The cinematic surge of civil rights-related cinema has swept the eighth annual Progies, awarded by the James Agee Cinema Circle to the year’s Best Progressive films and filmmakers. Ava DuVernay’s Civil Rights epic Selma scored The Trumbo, the Best Progressive Picture Progie (for more on the Progies and the stories behind their names, read our coverage of this year’s Progie nomination announcements).
Selma’s star, David Oyelowo, went on to win The Garfield Progie Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Martin Luther King as a bold strategist who defied Southern segregationists and President Johnson in the struggle for voting rights.
Justin Simien’s campus satire about racism, Dear White People, starring Tessa Thompson (who also appeared in Selma as SNCC organizer Diane Nash), nabbed The Robeson, awarded for the best portrayal of people of color that shatters cinema stereotypes.
And lifelong civil rights activist Harry Belafonte––who was a friend of Robeson’s and marched with King––earned The Sergei, the Progie Award for lifetime progressive achievement.
As the struggle for marriage equality makes strides, movies with LGBTQ characters and/or themes also took several Progies. The Imitation Game, about computer pioneer Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who cracked Nazi codes to help win World War II, received The Renoir, the Progie for the best anti-war film.
Pride, about British gay activists who support the 1984 miners’ strike against the Thatcher regime, won in two Progie categories: The Pasolini, for Best Pro-LGBTQ Rights film, and The 'Our Daily Bread' Progie for the most positive and inspiring working-class screen image.
The Karen Morley Progie Award for the best actress in a progressive film portraying women went to French thespian Marion Cotillard for playing a Belgian working-class woman fighting unemployment in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night.
French-Swiss movie maestro Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D Goodbye to Language, shot largely in Switzerland, achieved The Gillo Progie for Best Progressive Foreign Film.
Joon-ho Bong’s climate-change sci-fi film Snowpiercer won The Lawson Progie for Best Anti-Fascist Film.
There was a four-way tie in the Bunuel category between Birdman, Inherent Vice, Nightcrawler, and A Trip to Italy. The Bunuel Progie is for the Most Slyly Subversive Satirical Cinematic Film in terms of form, style, and content.
Another big winner was Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour, gaining The Dziga Progie for Best Progressive Documentary. Citizenfour is the nonfiction, insider account of Edward Snowden’s courageous revelations about the NSA’s massive surveillance of millions of ordinary, innocent people. Upon being notified by email that her documentary won The Dziga, Poitras responded: “This is really great.”
The Progressive has recently reported on protests against Best Picture Oscar nominee American Sniper, as well as Fifty Shades of Grey. But Citizenfour is currently also embroiled in a Left vs. Right contest in the Best Documentary Academy Award category, as it competes with the rightwing mockumentary Last Days in Vietnam. The James Agee Cinema Circle––the independent international group of lefty film critics that votes for the Progies to highlight and honor progressive films and filmmakers––contacted PBS, which plans to air Last Days shortly before the fortieth anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Vietnam, requesting that PBS only do so if it is part of a double feature with an anti-Vietnam War film, such as Oliver Stone’s Platoon or the Academy Award winning 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds, in order to provide balance.
"These films are not just the best progressive films of the year. They are the best films of the year."The one thing most of this year's winners share––Pride, Selma, Snowpiercer, Two Days, One Night, Dear White People, and especially the perennial 'loser' Cesar Chavez––is an honest recognizable portrait of the struggling working class."
In awarding Citizenfour The Dziga, the James Agee Cinema Circle rejected pro-war propaganda and paid tribute to a nonfiction film chronicling dissent against and resistance to Orwellian police state spying on innocent citizens.
It remains to be seen if the Motion Picture Academy will be on the right side of history on Feb. 22, 2015.
Ed Rampell covers the intersections of Hollywood and progressive activism for The Progressive.