After Eugenio Derbez’s 2013 comedy Instructions Not Included became a surprise hit — and the highest-grossing Mexican film ever in the US — the actor-filmmaker suddenly found himself taking meetings all over Hollywood. At one of those meetings at MGM Studios, he was handed a list of remakes of earlier MGM movies for him to produce as a starring vehicle, and one title leapt out at him: Overboard.
“I was so excited, because I grew up watching this film,” Derbez told BuzzFeed News. He’s far from alone, either — the romantic comedy starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn wasn’t a box office sensation when it opened in 1987, but over the years, the film has become beloved comfort food for its fans.
“I was in love with Goldie Hawn,” said Derbez. “She was my movie star crush. I immediately said yes, and we started developing the script.”
But after Derbez and his producing partner Ben Odell hired the filmmaking team, including director Rob Greenberg and his writing partner Bob Fisher, they discovered that remaking Overboard for a modern audience presented some major challenges — and equally exciting opportunities.
The biggest hurdle: Rewatching the original movie makes it painfully clear that it’s the platonic ideal of a “problematic fave.” The plot hinges on Russell’s working-class single father who clashes with Hawn’s conceited millionaire on her yacht; after she subsequently falls overboard and is afflicted with total retrograde amnesia, he dupes her into believing she is really his wife so she can take care of his four unruly sons and keep up his dilapidated home. At one point in the film, Russell’s character gleefully sings about having his own slave, and while he never takes advantage of her physically, the fact that he could lingers uncomfortably.
As Derbez wryly put it, “Nowadays, it looks really rude to have a guy kidnapping a woman to make her work at home.”
To resolve that particularly fraught issue, the filmmakers chose to flip the genders of the two leads, making Derbez’s character, Leo, the haughty one-percenter afflicted with amnesia, and transforming Russell’s role into an exasperated single mother with three daughters and two jobs — played by the comedically gifted Anna Faris — who hoodwinks Leo into domestic servitude. To eliminate any hint of sexual coercion once Leo begins living with Kate’s family, the filmmakers also made Leo an enthusiastic bachelor who has no problem having sex with total strangers.
“He would be willing to sleep with [Kate] on day one,” said Greenberg. “He doesn’t care. So we kind of take abuse off the table.” (Ultimately, Kate puts the brakes on any sex with Leo, and they sleep in separate areas of the house.)
Updating Overboard’s tricky gender politics also ended up providing Derbez with a rare opportunity. Making his character extravagantly wealthy — in the film, he’s the son of the third richest man in the world — allowed the actor-producer to fulfill his ambition to help broaden the way Latinx characters are portrayed in mainstream Hollywood movies.
“I was fed up with always playing in Hollywood, you know, the narcos, the criminals, the gang member,” he said. “Or, best-case scenario, the gardener. The Latino audience, my core audience, were always telling me that they wanted to dignify the image of Latinos in Hollywood.”
The filmmakers didn’t just stop with Derbez’s character, either. The new Overboard is filled with a broad spectrum of Latinx characters, including middle-class business owners played by Eva Longoria and The Last Man on Earth’s Mel Rodriguez, as well as working-class short order cooks, and construction crew laborers.
“I think that’s America. If you walk into any restaurant or store, all the people working there, or also buying there, are from all over the world — Asians, Latinos, Afro-Americans,” said Derbez. “This is a land of immigrants.”
That effort also extended to the casting: Rodriguez is Cuban American, Longoria is Mexican American, and Josh Segarra, who plays an aspiring musician and one of the construction laborers working alongside Leo, is Puerto Rican. “We’re not saying, oh, the Mexican millionaire,” said Derbez. “It just happens that I’m Mexican. It just happens that the other guy is Puerto Rican or Cuban or whatever. That’s the way we see life in America.”
“It made [the movie] feel like it reflected the world that we live in, at least in Los Angeles,” said Fisher. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be any reason for doing the movie, just to redo a movie that people already love.”
The Overboard filmmakers also wanted to be sure their film honestly reflected the lives of the working-class Latinx people. In one standout scene, Leo, who can’t shake the feeling that his life should be much better, complains to his fellow workers that he feels like he’s “just a paycheck,” causing one to respond, “We all feel this way, man. Welcome to the club.”
For Derbez, the scene spoke to a common experience he has meeting Latinx waiters who he later sees valeting cars at a different restaurant. “I’m always asking them, ‘How do you do this? When do you see your family? When do you enjoy your kids and your house?'” said Derbez. “And they say, ‘You know, I’m here to give my family a better life, so I don’t have time for me. I’m just like a paycheck. I just have to get them money because I want them to succeed.’ They’re working hard to give their families a better life.”
All the changes the filmmakers made to update their film from the 1987 Overboard reflect how much audiences, and filmmakers, have evolved in their expectations that even a silly, high-concept rom-com should reflect our more socially conscious reality. And yet, the original film’s emphasis on the transformative love of and for your family is what so endeared it to Derbez 30 years ago — and ultimately why he felt drawn to remake it.
“He has a yacht, he has servants, he has women, he has every single thing in the world but love, real love,” Derbez said of his character. “So when he goes from having everything to nothing, the only thing that he has [is] the love of a real family. Our intention was to try to teach the characters that there are things that money can’t buy. The love from a real family is one of them.”
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Warning: The following story contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Avengers: Infinity War.
The screenwriters of Avengers: Infinity War always knew the ending to their movie would be emotional, but they didn’t quite grasp how emotional until they saw the actors performing it for the first time.
“As you’re writing these things, you have to be fairly calculating and cold,” Christopher Markus told BuzzFeed News. “You know, I don’t tear up every time I read it. But to see the characters fully rendered, and to see the actors’ faces processing that loss, it’s pretty profound.”
“That loss” consists of arguably the most brutal, devastating conclusion in a massively popular franchise movie ever. (And if the previous warnings weren’t already clear, the rest of this story contains MAJOR SPOILERS.) After collecting all six Infinity Stones, cosmic villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) snaps his fingers and causes half the population of the universe to disintegrate into ash, including over a dozen of Marvel Studios’ most celebrated superheroes, like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and almost all of the Guardians of the Galaxy. To say the ending has made people emotional is a bit like saying the movie made a lot of money on its opening weekend.
