into straight-up, no-laughs R&B. There was a smattering of uncomfortable laughter as Foxx sang his serious music. The segment became an entry into his musical career.

“My whole plan was do the comedy however you do the comedy,” he said in 1994 on KPIX’s Bay Sunday. “Get your name out there. Get the HBO special and you control what’s going on. So I did 50 minutes of comedy, and then I take it into the music real smooth.”

The Bay Area interview, however, demonstrates the challenges Foxx faced with regard to being taken seriously as a musical artist. The Q&A segment is painfully awkward. Host Barbara Rodgers spends the first minutes pressing him to perform as Wanda, and Foxx, frustrated, refuses to resurrect his character.

The interview was to promote Foxx’s 1994 debut album Peep This (Fox Records), which was mostly written by Foxx in the vein of Jodeci and R. Kelly. It showed Foxx could hang with the greats vocally; however, the music itself was subpar, with lackluster production and clichéd lyrics. As a result, the album performed poorly on the charts. He didn’t release another album for 11 years.

Foxx couldn’t quite shake the idea that he was “just” Wanda, even as he entered his first prime of the mid-’90s. He had to face a derailment that redefined his career. Foxx had auditioned for the role of Jerry Maguire’s Rod Tidwell, the dynamic football star who played opposite Tom Cruise. But Foxx struggled in the audition.

Foxx couldn’t quite shake the idea that he was “just” Wanda, even as he entered his first prime of the mid-’90s.

“I blew it, man,” he told Playboy in 2005. “Maybe I wasn’t ready. Tom was just too famous, and I was too young. I was a stand-up comedian, and I just f—-d it up. I was reading all loud and stuff, and Tom was very quiet. So I read my lines, and then he paused for a long time. … So I said: ‘Tom, it’s your line.’ And he looked at me and said: ‘I know. I got it.’ ”

The role, of course, went to Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for best supporting actor, launching him into the world of A-list Hollywood. Meanwhile, Foxx was making 1997’s Booty Call.

Booty Call wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy,” Foxx said on CBS’s Sunday Morning in 2013. “I was trying to get a check.” The movie, a raucous sex comedy about mishaps that occur as two men try to seal the deal with their dates, featured Foxx doing Martin Luther King impressions while having bubble-wrapped sex with Vivica Fox, a dog licking Tommy Davidson’s rear, and a fight over a condom. While the movie is heralded as a cult classic by some, it was lambasted as crass and vapid (“It’s not that the movie is never funny. It’s just that you don’t feel very good when it is,” is how the Los Angeles Times expertly put it). The film’s biggest critic was Bill Cosby, who at the time still commanded respect as a voice in the black community. He told Newsweek in 1997: “There is no need for a Booty Call, for the stuff that shows our young people only interested in the flesh and no other depth.” Foxx spent the next two years making movies such as 1999’s Held Up (co-starring Nia Long) that mostly failed at the box office but were better than they had any right being — off the strength of Foxx’s charisma and talent.

It’s here that we have to acknowledge The Jamie Foxx Show. If you thought calling Foxx the most talented entertainer of our generation was a “hot take,” then here’s another: if Jamie Foxx had aired on the Fox Network, along with Martin, instead of on the less popular WB, it would be just as revered and beloved. At its funniest, The Jamie Foxx Show is just as hilarious as Martin. There’s the above reimagining of D’Angelo’s “Untitled” video, the O.J. Simpson impersonation, Tupac Shakur, the dance battle. The sitcom, which also starred Garrett Morris, Ella English, Christopher B. Duncan and Garcelle Beauvais as his love interest, Fancy, and aired from 1996 to 2001, is Foxx at his comedic peak.

And he could have simply stuck to being funny. His musical career had yet to take off, and he’d failed to land that life-changing role. But that changed in 1999 when Sean Combs was excused from the set of Any Given Sunday. “Puff Daddy threw like a girl, so they put him on a plane,” said co-star Andrew Bryniarski in 2015. Foxx stepped in to portray the iconic Willie Beamen, a confident, young black quarterback who replaces a worn veteran QB — think the cinematic version of Dak Prescott replacing Tony Romo with a little extra Hollywood flair and an instantly repeatable theme song that Foxx recorded himself.

Foxx had done it: a leading role in a film opposite Al Pacino, with superstar director Oliver Stone at the helm. The movie is sort of a mess, overproduced and melodramatic, but Foxx’s star turn was widely praised. “In a broken-field role,” said movie critic Roger Ebert, “that requires him to be unsure and vulnerable, then cocky and insufferable, then political, then repentant, Foxx doesn’t step wrong.”

Foxx followed Beamen up by portraying trainer Drew Bundini Brown in 2001’s Ali. The role was pivotal. Foxx displayed his ability to transform into an entirely unrecognizable character. And he was beginning to truly combine his talents. In Any Given Sunday, he’d mixed in his musical talents with serious acting, and in Ali he used his uncanny ability as an impersonator to make his roles pop. What allowed him to play Brown is from the skill set that allowed him to “be” Mike Tyson on stage in so many of his stand-up performances. All of this, of course, culminated in Ray.

Foxx’s portrayal of Charles is a three-hour acting masterpiece. Foxx was a one-man Golden State Warriors team putting his multiple talents together for one legendary performance. He used his ability for imitation, which he perfected on the comedy circuit, to bring Charles to life on the screen. He used his dramatic acting to translate that imitation into a serious and emotionally resonant performance. And finally, Foxx performed the music himself, truly channeling Charles’ soul. “It demeans Foxx to say he was born to play this role,” said Ken Tucker in The New Yorker. “Rather, he invented a Ray Charles that anyone, from a nostalgic baby boomer to a skeptical Jay Z fan, can understand and respect.”

