With the Academy Awards ceremony fast approaching, there is a bumper crop of movies set in Virginia to root for this year.
Normally, the production of three motion pictures based on Virginia history would be the occasion for considerable congratulations and back-slapping. Sadly, all three films dwell on the state’s troubled racial past, not exactly the kind of notoriety we’re looking for. Still, that’s no reason for Virginians not to confront their past and appreciate the stories these films have to tell.
I’ve already plugged “Loving” about the inter-racial marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving set in 1960s-era Virginia. That intensely moving movie culminated with what everyone (well, almost everyone) would consider to be a happy ending: the overthrow of the state’s anti-miscegenation law.
A second movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” stars and was directed by Norfolk native Nate Parker. That production recounts the story of Nat Turner, leader of the most infamous slave rebellion in U.S. history. I haven’t watched it yet (I’m waiting for Amazon Prime to carry it), but I did see Parker speak, and I found it fascinating how he cast Turner as a liberty-seeking rebel along the lines of Virginia’s founding fathers. I’m not sure that view can be reconciled with the bloodiness of the uprising, which the film apparently glosses over, but it is a provocative point worth pondering. (View the trailer here.)
The movie with the best shot at winning an Academy Award is “Hidden Figures,” the story of three black women in segregationist Virginia who worked as “computers” (people who carried out computations by hand) at NASA Langley for the early space program. The film portrayed the indignities of segregation in 1960s Hampton — blacks relegated to the back of the bus, water fountains for whites and blacks, and in what becomes a major plot point, the separation of bathrooms. But the movie focused mainly on the grit and determination of the lead characters in the face of adversity. Like “Loving,” the movie has a feel-good ending as the women win recognition for their accomplishments and the trappings of segregation are dismantled at the NASA facility.
I’m not a big fan of the Academy Awards — too much self-glorification by Hollywood — but if you have occasion to watch the ceremony, heat up the popcorn, ease into your recliner and root for the home team.
Update: How could I have forgotten “Hacksaw Ridge?” The movie who recounted the World War II exploits Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who grew up near Lynchburg and served his country as a medic.