“It really seemed to be a gut punch to people in a way that I didn’t fully [realize],” said Markus.
But what do all these deaths mean? Are these characters all really dead, or will they somehow return in the untitled Avengers movie that was filmed alongside Infinity War and is due to open a year from now? To answer these questions and more, BuzzFeed News grilled Markus and his writing partner Stephen McFeely, and got some surprising answers.
They always knew Thanos would succeed — they just had to figure out when.
Infinity War and its sequel are based in part on the 1991 Infinity Gauntlet comic series by Jim Starlin. Thanos succeeds in his quest in that comic, and Markus and McFeely said that they and their main collaborators — directors Anthony and Joe Russo along with producer and Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige — never seriously entertained the idea that their films wouldn’t also include Thanos’s apocalyptic snap of his fingers.
“This is the hero’s journey for Thanos,” said McFeely. “By the end of the hero’s journey, our main character, our protagonist — at least, in this case — gets what he wants.” At first the writers weren’t quite sure when in the two films Thanos’s snap would come, until they ultimately realized that putting it at the climax of Infinity War would give that film its strongest ending.
“Even if the end is a tragedy, we wanted it to be definitive,” said Markus. “To say, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s he going to do?! He’s only got one [Infinity Stone] left! I wonder if he’ll get the other one!’ That just seemed like ‘Tune in next week’ jerking around.”
Deciding who was going to turn to dust was about setting up the story for Avengers 4.
If it seemed like many of the characters who died at the end of Infinity War also got the most screentime in Infinity War — and that several of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest characters, like Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), got short shrift — that was by design. “We had so many characters in movie 1, and we knew it was a two-movie conversation,” said McFeely. “Some characters were better served in movie 2 after this event. We were making some choices based on some characters we knew were going to leave us at the end of the first movie, so they got highlighted in the first movie. And some who were going to be in the second movie more maybe got less attention or less screentime [in Infinity War] — I’m thinking of Cap and Natasha, specifically. It’s about the story we wanted to tell in movie 2, mostly.”
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and star Chris Pratt made a small but crucial change to the script.
In Infinity War, Gamora’s knowledge of the whereabouts of the Soul Stone — the only missing Infinity Stone — leads her to make Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) promise to kill her should Thanos, her father, ever capture her. In the original script, when Thanos does take Gamora, Star-Lord ultimately can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. But Gunn and Pratt both said he would.
“The more I think about it, the better it is that it got changed,” said McFeely. He pointed out that Thanos’s use of the Reality Stone to have Star-Lord’s gun fire bubbles instead allowed the screenwriters to include a callback to the moment later in the film. But more broadly, Star-Lord’s decision to kill the woman he loves tied in with Infinity War’s underlying theme that doing what you believe to be the right thing can come at a terrible personal cost.
“Thanos has that same choice later [to kill Gamora], and he chooses to do it and succeeds,” said McFeely. “Wanda has that same choice later [with Vision]. A lot of characters have really tough choices to make.”
Speaking of tough choices, Markus and McFeely didn’t know killing off T’Challa would be quite so painful for fans, but they have no regrets.
“First of all, we would do it all over again,” said McFeely about their shocking decision to turn Black Panther to dust. “But remember, when we’re writing [Infinity War], and even shooting, there is no Black Panther movie. We don’t know it’s going to be so good, so effective, so resonant. And we had to treat all these characters the same. People who leave us [in Infinity War] are the leads of their own franchises. And Black Panther’s no different.”
Killing characters as major as Black Panther and Spider-Man also helped drive home for audiences just how immense Thanos’s victory was. “We wanted that thing that happens at the end of that movie to have as much impact as possible,” said Markus. “If you’re very carefully getting rid of your supporting cast, then it does seem like you’re pulling your punch.”
They weren’t thinking about the next Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
As McFeely acknowledged, anyone paying attention to the historic success of Marvel Studios’ entire slate of films knows that several of the characters who died at the end of Infinity War front their own lucrative movie franchises. Prior to the release of Infinity War, Feige talked explicitly about the next Spider-Man movie. Gunn announced in 2017 that he was writing and directingGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. And if there were no Black Panther sequel, the shareholders of Disney would likely revolt — not to mention the fans.
Because these characters are almost certainly returning for more movies down the line, audiences could come to regard the deaths in Infinity War cynically. But Markus and McFeely said they had to set aside that kind of thinking when writing Infinity War.
“We can’t make movies assuming you know how movies get made,” said McFeely. “We can just tell the best version of the story we can, and hopefully you are investing in that story while you’re in it, and you feel appropriate sadness or joy while you’re in it. We can’t account for having one step outside the movie theater while you’re watching it. We would be terrible storytellers if we did that.”
But don’t expect Avengers 4 to “fix” things — at least, not in the way you might anticipate.
Understandably, Markus and McFeely chose their words carefully when talking about Avengers 4. But listening to them talk about how Infinity War’s deaths — including the more, er, traditional deaths of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Vision (Paul Bettany) — will affect Avengers 4, it seems pretty clear characters won’t be resurrected good as new like they are in the comic, or at least without some great cost.
“[Avengers 4] doesn’t do what you think it does,” said Markus. “It is a different movie than you think it is.” Then he paused. “Also…[the deaths are] real. I just want to tell you it’s real, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you will be able to move on to the next stage of grief.”
McFeely broke in. “Put it this way,” he said. “I think [Infinity War] is a fairly mature movie for a blockbuster. It’s got a lot of fun in it, obviously, but boy, it gets very mature. The second one is also mature. We’re going to own these choices, and hopefully surprise and delight you and get you invested. It’s by the same studio, the same filmmaking team. They were written at the same time, shot at the same time. They’re clearly connected, but they are definitely two different movies, one of which is dependent on what happened previous.”
“We broke your heart,” added Markus. “Now we’re going to blow your mind!”
The next two Marvel Studios movies — Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel — are key to understanding the events in Infinity War and Avengers 4.