In winning his best actor Oscar, becoming just the third African-American to do so, he beat out Don Cheadle’s electric Hotel Rwanda performance, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. Foxx had arrived. But he wouldn’t dwell on his successes. He had a musical career to revitalize.

A chance meeting with Kanye West at one of Foxx’s infamous house parties led to Foxx being featured on a 20o4 Twista single featuring Kanye entitled “Slow Jamz.” It became a No. 1 pop single, with Foxx singing the hook. “Young people who hadn’t seen me on In Living Color or the The Jamie Foxx Show thought I had just come on with Kanye West, so that gave me new life,” he said in a 2015 radio interview. He followed that collaboration by singing the hook on West’s 2004 “Gold Digger,” and on Dec. 27, 2005, 10 months after winning his Oscar, Foxx released his own Unpredictable album (J Records). It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album charts and went to No. 1 the very next week. It’s double platinum.

Yet all of the success was affecting his personal life, and not in good ways. An intervention by black celebrity royalty set him on a different path.

“ ‘You’re blowing it, Jamie Foxx,’ ” Oprah Winfrey told Foxx in 2004, as he explained in an interview with Howard Stern earlier this year. “ ‘All of this gallivanting and all this kind of s—, that’s not what you want to do. … I want to take you somewhere. Make you understand the significance of what you’re doing.’ Foxx recounts going into a house filled with black actors from the ’60s and ’70s. “[They] look like they just want to say … Don’t blow it.” Foxx was introduced to Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win an Oscar, who told him, “ ‘I want to give you responsibility. … When I saw your performance, it made me grow 2 inches.’ To this day, it’s the most significant time in my life where it was, like, a chance to grow up.”

Today, Foxx seems as comfortable in his own skin as ever. When he wants to be serious, he’s the titular character in 2012’s Django Unchained, stone-faced, stoic and out for vengeance. Or he is a villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. He’s released three albums since Unpredictable, with a Grammy to boot for 2010’s “Blame It.” And when he wants to make people laugh, Foxx still pops up at places such as The Comedy Store.

Two years ago, this time on Fallon’s “The Wheel Of Musical Impressions,” he did Mick Jagger singing “Hakuna Matata,” Jennifer Hudson singing “On Top Of Spaghetti” and John Legend singing the Toys R Us theme song, complete with a full-on re-enactment of Legend’s on-stage posture. And he somehow managed to mix in a Doc Rivers impersonation. The video for this fantastical and amazing series of performances has amassed 40 million views on YouTube. It’s classic Foxx, mixing his flair for the dramatic with his unparalleled voice and mastery of comedy. His is an unpredictable blend of musicianship, comedy and acting. He’s a powerhouse. A master of all trades. And we may never see anything like him again.

13 documentaries to dive into this summer — on Netflix, PBS, or at the cinema A Baltimore step team. Dr. Dre. A woman wrestler. Freedom of the press. This summer’s docs aim to entertain — and educate.

If you’re looking for deep dives into real-life information to go alongside the usual summer offerings of massive explosions and budget-busting superhero fights, we’ve got just the thing. There’s Stanley Nelson’s latest project focusing on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Step, the film about a group of girls on a Baltimore step team that netted raves at Sundance. Debuting in theaters Aug. 11 is Whose Streets?, the film from artist-activists Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis about the killing of Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown and the aftermath of his death. If the date sounds familiar, it’s because the film is opening on the anniversary of Brown’s death.

There’s a wide range of subjects to peek at this summer, both unfamiliar and not, with edifying works that will leave you a little bit more knowledgeable about the world than you were when you walked into the auditorium to see them.

Unacknowledged | May 9

Director: Michael Mazzola

Remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of hope and intrigue that you felt after walking out of Arrival? Well, Unacknowledged is a film about aliens too, although it will likely leave you feeling uneasy, paranoid and maybe more than a little willing to don a tricornered hat made of Reynolds wrap. Unacknowledged bears a tenor not unlike Alex Gibney’s explosive 2016 documentary Zero Days — they both set about to reveal things the U.S. government purportedly doesn’t want you to know, and in the case of Unacknowledged, it’s the government’s apparently vast secret apparatus directed at all things extraterrestrial. Assuming you believe in that sort of thing, Unacknowledged boasts footage of UFOs and, in an effort to distance itself from the inventions of supermarket tabloids, interviews with government officials. At the center of the film is Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure Movement, which agitates to get the government to release whatever information it has about aliens and their contact with humans. This movie is now available to stream on Google Play, iTunes and Amazon Video.

Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine | June 3

Director: Patrick O’Dell

In every generation, there’s a group of maniacs who insist upon rule-breaking, not in the name of some sort of principled stand for freedom but simply because they’re a bunch of roustabout, devil-may-care libertines. And that’s basically the characterization of the skateboard fanatics behind Big Brother magazine. The ideological predecessor and inspiration for Jackass, Big Brother was a chronicle of all tricks great and stupid, instructing its readers in the art of hell-raising, interspersed with the usual NSFW sex stuff about Big Brother-certified hotties. In short, it was sought-after contraband for teenage boys before YouTube, or The Man Show, or Tosh.0. The movie will be available to stream on Hulu.

