Moonlight stars Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Edson Jean, Alex R. Hibbert, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and Patrick Decil.
The Progies have for ten years celebrated progressive features, documentaries, and the artists who made and appear in them. The nominations and awards are given in a variety of categories named after great lefty filmmakers and films of conscience, consciousness and creativity. This year the Progie award winners were announced at a live ceremony at the Los Angeles Workers Center on February 24, preceding the kickoff of the Ten Films That Shook the World series celebrating the Russian Revolution’s 100th anniversary.
And the winners are . . .
With three accolades, the biggest winner for Best Progressive Films and Filmmakers is Moonlight. Set mostly in urban Miami, Moonlight offers a beautifully shot and sensitive portrayal of childhood, even as it deals with substance and child abuse, gay bashing, the prison industrial complex, and poverty. Directed and co-written by Barry Jenkins, and based on co-screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, Moonlight won The Trumbo Progie Award for Best Progressive Picture, named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten, imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to be an informer, and helping break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for Spartacus and Exodus in 1960.
Moonlight won in two other Progie categories, including The Robeson, for Best Portrayal of People of Color. It also scored The Pasolini, for Best Pro-LGBTQ Rights film, named after Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini of 1964’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew and 1971’s The Decameron.
Based on a true story about African American women who fight the odds in order to work for NASA’s space program, Hidden Figures won the Marianne & Juliane Progie for Best Pro-Feminist Depiction of Women, named after Margarethe von Trotta’s 1981 German film about sisters—one an editor, the other a militant. In Hidden Figures Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe portray black mathematicians who helped launch astronauts into outer space
Raoul Peck’s nonfiction biopic I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin, won The Dziga, The Best Progressive Documentary Progie. This award was named after Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, director of the Kino Pravda newsreels and 1929’s Man with the Movie Camera.
Denzel Washington won the Newman—Best Progressive Actor Progie named after actor and philanthropist Paul Newman—for his portrayal of sanitation worker Troy Maxson in Fences, an adaptation of August Wilson’s searing 1950s family drama. Washington, who also directed, delivers a powerhouse performance: Although Troy becomes Pittsburgh’s first black sanitation worker to drive a garbage truck, the former athlete is consumed by bitterness as Jim Crow robbed him of the opportunity to play major league baseball. (This occurs before Jackie Robinson broke the segregated sport’s color boundary.) In 2007, Washington’s debut directorial effort, The Great Debaters—which Denzel also starred in as real life debate team coach and leftwing union organizer Melvin Tolson—won the Progies’ very first Trumbo Award.
Viggo Mortensen scored The Sergei, the Lifetime Progressive Achievement Progie named after Sergei Eisenstein, Soviet director of masterpieces such as Potemkin and 10 Days That Shook the World. Mortenson, who was interviewed in the October 2016 issue of The Progressive, also stars in Captain Fantastic, which won The Bunuel, The Progie for the Most Slyly Subversive Satirical Cinematic Film in terms of form, style and content, named after Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel, who directed 1929’s The Andalusian Dog and 1967’s Belle de Jour. As the title character in Captain Fantastic Mortenson portrays a father who imposes a back-to-nature philosophy on his family, which eschews consumerism and celebrates “Noam Chomsky Day,” instead of Christmas.
Pablo Larraín’s highly imaginative, metaphorical biopic Neruda, about Chile’s leftwing poet Pablo Neruda, was awarded The Gillo for Best Progressive Foreign Film, named after Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, whose films include the 1960s classics The Battle of Algiers and Burn! Neruda stars Luis Gnecco as the title character, relentlessly hunted by Gael Garcia Bernal’s secret policeman, after Chile’s government cracks down on Communists in the 1940s. Neruda also received The Conformist for Best Anti-Fascist Film, named after Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 anti-Mussolini movie.
Luis Gnecco as Pablo Neruda. Photo The Orchard.
Starring in the kinky, quirky anti-rape drama Elle, French actress Isabelle Huppert achieved The Morley for Best Progressive Actress, named after Karen Morley, co-star of 1932’s crime classic Scarface and 1934’s Our Daily Bread, a Charlie Chaplin-produced picture about an American commune struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson won the Our Daily Bread Progie for the Most Positive and Inspiring Working Class Screen Image. In this low budget indy film, Adam Driver (HBO’s Girls, the Star Wars franchise) depicts a simple, sweet-natured blue collar poet, whose day job is driving a bus in Paterson, New Jersey.
Another independent film, Eye in the Sky, was voted The Renoir for Best Anti-War Film, named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece Grand Illusion. Eye in the Sky is a timely, cutting edge military drama about the ethical costs of drone warfare. The film stars Helen Mirren (2006’s The Queen), Aaron Paul (of AMC’s Breaking Bad series) and, in his final movie, Alan Rickman of the Harry Potter flicks. This gripping U.K. production is directed by Johannesburg-born Gavin Hood, who previously directed the 2005 South Africa-set movie Tsotsi and 2007’s Rendition. Rendition, starring Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal, challenged the Bush regime’s abductions of terrorist suspects, interrogation methods and black site secret detention facilities.
Awarded mainly for their progressive content, The Progies offer an antidote to the highly commercialized Academy Awards, which not only neglected the contributions of African Americans to cinema last year, but this year completely snubbed The Birth of a Nation, without a single nomination while giving the rather whitebread musical La La Land fourteen nominations. Nate Parker’s Nat Turner slave revolt epic did not win any Progies, but The Birth of a Nation was nominated in three categories, including for the The Trumbo for Best Progressive Picture.
Presenters at The Progie Awards ceremony included ninety-six-year-old Norma Barzman, a blacklisted screenwriter who went into exile during the McCarthy era, which she wrote about in a memoir, The Red and the Blacklist. Also presenting were film critic John Esther; People’s World staffer Eric Gordon; Bob Sharka, founder and executive director of Friends Of Film; Dick Price and Sharon Kyle, publishers and editors of HollywoodProgressive.com and LAProgressive.com.
As The Progie Awards celebrate its tenth anniversary, it remains “The People’s Oscars.”