The post-credits scene in Infinity War features a disintegrating Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appearing to send an SOS to the as yet unseen Captain Marvel via a mysterious-looking pager — suggesting that the character, who will be played by Brie Larson, will perform a significant role in Avengers 4. According to Markus and McFeely, however, fans should also pay attention to what happens in the Captain Marvel movie opening in March 2019 — as well as in Ant-Man and the Wasp, opening in July this year, and starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as the title characters.
“Put yourself in our positions two years ago,” said McFeely. “We’re looking at a blank wall, and it says Avengers 3, Ant-Man and [the] Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers 4. So there are four big shoeboxes, and we’re responsible for the bookends. As we’re going through deciding what we want to do, we have these two shoeboxes in the middle that you can either look at as burdens or opportunities.”
Other than “very small suggestions” from the Avengers team, McFeely emphasized that the filmmakers for Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel “got to make exactly the movies they wanted.” But those movies will still be tied to the events in Avengers 4 in some meaningful ways.
“My hope is the conversation you and I will have a year from now, you’ll have a sense of the choices we’ve made over the course of an entire year of Marvel movies,” said McFeely. “There’s a relationship between them all.”
And don’t forget about Hawkeye!
All of the original Avengers — Captain America, Black Widow, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) — survived Infinity War, which only calls further attention to the total absence of the sixth member of their original team: Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye.
Don’t worry, however. Hawkeye will return!
“We like Hawkeye,” said Markus. “We like Hawkeye so much we gave him a really good story.” For what that story is, and how it could affect the fate of the MCU, we’ll have to wait until Avengers 4 opens in 2019.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
The notion that Avengers: Infinity War is the most ambitious crossover event in history has spawned an entire ecosystem of skeptical memes, but also, let’s face it, it’s completely true. With roughly 40 significant roles, pulling from storylines spanning 18 separate movies over the last 10 years, Infinity War is unlike any feature film ever attempted by Hollywood.
At the front lines of that effort: screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The duo — who cut their teeth on franchise filmmaking with three of the Chronicles of Narnia movies — started working at Marvel Studios in 2008. They’ve written all three Captain America movies, as well as 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, and they helped create the spinoff series Agent Carter for ABC. Which is to say, they’ve been as steeped in the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as just about anyone short of studio chief Kevin Feige.
For what has been billed as the concluding chapter of this iteration of the MCU, Markus and McFeely were tasked with writing two films: Infinity War, opening in theaters now, and an untitled sequel due to open a year from now, both chronicling the collision between the disparate superheroes within the MCU and the designs of cosmic supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin) to wipe out half of all life in the universe by collecting the six all-powerful Infinity Stones.
To date, the effort has consumed nearly two years of Markus and McFeely’s lives: four months developing the key story beats at the end of 2015, five months writing each screenplay, and then another year rewriting the scripts as the films entered parallel production throughout 2017.
“It was unwieldy,” McFeely told BuzzFeed News, with perfect understatement. “We started shooting before [2018 Marvel films] Black Panther and Ant-Man and the Wasp, and they both finished shooting before we were done.”
The center of the film, by necessity, was Thanos. “He set the story,” said Markus. “He’s the driver. Once we figured out what he was doing and what he wanted to do, everyone else, we just figured out how they slotted into either trying to stop [him] or not.” But while sorting out how to thread that ginormous purple-faced needle, Markus and McFeely also had great fun playing with all the characters in the MCU — quite literally.
While working on the script, the pair holed up inside a vast conference room in Marvel Studios headquarters, one entire wall of which was filled with baseball cards featuring every character within the MCU. Then the screenwriters shuffled them around to figure out who should be matched up with whom. “We knew we didn’t want 25 people in a room, 25 people in a room, 25 people in a room,” said McFeely. “We thought smaller stories that weave together. They’re all pretty simple, because it’s about somebody’s coming for your stuff. But by weaving them together, it will feel complex.”
Handling the classic Avengers — Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) — was second nature for the duo. The bigger challenge was incorporating the characters who’d remained largely on the fringes of the MCU before now. Here’s how they did it.
Opening three months after Black Panther started as a potential curse, and then became a massive blessing.
Of the many hurdles facing Markus and McFeely, one of the most daunting was the knowledge that their film would be coming out just months after Black Panther — and yet given the enormous size of both films, they had to start their writing process before Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole began writing Black Panther.
“We’re writing a story that has a substantial action sequence that takes place in Wakanda, but we know that three months earlier, [Black Panther is] probably going to have an action sequence that’s going to take place in Wakanda,” said McFeely. “We thought, Are we repeating ourselves?Are they any other options? There were none better than what we had for the story. So we went with it.”
Markus and McFeely said while they did speak with Coogler and Cole, their main conduit for intel on Black Panther was executive producer Nate Moore, who’d worked with the screenwriters on the previous two Captain America films. “We would ask permission: Is this ridiculous or cool?” said McFeely.
Of course, the world now knows that Black Panther was nothing less than a historic phenomenon. “We felt a little smart and lucky,” said McFeely with a laugh. “It feels pretty cool that people are excited about [seeing Wakanda again], as opposed to, Oh god, we’ve got to go to this place again.”
That was especially true of their decision to give the Black Panther character of Shuri (Letitia Wright) a crucial role in the film’s third act. “We didn’t know that Shuri was going to become a beloved national treasure,” said McFeely. “But we knew that she played an integral part, and we could use her.”
One big moment in Black Panther connected deeply with the core theme of Infinity War.
At the end of Black Panther (spoiler alert for a movie literally everyone has seen), the titular hero T’Challa decides to reveal to the world his country’s true nature as the most technologically advanced society in the world, after defeating Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wanted to do just that (but with bombs). “I’ve never seen the hero change his mind even after defeating the villain,” said McFeely, in awe. “It’s fascinating.”
T’Challa’s decision also has massive, and ominous, repercussions in Infinity War — it’s one of the reasons Markus and McFeely chose to set the film’s final act in Wakanda.
“One of the themes of the movie is the cost of your own heroism,” said McFeely. “What are you willing to do to get what you want, and given how you behave, what are the consequences? Bad things are now going to happen because you’ve chosen to be a hero to the world, and not just a country.”