The Defiant Ones | July 9

Director: Allen Hughes

Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) followed Dr. Dre and Interscope records co-founder Jimmy Iovine for three years, resulting in a four-part HBO documentary that shares a name with the 1958 film starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Iovine was instrumental in the astronomical success of Beats by Dre headphones, and the two men’s professional partnership is one that’s netted many millions for both. Hughes’ look at their empire includes interviews with Dre’s protege Eminem, plus Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Iovine’s business partner David Geffen, and Bono. Promos for the documentary series have promised never-before-seen footage of recording sessions with N.W.A, J.J. Fad and Eazy-E.

City of Ghosts | July 14

Director: Matthew Heineman

One of the challenges of America-centered rhetoric about Syria and the Islamic State group: It’s generally framed as a discussion of how what’s going on there affects the interests of the United States. But City of Ghosts, the latest film from Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman, is a searing look at the people who are most directly victimized and terrorized by ISIS: other Muslims, particularly those who refuse to pledge allegiance to the group’s extremist ideology. Heineman’s film follows those who are risking their own lives to document and stop ISIS’s campaign of terror, and who risk the lives of their families to do so.

Step | Aug. 4

Director: Amanda Lipitz

If you liked The Fits, chances are you’ll enjoy Step, Amanda Lipitz’s look at a real-life step team providing hope, confidence and motivation to a group of impoverished Baltimore teen girls, which netted admirable buzz and even better reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With a cast of compelling subjects, Step reels you in as the seniors on Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women strive to become the first individuals in their families to attend college.

Whose Streets? | Aug. 11

Directors: Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis

Even the release date of Whose Streets? — which coincides with the anniversary of the death of Mike Brown, the teen slain in 2014 by former Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson — makes a statement. Whose Streets is a story about not just Brown’s killing but also the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the violent reaction to news that Wilson would not be indicted for killing Brown. The story is told from the viewpoint of those who were on the ground in Ferguson — Folayan identifies herself as an activist — and serves as a counterweight to national media struggling to fairly and accurately cover the result of decades of injustice that came to define black life in Ferguson. After Whose Streets? premiered at Sundance this year, film critic Nick Allen declared it the documentary he’ll recommend when people ask about the Black Lives Matter movement in 50 years.

Wrestling With Chyna | release TBA

Director: Erik Angra

Even if you weren’t a consummate wrestling fan, it was nearly impossible during the late ’90s not to have encountered Joanie Laurer — although you likely knew her as Chyna, the muscular, 5-foot-10 star of the WWF, and wrestling’s “Ninth Wonder of the World.” Angra takes a look at the tumultuous life and career of Laurer, from her struggles to reconcile her career and physique with pressure to look and appear traditionally feminine, to the struggles with drugs that led to her 2016 death at age 46. Angra captures Laurer as a smart, self-aware, tortured figure, including footage of an interview with Laurer days before her death. Wrestling With Chyna is a sober look at one of pro wrestling’s most magnetic performers just as hype begins to surge for Glow, Netflix’s forthcoming dramedy series about female wrestlers.

Served Like A Girl | release TBA

Director: Lysa Heslov

In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about the specific challenges many female soldiers face, whether it’s a military structure not exactly conducive to identifying and punishing perpetrators of sexual assault or the debate over women serving in combat roles. But less attention is given to female veterans returning from war. In her debut feature, which premiered this year at SXSW, Heslov follows the lives of five female vets as they compete for the title of Ms. Veteran America. Yes, it’s a pageant, but it’s also more than Miss Congeniality with combat fatigues: The pageant serves as a fundraising event for homeless female vets.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities | release TBA

Directors: Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams

For so long, education has held a particular significance in the black American community: valued as an engine of freedom, social uplift and economic advancement. While recent studies show education is not a salve for the racial wealth gap, Stanley Nelson and Marco Williams take an in-depth look at the importance of HBCUs, historically and culturally, beginning with the rise of such schools during Reconstruction. Nelson is perhaps best known as the director responsible for Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and here, with Williams, he delivers another chapter of black history on film, in the exact moment that chronically underfunded and undervalued HBCUs are facing new threats and uncertainty about their futures.

500 Years | release TBA

Director: Pamela Yates

Bursting with color and inspiration, 500 Years examines the aftermath of the conviction of former Guatemalan President José Efraín Ríos Montt, who stood trial in 2013 for genocide and crimes against humanity. The title draws its name from the five centuries of violent apartheid to which the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala have been subjected, a subject Yates examined in the 1983 film When Mountains Tremble and again in 2011 with Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Now, the Mayans face new challenges as they assert their voice politically — namely, destruction of their homeland from multinational corporations seeking to mine the land and control their water with hydroelectric dams. Yates, a familiar and regular presence at Sundance, is an accomplished director when it comes to telling the stories of people living under repressive and unjust regimes. Besides her epic trilogy following Guatemala, she’s explored the subject in The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, and in 2015 told the story of political documentary filmmaker Haskell Wexler.

