Oscars 2021: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ ‘Nomadland,’ ‘Trial of the Chicago 7’ among N.J.-connected nominees

Amy Kuperinsky | NJ.com

Newark’s Kenny and Keith Lucas — the Lucas Brothers — lead a group of nominees with New Jersey ties at this year’s Oscars.

Nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards were announced Monday morning. The twin brothers have been nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which is up for best picture.

Three movies in contention for best picture have local connections, including “Nomadland” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

The Lucas Brothers, who came up with the story for “Judas,” are nominated alongside co-writers Shaka King (the film’s director) and Will Berson for the screenplay. “Judas” is also nominated for best supporting actor (twice), cinematography and original song.

The movie is about Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, who was fatally shot by police in 1969 after FBI informant William O’Neal provided intel for a raid.

These are the first Oscar nominations for the Lucases, who are among the producers of the film, a group that includes King, Berson, Charles D. King, “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler and executive producer Zinzi Coogler, his wife.

The Lucas Brothers, who grew up in Newark, Irvington and High Point, North Carolina, started out as stand-up comedians.

Soon after the nominations were announced, they changed their Instagram bio to “*Oscar nominated stand-up comedians from NORK.”

“Brick City, we did it!” they said in an Instagram post Monday afternoon. “We got nominated for Academy Awards! ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ got nominated for six Oscars. We’re so proud of everyone involved in making this truly remarkable film. Most importantly, we’re honored to have been a part of the team to help share Fred’s story. Thank you Fred Hampton Jr. and Mama Akua for entrusting us with Fred’s legacy.”

Fred Hampton Jr., Hampton’s son, and his mother Akua Njeri (formerly Deborah Johnson), Hampton’s fiancee at the time of his death, served as consultants on the film. Njeri was there when Hampton was killed in the police raid.

The Lucas Brothers first learned about Hampton in an African American studies class at The College of New Jersey.

“Fred Hampton’s a footnote in Black history,” Keith Lucas, 35, told NJ Advance Media in February. “Even in that class, his story wasn’t emphasized. It was almost like in passing.”

The Lucases set out to tell Hampton’s story through the FBI informant who helped set in motion the events that led to the leader’s fatal shooting by police in 1969.

Daniel Kaluuya, who plays Hampton and won a Golden Globe for the role, is nominated for best supporting actor alongside his “Get Out” co-star LaKeith Stanfield, who plays FBI informant William O’Neal, a Black Panther security chief who gave police intel ahead of their fatal raid of Hampton’s home.

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” released Feb. 12 in theaters and on HBO Max, was available on the streaming service through March 14.

The Lucases, Berson and King are also set to receive the Writers Guild of America West’s Paul Selvin Award on March 21 for writing a script that “embodies the spirit of constitutional and civil rights and liberties.” The brothers are nominated for a Writers Guild Award for original screenplay.

Nomadland” is another best picture nominee with a Jersey link.

The film’s director, Chloé Zhao, who made history as the first Asian American woman to win best director at the Golden Globes, makes history again as the first woman of Asian descent and the first woman of color nominated for best director at the Oscars. Zhao, 38, is also one of two women nominated for best director this year, which is itself an Oscar first (Emerald Fennell is nominated for “Promising Young Woman”).

Zhao, who is nominated for four Oscars, received a nomination for best adapted screenplay for turning journalist Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book of the same name into a film that is now nominated for best picture (Zhao is also nominated for film editing).

Bruder, who grew up in Montclair, lived in a van named Van Halen while documenting nomadic older Americans who ditched rent and traditional homes — “sticks and bricks” — for life on the road as “workampers.” These itinerant seniors (and younger nomads) live in vans, cars and RVs while moving from job to job, including warehouse work for Amazon.

Real-life senior nomads star in Zhao’s film alongside Frances McDormand, a producer of the film. Oscar winner McDormand is nominated for best actress for playing Fern, the lead workamper in the movie, which debuted on Hulu in February after hitting the drive-in movie festival circuit in the fall.

Bruder, a professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism who lives in Brooklyn, became so immersed in van living during her reporting that coming home was an adjustment.

“When I got back, it felt so strange to be waking up in a bedroom,” she told NJ Advance Media in February. “It actually made me nervous.”

“Nomadland” soared up the New York Times best-seller list in the wake of the movie’s release and Golden Globe wins, including best motion picture drama.

“Picking my jaw up off the floor,” Bruder tweeted March 3, after the book made it to No. 2 for paperback nonfiction. “This is bananas!”

Another New Jersey “Nomadland” link is bittersweet. Zhao recently dedicated her Critics Choice Award for best director to Michael Wolf Snyder, a sound mixer on “Nomadland” and her 2018 film “The Rider” who grew up in Moorestown and died by suicide. Snyder’s father found him dead on March 1 in his Queens apartment.

Wyckoff’s Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers and his wife, actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, announced the Oscar nominations from London.

The best part of their appearance was probably when the celebrity couple had to say “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” both times that movie was nominated.

Yet another Oscar nominee with a Jersey connection is Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which premiered on Netflix in October and filmed in various New Jersey locations including Paterson, Morristown, Newark, Clifton, Montclair and Hoboken.

The film is nominated for best picture, original screenplay, film editing, original song and cinematography. Sacha Baron Cohen is nominated for best supporting actor for playing activist Abbie Hoffman in the movie, which is based on the real trial of a group of men who organized protests in connection with the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Hoffman co-founded the Youth International Party, whose members were known as Yippies.

The 1968 protests — anti-Vietnam War and counterculture events which arrived in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy — became violent when police officers and the National Guard clashed with protesters. Organizers Hoffman, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) were charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot. The Chicago 7 were acquitted of conspiracy charges, but some were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot. In 1972, those convictions were overturned.

“Trial” filmed in Chicago but also at Paterson’s Community Baptist Church of Love and a mansion in the city’s Eastside Historic District as well as city hall in Newark, Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison (the Florham campus) and Morristown’s Saint Elizabeth University (formerly the College of Saint Elizabeth).

With “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the movie is one of two films this year to portray Fred Hampton. Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Hampton in Sorkin’s film opposite Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, chairman and co-founder of the Black Panthers.

Other “Trial” Jersey connections: Ben Shenkman (“Billions”) plays attorney and Belleville native Leonard Weinglass, who defended the men alongside attorney William Kunstler, played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”). Bayonne native Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) plays Judge Julius Hoffman, who ordered Seale to be chained and gagged during the trial. And Noah Robbins (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) plays Lee Weiner, a member of the extended Chicago 7 who went on to become a professor of sociology at Rutgers University.

Read the full article here.

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