Arguably the most effective piece of marketing in the massive promotional blitz for Infinity War has been the TV ad (which you can view above) in which T’Challa leads the Wakandan forces in a war chant against Thanos’s mounting horde. And it was all the actors’ idea.
“Yeah, we did not write any chants,” said McFeely. “[The actors] showed up on set and said, ‘We do this thing,’ and he goes, ‘Yibambe!’ And everybody went, ‘Holy crap!’ My hair stood on end. ‘Do that!’ It was really like Wakanda came to the movie.”
Getting to write for the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange was especially fun.
Given their extensive experience within the MCU — including introducing T’Challa in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War — there were only two major franchises whose title characters Markus and McFeely had not yet written for: the Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) — and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).
For the Guardians’ particular style of snipe-y, snappy banter, Markus and McFeely consulted with two-time Guardians of the Galaxy writer-director James Gunn, and they also relied on the actors’ considerable improvisational skills. “Those actors know their characters really well,” said McFeely.
“In some ways, they were the ones we were most excited about bringing into it. It spices things up,” added Markus. “That tone is closer to real life than Iron Man talking to Captain America. That doesn’t happen that often, but people are sniping at each other in my house all the time! So that was reasonably easy to sink into.”
Writing for the Guardians wasn’t just a joke parade, though. The connection between Gamora and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), and their adoptive father Thanos, also lent their scenes crucial dramatic weight. “Even though [the Guardians] may be the lightest and in some ways jokiest pie slice of the MCU, they’re also the closest to this nightmare that’s about to happen,” said Markus.
As for Doctor Strange, Markus and McFeely decided to pair him up with Tony Stark, despite how counterintuitive it might have seemed at first — and their inspiration was a classic NBC sitcom. “Two egotistical guys with goatees — is that overkill?” said Markus. “It made us think about, well, on Frasier, they had an uptight guy, and the instinct would be to make his brother, like, a truck driver. Look, it’s a crazy odd couple! But they made [his brother] even more uptight, and it worked fine. So that was our inspiration.”
There wasn’t much time for character development.
Those familiar with Peter Quill’s story from the Guardians films know that the character was born on Earth, only to be whisked away from his home planet as a child, never (yet) to return. In Infinity War, Peter will meet the first humans from Earth he’s seen since that day (at least, that we know of), but don’t count on him to savor the opportunity to wax nostalgic about home.
“This is driven by a very propulsive, time-sensitive plot,” said Markus. “So we didn’t have that much time for people to sit back and go, like, ‘Are there still Dairy Queens?’”
“We would love to tell the four-hour story of every plot strand coming together, and echoes from six movies ago,” added McFeely.
“As much material as there was on the side that you could have done, this giant purple guy is coming,” continued Markus. “So there was never that much available real estate to fill up with this stuff.”
Balancing characters between both Avengers movies was key.
Indeed, given the vast amount of story to cover, and characters to include, in Infinity War, Markus and McFeely are acutely aware that many fans will end up feeling frustrated by how little their favorite MCU characters made it into the film. But while they were both loath to discuss any spoilers for Infinity War, they did quite tellingly emphasize that the movie is one half of a larger story.
“[Characters] don’t have the same amount [of screentime] in each movie,” said Markus. “They only get as much as the story demands for them. You might feel, I could’ve used 15% more Captain America there, but, like, you’d be riffing as opposed to telling a story. So I think over the span of two movies, everyone gets exactly the amount of screentime they need and deserve.”
Added McFeely, “You may walk away from movie one and go, Well, I could’ve used more of the character. Odds are, you’ll get a lot of that character in the next movie.”
Keeping secrets is surprisingly easy when you’re the screenwriters.
Despite literally being the first people to know of many of the most critical plot and character developments in Infinity War and its sequel, Markus and McFeely said they have weathered almost no difficulty keeping those secrets to themselves.
“No one asks us crap,” McFeely said with a laugh. “No one knows who we are! We’re completely invisible.”
“Everyone I see at work knows the answer, so they’re not asking me,” added Markus with a weary smile. “And everyone I see at home does not give a damn. So it’s like, ‘Hey, I know something about Thanos!’ ‘Uh-huh. That’s great.’”
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
On the night of July 18, 1969, Sen. Ted Kennedy — the last surviving son of the powerful Kennedy political dynasty — drove his car off of a small, wooden bridge on Chappaquiddick, a sandy speck of an island off the coast of Massachusetts. He somehow escaped, but even though his 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, was still trapped in the partially submerged car, Kennedy did not report the accident for another 10 hours. Kopechne died, sparking a media frenzy, and the incident effectively ended Kennedy’s hopes of ever ascending to the presidency. For a time, the word “Chappaquiddick” rivaled “Watergate” as a metaphor for catastrophic political scandal.
Kennedy’s career, however, not only didn’t end — it thrived for 40 more years until his death in 2009. “There was no other senator in my lifetime that achieved more than him,” said director John Curran (Tracks, The Painted Veil), whose new film Chappaquiddick, opening today, re-creates the events surrounding the scandal. Curran was 9 years old when Kennedy and Kopechne’s faces shared the front pages with the Apollo 11 moon landing, and his family and the Kopechnes lived in neighboring towns in New Jersey. But as it was for so many others, the incident ultimately faded for Curran into a fuzzy footnote in Kennedy’s storied career as one of the country’s most successful and respected senators.
“As an admirer of Ted Kennedy, I recognize that [Chappaquiddick] was a blind spot that I didn’t really think about,” said Curran. “I conveniently dismissed it.”
Then in 2015, Curran read a screenplay about the event by rookie writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan that made the year’s Black List, the annual survey of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The filmmaker realized just how little he actually knew about even the basic details of the incident. “I was surprised,” he said. “I would never have put it on the same weekend as the moon landing, for instance.” (Indeed, putting the first person on the moon may have been the only event that could have possibly distracted the American public’s attention from the Chappaquiddick scandal.)
More to the point, Curran recognized just how central Chappaquiddick really was to Kennedy’s life, and how vital to understanding the impact he had on the American political landscape.
“However it’s been managed over the years, ultimately history’s going to own Ted Kennedy’s legacy, and I’d like to be a part of at least being honest about this chapter that really defines him,” he said.