Give Me Future | release TBA

Director: Austin Peters

Granted, a whole concert documentary about the electronic dance music group Major Lazer sounds, well, eye-roll-worthy, but Peters manages to sneak in more than a little bit of a look at Cuban youth culture and politics. Turns out Major Lazer was the biggest American name allowed to perform in Cuba in 2015, not long after President Barack Obama began normalizing relations with the country. Besides following Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire behind the scenes, Give Me Future offers a glimpse into what it’s like to live in a place that for so long has been largely immune to America’s most potent export of all: its pop culture.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic | release TBA

Director: Derek Wayne Johnson

Forty years after the release of the film that came to define Sylvester Stallone’s career, director Derek Wayne Johnson (Broken Blood, John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs) captures the actor and Rocky director John G. Avildsen discussing work on the most recognizable boxing movie of all time. Johnson brings a passion to the story of Rocky and Stallone that practically makes him the Ken Burns of the subject. Besides 40 Years, Johnson is also responsible for a biographical documentary about Avildsen and another yet-to-be completed project about singer-songwriter Frank Stallone, Sylvester’s younger brother.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press | June 23

Director: Brian Knappenberger

The result of Hulk Hogan’s 2013 lawsuit against Gawker Media was a chilling one for journalists. Financially backed by venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Hogan sued the Nick-Denton-founded media company for invasion of privacy. With a $140 million judgment hanging over the company’s head, Gawker was forced to declare bankruptcy, sell itself to Univision and settle with Hogan for $31 million. Knappenberger’s (We Are Legion, The Internet’s Own Boy) film, which will air on Netflix, seeks to put the lawsuit and its fallout in a broader context: Thiel’s involvement in the case set a dangerous precedent. Don’t like what a news organization says about you? Find someone rich enough to help you sue them out of existence.

A brief history of black glamour on the Oscars red carpet From Billy D to Hattie McD, our folks will come correct because they always have

When Hollywood’s A-listers step out of their limousines on Sunday afternoon and onto the Academy Awards’ much-hyped red carpet, it will be a Big Fashion Thing (BFT). So much of a BFT that it’s become the de facto holding pen for pop culture fanatics who may not care to watch three hours of the actual awards show. The carpet is a pregame show with really fit, insanely attractive people whose very smiles seem to say, “I may be starving, but go ahead and hate, ’cause you know I look good.”

The first red carpets may have been laid down in the 1930s as a way to guide the stars into a movie house or theater. Now the show is an international guide to good hairstyles, beautiful makeup and impeccable clothes, all done with great lighting, sound, drugs and romantic shuffling. Very few stars (or their handlers) these days are willing to take the kinds of fashion chances that others in the past were anxious to try. Gone are the days when a starlet could buy a frock at Bloomingdale’s and be done with it. That will earn negative (and immediate) social media attention.

Entire careers have been built on a lucky red carpet appearance. Remember JLo’s infamous Versace split-to-there dress she wore to the 2000 Grammys? And amateur mistakes apparently will perhaps tolerated, but only if you (insert the name Jennifer Hudson here) go forth and sin no more. For African-American filmmakers, wardrobe and beauty snafus such as a poorly-fitting tuxedo, unflattering gown or “unusual” hairstyle can be the final ax blow to an already shaky tree.

If 2016 was labeled #OscarsSoWhite, Sunday’s telecast will be one of the blackest. Red carpet coverage is now as big a thing as the award shows themselves, and the Oscars is the most-watched award show of them all (having once raked in a record 40.4 million total viewers for the 2014 telecast). People will tune in to see what the stars are wearing, how well they are groomed and prepped, whom they brought to the awards as their dates, and whether they can work their way through the phalanx of cameras, flashing lights, screaming publicists and nosy press without having a breakdown.

But know this: No one on this year’s red carpet will stand out for having dressing poorly or having bad taste. We’re all too careful, too coached, too restricted now. The rules of formal dressing are known, and black folks know this stuff better than nearly anyone. This year’s bumper crop of excellent African-American artists — especially this crew! — nominated for and presenting statues at the Oscars will bring the fashion realness. There’s no worrying about Taraji P. Henson wearing the 2017 version of Bjork’s swan dress. Denzel Washington and Mahershala Ali wouldn’t be caught dead in someone’s tacky “alternative tux” suit. And none of us can think of a time when Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer would wear a white silk tuxedo backward (a la Celine Dion) and think she looks cute. Just for giggles, we did a bit of photo research and looked for examples of African-Americans at the Oscars who were fly and felt gloriously free to be themselves. The red carpet may not be as fun a spectator sport as it used to be, but at least our folks will come correct, because they always have.

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Hattie McDaniel: Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award (for her supporting role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind). The awards were held that year (1940) at the segregated Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador’s Hotel, where the 44-year-old actress sat in a back corner against a ballroom wall. Her turquoise-and-rhinestones gown was memorable, as were the gardenias in her hair.

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Mo’Nique: Sixty years after Hattie McDaniel won a best supporting actress Oscar, Baltimore native Mo’Nique took home the statue for her role in Lee Daniels’ heartbreaking film, Precious. Mo’Nique’s blue gown was by Tadashi Shoji, the go-to Japanese designer for plus-sized women who love beautiful formalwear. The gardenia in her hair was a tribute to McDaniel.

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Lola Falana and Sammy Davis Jr.: The sexy actress and singer Lola Falana was best known in the early 1970s for her appearances in Italian cinema and for her work as a dancer in Sammy Davis Jr.’s shows. The pair attended an Oscars after-party in 1970 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel wearing matching black-and-white attire.

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Diana Ross: Diana Ross was also nominated for Best Actress in 1973, marking the first time that two African-American women (Cicely Tyson was the other) shared the honor in the same year. Ross’ portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues was a critical triumph for the former Supreme, and though the superstar lost that night to Liza Minnelli, she won the red carpet with her custom ivory satin smoking tuxedo pantsuit designed by Bob Mackie and Ray Aghayan.