Curran said that the production declined to approach the Kennedy family about the film, with the expectation that no one would comment directly anyway. “We got some contact through people that represented them to voice their displeasure in it,” he said. “But there was no dark conspiracy about trying to shut down the film or anything like that.” (When reached by BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute declined to comment.)
And although Kennedy’s cousin and aide Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) ends up becoming the moral center of the film, Curran and Helms also decided against reaching out to him. “I didn’t see the value in kicking that hornet’s nest,” Curran said. (Gargan died in 2017.)
That could be because the film takes an unsparing look at both Kennedy (played by Mudbound‘s Jason Clarke) and the political machine that rallies around him at the behest of his father, Joe (Bruce Dern), leveraging the power of the Kennedy family legacy to obfuscate the truth and protect his political future. At nearly every moment, just about everyone makes the politically expedient choice rather than the obvious moral one, starting with Kennedy’s maddening decision to huddle with Gargan and a friend, US Attorney Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), instead of immediately calling the police and reporting the incident. The film makes it devastatingly clear that Kopechne (Kate Mara) likely did not drown, and died instead of suffocation after breathing all the usable air left trapped in the car. Had authorities been alerted much earlier, there was a chance she could have survived the crash.
“It is a damning portrait because there’s no other way to tell it,” said Curran. “There’s no way you’re going to come up with a version of it that absolves Ted of responsibility.”
The filmmakers were also acutely aware from the start that a major feature film showcasing the worst moments of one of the foremost liberal leaders of the last 40 years could be wielded as a right-wing partisan weapon.
“Of course it will be,” said Curran. “There will be glee from right-leaning people who didn’t like Teddy Kennedy. But that doesn’t discount that it happened. … I would hope that the film is stronger than that, and it is seen as a more nuanced portrait.” The film does explore how the reputations of Kennedy’s late brothers John (a president) and Bobby (a senator and nearly a president) were a crushing burden for Ted at the time, especially just a year after Bobby’s assassination. (Kopechne had worked as a secretary on Bobby’s 1968 presidential campaign.) But it also portrays a Democratic establishment that was so deeply invested in Ted Kennedy’s political career that the fixers brought in to save it are furious with Kennedy for not being smarter about saving himself at the expense of the truth.
And it’s that depiction of how a powerful, national politician and his allies scramble to hold onto political power in the wake of a self-evidently ruinous personal failure that Curran believes is especially relevant for our currently fraught political climate. The film was shot in the fall of 2016, largely in and around Chappaquiddick Island, and the similarities between the heated political divisions of the late 1960s and the bitter rancor kicked up in the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign — including a national candidate winning the White House despite bragging on tape about sexually assaulting women — were impossible to miss.
“There’s that primal thing that, whether you’re left-leaning or right-leaning, you have this sort of in-built allegiance to your team,” he said. “Times when I felt conflicted about this story and Ted, I had to remind myself that I’m screaming for the other side of the aisle to look just as hard at their own candidate.”
He paused. “I don’t know if it will work that way, but how else can you approach this stuff?”
Despite the cynicism inherent in Chappaquiddick— the idea that a powerful enough politician can literally walk away from an accident that ultimately killed a young woman — making the film also left Curran with a slightly less bleak outlook on our current political moment.
“If this accident happened now, Teddy would not have a second chapter,” he said. “It would be over.”
Warning: This story contains SPOILERS for Love, Simon.
It’s difficult to talk about Keiynan Lonsdale’s pivotal scene in Love, Simon without spoiling the movie’s most delightful surprise, but it’s helpful to know that performing it also changed Lonsdale’s life.
In the film, Lonsdale — best known as Wally West, aka Kid Flash, on CW’s The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow — plays Bram, one of three possible love interests for Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a closeted gay teenager who stumbles into an anonymous online flirtation with another closeted gay teen he knows only as Blue. Throughout the film, Simon keeps using the scraps of biography Blue has dropped during their email correspondence to sleuth out who Blue could be, and Bram, a friend of Simon’s, becomes his first romantic suspect — until Simon sees Bram with a girl at a party, and moves on. (Warning: SPOILERS start here!)
As is so often the case in teen movies, the film’s climax arrives with a huge romantic gesture by Simon, asking Blue on a public message board to meet him on the local ferris wheel and come out once and for all. Naturally, half the school gathers to see if Blue will show, and just when Simon and all his friends think Blue has stood him up, Bram suddenly appears and jumps into Simon’s carriage. They kiss. Their friends and classmates cheer. And a quiet but powerful landmark in Hollywood history — the first same-sex teen romance released by a major studio — reaches its happy ending.
“I’m playing this love story between a man and a man. And here I am, still afraid.”
The scene also became a landmark moment for Lonsdale. Since he was 13, he’s known he was attracted to women and men. He’d come out privately to Greg Berlanti, the film’s openly gay director — as well as the executive producer of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. But as he sat up in that ferris wheel shooting a swoon-y moment of same-sex romance, it hit the then-25-year-old that he still hadn’t come out to any of the actors surrounding him in the scene.
“I walked onto that set feeling really nervous, and for some reason I hid it day one, and then I felt like I couldn’t tell them after that, because I’d already not said it,” Lonsdale told BuzzFeed News while hunched over a glass of pineapple juice at a Los Angeles diner. “Part of me was disappointed in myself, because I was in this film, and celebrating this moment, and I wasn’t even championing it for myself. … I’m playing this love story between a man and a man, and everyone is here because they want to honor this beautiful truth. And here I am, still afraid. I’m still not comfortable enough.”
At the wrap party for Love, Simon, Lonsdale finally came out to his fellow actors. And a few weeks later, he came out to the world.
In 2018, an LGBTQ actor declaring their sexuality publicly isn’t the monumental event it was 10 years ago, or even five years ago. Still, the fraught and painful path Lonsdale took to get to that moment makes plain how profoundly meaningful this sweet, uncomplicated coming-of-age movie could be for its audience — and was for one actor in particular.
Love, Simonisn’t the first time Lonsdale has played a gay character. Raised in Australia, he got his first major break as an actor on the local TV series Dance Academy, as Ollie, a cocksure young dancer and one half of a beloved same-sex couple. Lonsdale, however, was nothing like him.