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Isaac Hayes: Isaac Hayes was the third African-American to win an Academy Award — after McDaniel and Sidney Poitier. Hayes’ performance of the theme from the film, Shaft so perfectly captured the artistic sensibility of the over-the-top 1970s that it has itself become a classic. Check out my man’s fur-trimmed tux and bow tie. Yes, we can dig it, Isaac.

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Whoopi Goldberg: Having won a best supporting actress Oscar in 1991 for Ghost, the comedian and actress arrived at the 1993 Oscars in a bright purple-and-green ensemble that sent many fashion critics screaming. Purchased at a Beverly Hills, California, boutique, the dress/coat/pants … thing seems downright demure (for Whoopi) compared with some of the outfits the style iconoclast has worn as the longtime co-host of The View.

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Three 6 Mafia: It’s probably OK to say that no one ever expected the members of the Memphis, Tennessee-based hip-hop crew, Three 6 Mafia, to be nominated for an Academy Award for best original song, let alone win. But their song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from the Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson film, Hustle and Flow, was infectious, as was the 2006 red carpet and stage appearance of Jordan “Juicy J” Houston, Darnell “Crunchy Black” Carlton, Cedric “Frayser Boy” Coleman and “DJ Paul” Beauregard. They brought street wear to an international stage when folks were least expecting it.

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Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith: When the Smiths go to the Oscars — or to any top-shelf event that has a red carpet situation — they are not playing. Like, not at all. Will and Jada, and sometimes their children, Jaden and Willow, can be counted on for being impeccably turned out from top to bottom. Mind you, the Versace-clad duo who posed for photos in 2014 had things a bit more in hand than their turn in the Oscar spotlight in 1997, when both had a thing for the color lime green. But this is how you mix laid-back glamour with couples’ goals.

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Spike Lee: After being nominated in 1990 for best screenwriting (Do the Right Thing) and again in 1998 for the documentary Four Little Girls, Spike Lee won an honorary Oscar in 2015 and looked terrific doing it. Lee’s go-to trio of actors — Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes — presented the award to the director, who was decked out in an uber-cool Fort Greene, Brooklyn, way: navy velvet Nehru-style jacket, matching pants, gold chain and cross, Kangol hat and round orange glasses.

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Michael B. Jordan: The newest kid on the block landed — BAM! — on the Oscar red carpet in 2014 looking like he’d been born to work that Givenchy tux and shoes. Jordan’s turn in Ryan Coogler’s film, Fruitvale Station, made the Newark, New Jersey, actor into someone to watch, and his subsequent press tour for that film (and this big league follow-up, Creed) let his charisma shine for all the world to see.

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Prince: Thank you, Prince, for bringing your purple weirdness to a normally boring Oscar telecast. The Minneapolis legend accepted his Academy Awards for best original song score and best original musical for Purple Rain in 1984 clad in a fringed, sequined hoodie which was a deep purple hue (duh). Man eyeliner, lace gloves, tight pants and high heels were also all present and accounted for.

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Alfre Woodard: For some years now, the 12 Years a Slave and Luke Cage actress has famously refused to wear high heels, even (especially?) on the red carpet. Woodard still did her thing at the 2014 Academy Awards in a navy blue Badgley Mischka Couture gown that hugged her curves in all the right places, and it had sleeves!

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Pharrell Williams: Tuxedo shorts? On a man? At the Oscars? Triple yes, thank you very much, Mr. Williams. This was Pharrell being Pharrell, which seemed to throw some people off and surprise others. But at what time did anyone expect Skateboard P to dress like anyone else? With this guy, that’s never the point.

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David Oyelowo: Oh, hello, David Oyelowo! Esquire magazine named the British thespian best dressed at the 2015 Oscars, and who can argue? This Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo is wine-colored, but the bright red tie and vest bring a lot of pop to the nontraditional formal suit.

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Billy Dee Williams: Looove this shot of the debonair Lando Calrissian at the 1973 Oscars supporting his girl, Tracy Chambers, on her big night. Wait, that’s actor Billy Dee Williams from Lady Sings the Blues. So, he’s not a space pirate or a grassroots politician (though he played one opposite Diana Ross in the cult fashion thriller, Mahogany). Whatever his role, Williams always led with a liberal pinch of wit and debonair masculinity.

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Diahann Carroll: Nominated for best actress for her role in the film Claudine, the singer/actress chose a sequined gown and MAJOR fur-trimmed coat by Bob Mackie and Ray Aghayan for the 47th Academy Awards in 1975. The white dress’ deep decolletage and the coat’s maximum flamboyance have style shades of Dominique Deveraux, Carroll’s fabulous character on the hit TV show, Dynasty.

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Halle Berry: “This moment is so much bigger than me,” said Halle Berry at the start of her 2002 Oscar acceptance speech. It was a great, memorable line, and Berry’s win as best actress was the first best actress win for an African-American. Berry looked incredible in her Elie Saab gown, which was half sexy, peekaboo sheerness on top and crimson draping on the bottom.

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Gabourey Sidibe: Best Actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe made her rounds on the 2010 Oscars red carpet and said, “If fashion was porn, this dress is the money shot.” We know you were excited about the blue Marchesa gown, my friend, but porn it wasn’t. It was pretty and conservative and refined — all of the things that size zero Hollywood actresses are allowed to aim for on any given red carpet night.

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Quvenzhane Wallis: Quvenzhane Wallis became the youngest person to be nominated for a best actress Oscar in 2013 for her role as Hushpuppy in the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild. She didn’t win, but she was a lock for cutest lady on the red carpet. The navy blue Armani dress with black tulle is adorable, as are the sparkly ballet flats and headband. But that puppy purse, though!

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Jennifer Hudson: Jennifer Hudson went on the record to criticize Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley’s styling of her Oscar de la Renta dress and cropped jacket, but really, it’s not so bad. It was maybe a little too showy for the best supporting actress winner, but the ensemble has actually aged well since its debut in 2007.

A Denzel Washington Oscars loss will feel like a loss for all of us The ‘Fences’ star’s long, weird Academy Award journey should end with a home run

Since Nov. 8, 2016, we’ve been in a dire search for hope.

This search for hope and happiness leads us to place more weight on social and sporting events. Like the recent Super Bowl, for example — in which the Falcons, who make their home in majority-black Atlanta, faced off against a New England Patriots team known for cheating, and for its leaders supporting President Donald Trump. It all takes on a higher meaning. Twitter was full of this-feels-like-election-night-all-over as the Patriots completed their improbable comeback. And just a few days ago, when Adele beat out Beyoncé for the Grammy for album of the year, the moment seemed like a thick patch of fog over our collective consciousness: We just can’t win right now.

In a few days, our newly elevated sensitivities will be front and center as the Academy Awards are broadcast worldwide, and the films Moonlight and Hidden Figures are up for best picture. Octavia Spencer is up for best actress and Viola Davis is up for best supporting actress — at least 10 black actors and filmmakers are nominated.

And then there’s Denzel Washington, who is up again for best actor, this time for his intense and painful role as Troy Maxson in the acclaimed adaptation of playwright August Wilson’s Fences. As the film is also up for best picture, Washington, 62, is up for that award also — he directed the film. The nods, besides celebrating cinematic excellence, seem a(nother) chance for Oscar to celebrate blackness — or to give us the shaft again.

Washington has been here before. He’s felt the sting of an Academy Awards committee and has developed a complicated history with the organization that is inextricable from his legendary career. Including this year, Washington been nominated five times for the coveted best actor award, and he’s won once for a role as a crooked cop. A role that isn’t anywhere near his best work. On Sunday the Oscars can rectify wrongs that have been perpetrated against Washington for the last 25 years.

Why did Denzel have to go crooked/ Before he took it?

— Jadakiss, from 2004’s “Why

Washington’s performance as Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s titular 1992 biopic is the greatest feat of acting ever recorded. I stand by this argument and have no problem defending it until my dying breath. Washington played four entirely different characters over the course of 3 1/2 hours. He was streetwise Detroit Red, awakening prisoner Malcolm Little, militant Malcolm X, and finally el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

Washington as Malcolm X was more than a movie. It was a cultural awakening.

Close your eyes and think about the actual Malcolm X. Go ahead. Do it. I guarantee Washington pops into your mind. That’s how much he embodied Malcolm X. And beyond that powerful association, Washington’s performance cemented an early ’90s affection for Malcolm X and a then new black power movement that permeated the culture from Cross Colours to hip-hop bands like Public Enemy to “X” necklaces to a renewed fascination with X’s speeches, as well as his autobiography. Washington as Malcolm X was more than a movie. It was a cultural awakening.

Four months after Malcolm X was released, Washington sat in the audience at Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and watched Al Pacino win best actor for his role as a blind retired army officer in Scent of a Woman. The decision remains one of the great travesties of any awards show, ever. Yes, even worse than Adele’s win over Beyoncé.

Spike Lee, though, in 2014, had an explanation devoid of racial dynamic: “In sports, there’s a thing called a makeup call,” he said, noting Pacino had been overlooked for seven best actor awards, including for his transcendent turns in the first two films in The Godfather film series. “Denzel already won [Best Supporting Actor] for Glory. And he’s young. [The academy says] ‘Denz is coming back, so we gotta give it to Al.” The fiasco is reminiscent of how the NBA seems to dole out coveted MVP awards to great but less-qualified players like Steve Nash with the assumption that all-time great players like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal would eventually win awards later. As a result, Bryant and O’Neal, who have nine NBA titles between them, only have two combined MVPs over the course of their respective Hall of Fame careers.

Yet while the Oscars were passing on Washington, black America became fully entranced by an actor unafraid to be us every time he was on the screen.

But for many African-Americans, the sting of Washington not winning the Academy Award for his Malcolm X performance is ongoing. No black actor had won best actor since Sidney Poitier for 1963’s Lilies of the Field, and the belief persists that Washington’s blackness, combined with Malcolm X’s message as portrayed in the film and Spike Lee’s commentary on the April 1992 Rodney King/L.A. riots made for a cocktail the academy wanted no part in recognizing. “[Lee] has been asked to speak about the riots last month in South Central Los Angeles,” the Seattle Times speculated, “and the fear among much of the Hollywood community that his upcoming film Malcolm X, due in November, could stir more racial unrest.”

Washington’s star-making turn as Trip in 1990’s Glory earned him a best supporting actor award — his first Oscar. The statuette added a level of gravitas to his devastating performance, and helped propel the film to more prominence and wider audiences. The media at the time lauded Washington’s performance as different from his more genteel roles in 1984’s Oscar-nominated A Soldier’s Story and 1989’s quirky, brilliant The Mighty Quinn. “The guy I play in Glory is raw and rough,” Washington said in 1989. “A field Negro, not a house Negro, and he’s a real survivor.” The unforgettable “single tear” scene made Washington a ’90s Hollywood contender.