“When I was doing that show, I had never even kissed a boy before,” he said. “I was very frightened to do that role.”
For years, Lonsdale had come to believe that his own attraction to men as well as women set him precariously apart. “I think from a very young age, because I was quite feminine and I danced, I started to pick up that I was different, and that I wasn’t like the other boys,” he said. “After a while, that just really affected me. It made me truly believe that it was wrong to be this way.”
It wasn’t even that Lonsdale recalled hearing anyone explicitly tell him he shouldn’t be attracted to men. It was more just a conviction that he’d absorbed from the world around him. “I didn’t have anyone to look up to who was openly themselves and was black, showing me that it was possible,” he said. “I was just, like, at a very young age, Oh, these are the rules. This is how it is. I didn’t even think, Oh, I could change that.”
Lonsdale had attended a performing arts high school; he’d known plenty of LGBTQ people openly embracing their sexuality. He just couldn’t see himself doing it. “Even though some people would say, ‘Oh, it’s not wrong,’ it would just seem like, Oh, that sucks,” he said. “It seemed like you got the short end of the stick or something.”
With his ambitions to become a successful actor and musician looming in mind, Lonsdale said that at 13 years old, he made a pact with himself. “I was like, I can either be myself and be happy,” he said. “Or I can go for my dreams, and not be myself.”
“I didn’t have anyone to look up to who was openly themselves and was black, showing me that it was possible.”
He chose the latter. “I decided I was going to work on the way that I walked, the way that I talked, the music that I listened to, what I wore,” he said. “It became a daily thing. I would record myself, and hear it back. It was my whole life.”
Lonsdale’s façade slipped a few times. He confessed his sexuality to some close friends, and he told his mother when he turned 20. But the rigid grind of denying who he really was had chipped away so much of himself that after he finished his last season on Dance Academy, and at the urging of one of those confidants, Lonsdale sought out a psychiatrist. “I came to him and basically was like, ‘My dreams are the reason why I can never be myself,’” Lonsdale said. “And he was like, ‘Actually, your dreams are the reason why you can be yourself, and why you should be yourself. How do you ever expect to be a pure artist if you are lying, if you’re not creating from a space of fearlessness and honesty?’”
They were the right words at the right time; soon after hearing them, Lonsdale came out to his full circle of friends. But just a few months later, Lonsdale landed his first major role in an American movie, opposite Shailene Woodley in 2015’s The Divergent Series: Insurgent, propelling him onto what felt like a vastly bigger stage, and into a much brighter spotlight. So he went back into the closet.
Lonsdale’s decision didn’t spring from any overt suggestions from an authority figure, but from the received wisdom of his peers. “I’d heard things just from other actors and other young people, that you couldn’t be a leading actor if you were open about your sexuality,” he said. “Like, casting directors, producers, audiences — they’re just not ready.
So as Lonsdale began his first steps into Hollywood, he decided on his own to remain silent publicly about his sexuality. “Everything was too overwhelming anyway, and that was the last thing I wanted to think about,” he said. “It was just easier to do what I had always been doing my whole life, which was pretend.”
By the time Lonsdale first heard about Love, Simon, he had at least stopped pretending for people in his own life. He was out to the cast of The Flash, and, more importantly, to his representatives, who sent him the audition for Bram like any other potential job.
It helped that the director was already familiar with Lonsdale’s particular appeal. “He just embodied Bram,” Berlanti told BuzzFeed News. “He embodied the spirit of it. There was an all-American [quality], even though he’s not American, and a sweetness he has as a person that comes through in the characters he plays.”
The film shot through March and April of 2017, with Lonsdale zipping to the Atlanta-based production from The Flash‘s Vancouver sets. The bulk of Lonsdale’s role involved that fateful ferris wheel, and a massive Halloween party Bram throws at his home, where he and Simon engage in what seems to Simon like some serious flirtation.
“This movie doesn’t just say, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be this way.’ It’s saying, ‘No, it’s fucking great.’”
It was the first time since moving to the US that Lonsdale had shot a scene of same-sex physical intimacy. “It didn’t feel abnormal, I guess is what made it feel surreal,” he said. “Like, it just felt totally chill. I was like, Oh, this is what we’re doing. We’re here to make this normal, because it is.”
The ferris wheel scene also happened to be the final day of shooting on the film, and Lonsdale recalled trying out several different tones to get the moment just right. “I played a lot with Bram’s feeling of being uncomfortable and exposed, because it’s his coming out,” he said. “But at the same time we wanted to focus on just that connection with him and Simon, and it just being about that. It was a happy ending. I’m glad that we did that.”
As groundbreaking as Love, Simon will likely be for LGBTQ audiences, the film proved to be equally momentous for Lonsdale’s conception of his own sexuality. “This movie doesn’t just say, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be this way,’” he said. “It’s saying, ‘No, it’s fucking great. This is normal. You did nothing wrong. You didn’t get the short end of the stick. Everyone’s good. We’re all good.’ That’s what I needed to hear.”
Lonsdale’s realization that he hadn’t come out to the Love, Simon cast until the last possible moment, coupled with the subtle power of playing scenes of same-sex romance in a major studio film, really did a number on the young actor. “I just started to think about a lot of things,” he said. “I remember saying to my mom, ‘I think I’m going to come out this year. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but something in me is just like, I’m ready.’”
He couldn’t sleep, staying up until 3 a.m. every night writing pages and pages of jumbled feelings on his phone’s Notes app, pouring out the past decade-plus of confusion and shame and repression and self-discovery. Then on May 12, 2017, just as Lonsdale was about to go to bed, he looked again at his digital stack of coming-out missives, deleted them all, and started writing again.
“I like to change my hair,” Lonsdale wrote. “I like to take risks with how I dress, I like girls, & I like guys (yes), I like growing, I like learning, I like who I am and I really like who I’m becoming.” He wrote about how learning to accept himself saved his life, and about how he’d hit “a new road block” and it made him feel lost. He wrote about “not faking shit anymore, not apologising for falling in love with people no matter their gender.” He wrote about being inspired by so many young people being “their best / truest selves,” and asking himself, “so what have I been waiting for?”