After Glory, Washington took on roles that were brilliant but overlooked by awards committees. His turn as tormented jazz musician Bleek Gilliam in Spike Lee’s 1990 Mo’ Better Blues helped make the film a cult classic in many black communities, but it didn’t receive awards consideration. Yet while the Oscars were passing on Washington, black America became fully entranced by an actor unafraid to be us every time he was on the screen. Washington loved us by being us: by expertly showcasing the best, most hopeful black folks we can be — and showing the struggles of the damaged among us. And when Washington’s characters were in white spaces (think Crimson Tide and Philadelphia), he stood toe-to-toe with white counterparts in defiance of what they thought about him and his character’s “proper” place.

Even though Washington left the Oscars empty-handed in 1993, studios noticed his box office power. Malcolm X, a precursor to films such as 2004’s Ray and 2001’s Ali, became a $50 million movie, remarkable for a three-hour film that centered on the African-American experience. After his Malcolm X snub, Washington returned with a gripping performance as an anti-gay lawyer in 1993’s Philadelphia, a movie that earned Tom Hanks a best actor award even though Washington shone as brightly. “Mr. Hanks gives a brave, stirring, tremendously dignified performance as a man slowly wasting away,” said a New York Times review. “But Mr. Washington, who is also very fine as the small-minded shyster who becomes a crusading hero, has the better role.”

Still, Washington’s performance heightened his demand and led to box office success with films such as Crimson Tide and The Pelican Brief — brilliant performances that became standard, though they weren’t getting award consideration. Washington also spent much of the mid-’90s making top-dollar thrillers such as The Siege and The Bone Collector that didn’t add to his legacy as a premier actor.

A 1996 People cover story proclaimed a “Hollywood Blackout,” and called the continued exclusion of African-Americans from the film industry a “national disgrace.” It also wondered why black actors and actresses, especially Washington for his role as Easy Rawlins in 1995’s Devil In A Blue Dress, wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar despite Washington and Don Cheadle functioning as Splash Brothers for the whole movie with an on-screen chemistry and one-upsmanship that elevated both performances. Out of 166 nominees for that year’s Oscars, only one was African-American.

The numbers are absurd. Especially considering that Washington was arguably the best actor in Hollywood at the time. He’d shown an ability to make good films great and great films legendary. He simply had it all: dominating presence in every scene, the ability to pull of action as well as romance, and of course his sex appeal. Each year Washington was still without that best actor Oscar, the supposed inevitability of his big win gave way to doubt.

Washington responded by turning in roles that could have each earned him an Oscar and are certainly among the most memorable of his career. In a precursor to his role in Fences, Washington played troubled father Jake Shuttlesworth, an out-of-luck former basketball player, in 1998’s He Got Game, and delivered some of the best one-liners — “No I’m not like everyone else, Son. Everyone else ain’t your father.” — and on-screen fire of his career. There was also his unforgettable role as hard-edged coach Herman Boone in 2000’s Remember The Titans. The movie was full of legendary Denzel speeches that stand in the annals of sports movie infamy — his “You’re killing me, Petey!” speech standing above the fold. Both roles were worthy of Oscar consideration, but Washington was not even nominated.

The worst transgression from the academy was when Washington’s role as Hurricane Carter — a boxer wrongly convicted and jailed for murder — earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor … that he lost to Kevin Spacey for his performance in American Beauty. Washington was absolutely dynamic as Carter, putting in his most captivating role since Malcolm X.

I’m innocent. I’ve committed no crime. A crime’s been committed against me. Washington’s character was defiant, angry, broken and persistent. The excuse for Washington’s loss was wrapped up in the idea the movie was too historically inaccurate, which in reality has no effect on an individual actor’s performance. With this loss, the whispers of racial motivations for Washington’s inability to capture the coveted Oscar became roars.

“He deserved an Oscar for Best Actor for The Hurricane and Malcolm X,” Charles Barkley wrote about Washington’s Oscar snubs in his 2002 bestseller I May Be Wrong But I Doubt It. “It was silly that the problems with … accuracy … wound up penalizing Denzel. How stupid and how unfair is it to hold The Hurricane to this lofty standard when every picture in Hollywood is dramatized to some extent … And Denzel’s performance as Malcolm X was one of the great, great performances to me, not just that year, but over many years.”

The outrage over Washington getting snubbed again was undeniable. People ran a sequel to its “Hollywood Blackout” article in 2001, discussing inequalities in casting and award recipients. That same year, Washington opened up about snubs. “I hope guilt goes a long way,” he joked to a group of journalists when asked about his prospects for winning an award for his first turn as a bad guy in Training Day. “I’ve heard I was robbed over and over … What I try to do is my best. Movies are really about entertaining the public.”

Washington winning an Oscar for Training Day was a relative lock as the 2002 award season approached. His role as a psychotic, violent cop was a far cry from any of his previous on-screen characters and the cries for him to finally win Best Actor were deafening. And the last thing the academy wanted was another year of being accused of racism. So the 2002 Academy Awards became a coronation of sorts for Washington and African-Americans as a whole.

Washington won his first Oscar for best actor for his role in Training Day while Halle Berry won best actress — the first time for a black woman. Berry played a drug-addicted mother in Monster’s Ball. The short-term euphoria of Washington’s and Berry’s victories were replaced by the realization that these two actors had to play villains and drug addicts to get their awards.

Washington’s best actor win for Training Day was more lifetime achievement award than an actual reflection of his performance as Alonzo. The fact is, Denzel’s performance was standard Denzel. He could be Alonzo in his sleep, and was just as good in his subsequent films, John Q, Man On Fire, American Gangster and Antwone Fisher. If Training Day was worth an Oscar, so were those roles and countless others. And at the end of the day, Washington has Oscars for portraying a slave, and a crooked, immoral cop. The message appears clear from members of the academy: Play a character we’re comfortable with, and we’ll award you.

Washington has only been nominated for best actor twice in the 15 years since winning for Training Day, one for Flight in 2012 and for Fences. Flight went against Daniel Day-Lewis’ great portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, so it never really stood a chance. In 2017, however, Washington has a real chance — but nothing is promised. And there’s last week’s Grammys — Adele is tucked in London with Beyoncé’s Lemonade award.

It would be great to see Washington awarded for his tour de force in Fences, and as one of the greatest actors ever. But I’m going into Oscar night convincing myself that there’s no way Washington is going to beat out Ryan Gosling or Casey Affleck. It would be beautiful to see Washington — and Moonlight, and Viola Davis, and Barry Jenkins win Oscars. But I find it hard to let myself think they’ll actually hold trophies on Sunday. We’re so connected to these avatars of excellence that rejections of “our” stars’ greatness is a rejection of ourselves. And that praise upon them is praise upon us. That’s why we cheer for them. And allow ourselves to get worked up and nervous — all of which makes the disappointment hurt even more.

Of course, it the grand scheme of things, Oscars shouldn’t mean much. Neither should the Grammys. Or Super Bowls. But right now, in this season of loss and despair, any win that makes us feel excellent is welcome, allowing us moments of happiness while we focus on more pressing issues. Awards don’t define our greatness. Denzel doesn’t need awards to be a shining example of excellence. And we damn sure don’t either.

Daily Dose: 2/20/17 Bow to your new (Lion) king, Donald Glover

Happy Monday, kiddos! If you missed Highly Questionable Friday, here you go. Also, there were a lot conspiracy theories discussed on The Morning Roast. Lastly, we’re filling in for Russillo & Kanell on ESPN Radio, 1-4 p.m. EST today.

It’s Presidents Day, so let’s talk about ours. The weekend proved a few things about President Donald Trump. First of all, he kicked off his 2020 campaign less than a month into his own administration with a rally in Florida, seemingly because he needs constant adulation. He then made a claim about an incident in Sweden that never happened. The Swedes weren’t happy about it. But perhaps most importantly, he fired a senior appointee after it was found that he had criticized Trump in a private speech. Loyalty over expertise. Good luck finding a replacement.

Sidney Poitier is a national treasure. Today is his 90th birthday, and if you haven’t spent a large chunk of your life with his films, you need to. You know him for quite a few iconic roles: A Raisin In The Sun, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and, perhaps, Uptown Saturday Night. But you might not know that his best friend is Harry Belafonte, the singer and activist with whom he shares the same age. They’ve been tight since they were 20 years old and the story of their bond is really quite remarkable.

If you don’t like Donald Glover, that sucks for you. The man is all over Hollywood, and now, he’s going to be a part of an epic Disney remake: The Lion King. He’ll be playing Simba. It’s getting a reboot as a live-action film, which considering the success of The Jungle Book and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast was bound to happen. The Lion King is going to be a little more difficult, considering that there are no actual humans in that story. Nonetheless it’s an excellent pick and we are very much looking forward to the soundtrack.

LeBron James is about way more than basketball. If we’re being honest, his basketball career isn’t exactly coming to a close, but his days as the guy who can carry a single team on his back all the way to an NBA championship might be, which is fine. His legacy is more than secure after bringing a title to Cleveland. So, it’s time to look beyond that. He’s already got a production company that’s been rather successful. So, the next obvious step for the king to take over? Hollywood, duh.

Free Food

Coffee Break: It’s becoming harder and harder to defend Uber. We’ve all heard the stories of drivers sexually assaulting people and the company not being exactly responsive to complaints about it, but this latest essay on what the working environment is inside the actual company is worth your time. It does not paint a pretty picture.

Snack Time: Oddisee is perhaps the most thoughtful and politically conscious rapper in the game right now. This NPR interview with him about his latest album, The Iceberg, is excellent.

Dessert: Y’all are wrong for this, I swear.

On this day in Black History: Frederick Douglass dies; Sidney Poitier, Nancy Wilson and Charles Barkley are born Black History Month The Undefeated Edition Feb. 20

1895 — Abolitionist Frederick Douglass dies in the District of Columbia
Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist, lecturer, orator and writer, died in his Anacostia Heights, Washington, D.C., home at 78.

1927 — Happy birthday, Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier, who was born in Miami, became the first African-American to win an Academy Award in 1964 for his performance in Lilies of the Field (1963).

1936 — John Hope dies
John Hope was the first black president of Morehouse College (1906) and Atlanta University, the first graduate school for blacks, in 1929. Hope was also a founding member of the Niagara Movement, a predecessor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He died at age 67.

1936 — Happy birthday, Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson won Grammys for best rhythm & blues recording for “How Glad I Am, ” best jazz vocal album prizes for R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) in 2004 and Turned to Blue in 2006. In 2002, the singer won a George Foster Peabody Award for her NPR radio show, Jazz Profiles.

1963 — Happy birthday, Charles Barkley
At the conclusion of his 16-year NBA career, Charles Barkley was one of four players in league history with at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone. Barkley is now a TNT NBA analyst.