Five minutes, 211 words, and one heart emoji later, Lonsdale grabbed a photo he’d already pre-selected and posted what he’d written to Instagram.
“It was everything I needed to say,” said Lonsdale. “I didn’t feel like I was really explaining anything. It was just like, ‘Here it is.’”
Even a cursory scroll through Lonsdale’s Instagram feed since he’s publicly come out makes plain how much that one moment has changed his life. His wardrobe, for one thing, has exploded into a delightful medley of bright colors and patterns — including for this interview, for which Lonsdale wore a brand-new pair of kicky, flowing pants adorned with a vivid flower print.
“It’s definitely being like, Oh, I can wear whatever I want, and I don’t care what people think,” Lonsdale said. “If people think, Oh, he looks gay — well, sure! Do I? Great!”
He’s also started recording more original music. Last October, he resurrected an untended YouTube page — which he’d used for brooding covers of Rihanna, Kanye West, and Ed Sheeran hits — to post an exuberantly colorful music video for his single “Good Life.” (Sample lyric: “Cars, money, so what / We just want real love / All that fake shit, blow it up / You know they can’t control us.”)
“I guess, before [I came out], I spent the majority of my time and my thinking power on how to navigate away from my sexuality,” he said. “A lot of time that could have been spent on creativity, on self-expression, wasn’t there. There was no time for it.”
“If people think, Oh, he looks gay — well, sure! Do I? Great!”
Now that Lonsdale’s wrapped for the season on Legends of Tomorrow (his character jumped over from The Flash in late 2017), he’s focusing all that newfound creative energy on recording an album. His next single, in fact, will be about a crush on a guy — which he wrote after seeing one of the Love, Simon trailers for the first time. “It’s the song that I wish I could’ve heard my favorite artist sing when I was younger,” he said. “Because then I would’ve known I could’ve been just like him.”
And now there is small but prominent assortment of queer role models in film, TV, and music that Lonsdale can look to for inspiration and encouragement. “There could have been room before, you just needed people to make the room,” he said. “Troye Sivan, Frank Ocean, Sam Smith — they broke a lot of barriers just by doing it. … When I found out that Ezra Miller identified as queer, and he played the Flash in Justice League, I was like, oh, that’s cool! He is playing a superhero, and he’s being himself, and it’s no issue. That’s the power of representation. That’s the power of someone choosing to be themselves and being unafraid.”
Over the past 10 months, as Lonsdale has grown freer and more fearless with how he presents himself to the world, he’s become exactly the kind of person the younger version of himself needed so desperately. “I realized the thing that I thought was my biggest weakness — in my music or my acting or my life — was actually my greatest strength,” he said. “We grow up, and we’re like, Oh, [a happy ending] is not real. I’m just starting to realize, maybe it can be real, if you allow it to be.”
Additional reporting by Kate Aurthur.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Mira Sorvino was sitting in Dolby Theater on Sunday night when Frances McDormand, fresh from winning Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, implored all the female nominees that night to stand with her. While Sorvino did win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, she was at the Academy Awards that night as part of the Time’s Up movement, and as one of the first women to come forward with an accusation of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein. But Sorvino still felt that, in a very real sense, McDormand was talking to her, too.
“I was touched by her generosity and inclusiveness,” Sorvino told BuzzFeed News at the Governors Ball after the telecast as she stood next to her fellow Time’s Up compatriot Ashley Judd. “I felt like it was a gesture to all women, and not only in that room, and not only in this industry.
“I feel like there’s sort of a wave happening. … This is this moment for all women to stand up in solidarity with each other to demand a better future for all us. So I felt it was very symbolic of everything Ashley and I have been working on, and something that’s going to be amazing for my daughters. It was beautiful.”
That sentiment was shared by several other women who attended the Oscars who spoke with BuzzFeed News. But it was also clear that McDormand’s speech was more than a moment of solidarity. It stood as another powerful call to action in Hollywood’s ongoing reckoning.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread).
Manville was especially taken by McDormand’s statement that those serious about financing female-led stories should discuss in official meetings, and not in passing at the post-Oscar parties.
“She’s quite right. It has to be taken seriously,” Manville added. “It’s not just a chat ’round a glass of wine. It’s, right, We’re coming into the office, when are we doing it? proper meeting.”
Other women singled out McDormand’s shout out to an inclusivity rider — specifically, contract language for in-demand actors that requires productions to hire a minimum number of women and people of color on a crew — as a powerful and proactive message for the industry. Indeed, it was McDormand’s singular focus; when BuzzFeed News approached her at the Governors Ball to ask about her speech, she simply said, “Inclusion rider: Look it up,” and walked away.
“A lot of people of color have been doing that for a long time unofficially, and demanding a certain number of people on set be people of color,” said filmmaker Dee Rees, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Mudbound, which she also directed. “It’s making your sets look like the world, at a minimum. And it’s not just about tokenism, it’s about talent. That’s the exciting thing. People with the ability and the ambition can have opportunities that are commensurate with who they are.”
Judd — who presented a segment on Time’s Up and diversity in Hollywood during the Oscars telecast with fellow Weinstein accusers Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra — called McDormand’s mention of inclusivity riders “a stroke of genius.”
“To be so specific in our industry about … individual actors demanding an inclusivity rider, she made a point that no one else had remembered to make yet tonight,” Judd said. “It was very valuable.”
Making all these ideas and intentions work to improve diversity within the film industry, however, is a much thornier prospect. When asked whether the attention she’s received over the past five months for Mudbound has translated in financiers eager to back her next project, Rees sighed.
“I feel like as a director, my currency is with actors and producers,” she said. “So I’ve definitely felt I’ve gotten the chance to meet more actors in the past six months than I’ve had previously. I just want to expand the village of artists that I work with. That’s the thing that’s necessary, for actors in invest in us.”
Darla K. Anderson, producer of the Best Animated Feature winner Coco, said she felt McDormand’s speech tapped into a desire within the industry “to have films that look and feel like the world we live in.”
Within her field of feature animation, however, it can take the better-part of a decade for that drive to lead to tangible results.
“I’ve been on this film for six years,” she said of Coco, Pixar’s first film with a non-white human protagonist. “It takes time. But you’ll start to see the seeds of that start to come to fruition.”
And although Anderson noted that she’s worked with “so many women at Pixar for so many years,” she declined to comment on how former Pixar chief John Lasseter’s leave-of-absence in the wake of his own sexual misconduct allegations may affect how the studio approaches these issues.
And for Judd, McDormand’s speech may have been a great moment of female solidarity, but it also made for a stark visual.
“It was very gracious of [Frances] to share what is the moment of a lifetime,” she said. “It’s also worth nothing that there were far more people seated than there were standing. Hollywood has changed. It is a movement, not a moment. And it’s also true that there lies ahead of us a great deal of work to be done.”
Tiffany Haddish stood in the middle of the Governors Ball Sunday night, basking in the afterglow of her debut at the Academy Awards. She’d worn her own Ugg slippers on stage in a comedy bit with copresenter Maya Rudolph. She’d continued her campaign to get Meryl Streep to play her mother in a movie. And, most important, by appearing on the Oscars, she’d accomplished one of the biggest goals she’d first set for herself 14 years ago, after fellow stand-up comic Kevin Hart realized she was living out of her car and implored her to make a list of accomplishments she wanted to achieve in her life, and then go after them.
“It’s been one of those most magical nights of my life,” Haddish told BuzzFeed News at the Governors Ball. “I’ve accomplished at least 15 of my goals.” With a wide smile and her trademark enthusiasm, she noted that she got to wear a gown on the red carpet to honor her late father’s Eritrean heritage, and that she once again wore the Alexander McQueen dress that she’d already donned for the Girls Trip premiere and her hosting gig on Saturday Night Live.
But when Haddish indicated her third outfit for the night, a neon green Brandon Maxwell dress, her eyes began to tear up.
“Right now I’m wearing this Brandon Maxwell dress, and I feel more beautiful than I’ve felt in my whole life,” she said, her voice quavering. “And I’m just— I’m kind of overwhelmed with emotion, because I’ve never been this happy before. And I’ve been pretty happy!”
Haddish laughed, in the way people do sometimes to mask that they’re about to cry.
“So, I just feel like God is out here showin’ his ass tonight! Because he is blessing me with everything and…”
Haddish leaned over, and rested her head briefly on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I think I’m ovulating, I’m so emotional!” She laugh-cried again. “When I think about it, you know, I’m thinking like, Man, I used to live in a car and I used to dream about being at something like this, and being around these people.”
Haddish became overwhelmed, and briefly paused to compose herself. “It’s amazing,” she said, finally. “It’s amaaaazing. It’s amaaaaazing.”
I asked her who else she would want to meet that she hadn’t yet. “Sandra Bullock, just so I could tell her she’s dope as fuck,” she said. “Michael B. Jordan, so I could tell him I’m ovulating. I’m just playing, I’m just playing. Honestly, I’m just happy to meet whomever wants to meet me, to be honest.”
When I noted that it seemed like everyone would want to meet her, Haddish shook her head. “I don’t know. Ain’t nobody — just you and a few others have come up to me.”
As if on cue, comedian Adam Carolla, who was one of the writers for the evening’s Oscar telecast, stepped up to Haddish to tell her he thought she was “easily the best” presenter of the night.
“I just wanted to let you know, I loved you on Girls Trip,” Carolla said. “Then I watched SNL. Then I watched tonight. Real deal.”
Haddish broke into a familiar, playful grin. “Tell David Alan Grier I said, ‘Nah nah nah nah nah!'” she told Carolla of his frequent podcast guest. “Because I used to tell [Grier], ‘I’m going to be on the Oscars!’ He was like, ‘Tiffany. Keep dreaming big. Keep dreaming big, Haddish.’ I can’t wait to call him after this.”
After briefly introducing Haddish to his young daughter, Carolla stepped away, and Haddish turned back to me, jumping up and down.
“OH MY GOD, ADAM CAROLLA JUST TOLD ME HE WAS PROUD OF ME!” she said, her face beaming.
I noted that she’s been getting a lot of that kind of praise on Twitter, with many wishing she would host the Oscars next year. (She’s already set to host the MTV Movie and TV Awards in June.)
“I would love to if they paid me to do it,” Haddish said of hosting the Oscars. “I can’t do it for free. I did this [presentation] for free. That’s like an audition. I was happy with my audition. You know, you can’t think about it no more. When you audition, you do your job, you have fun, you get out of the room, and whatever happens, happens. And that’s what I did tonight.”
Predicting who is going to win at the Oscars is one of the great pleasures of the awards season, but choosing which movie will win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards may be as difficult as it’s ever been.
Partly that is because many of this year’s Best Picture contenders are so good, and so wildly different: A spy thriller/monster movie/romance set during the Cold War (The Shape of Water) vs. a coming-of-age story of a teenage girl living in Sacramento circa 2002 (Lady Bird) vs. a World War II epic about a retreat told with an abstract time structure and no clear protagonist (Dunkirk) vs. a darkly comedic drama about people in a small town in Missouri confronting each other and their own demons (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) vs. a contemporary social thriller about a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s (seemingly) sinister family (Get Out).
Really, though, this year’s Best Picture is so hard to predict because the last five years of Oscars have proven to be so wildly unpredictable. As an organization, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has prided itself on hewing to a sense of tradition over the 90-year history of the Academy Awards. That’s translated into a series of reliable Oscars “rules” based on that history.
Starting around 2012, however, so many of the rules for Best Picture started to falter, and they really fell apart once the academy began adding a massive infusion of new voters — 20% of the membership has joined since 2015 — in response to the #OscarsSoWhite scandal.
Here are five of the biggest Best Picture rules, why they don’t apply anymore, and which of this year’s Best Picture nominees could stand to benefit from the change.
A movie can’t win Best Picture without a nomination for Best Director.
Prior to this decade, only three movies had won Best Picture without a nomination for Best Director: 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, 1932’s Grand Hotel, and 1927’s Wings (i.e. the first ever Best Picture winner).
Then 2012’s Argo stormed into the Kodak Theatre, steamrolling the competition without a Best Director nomination for Ben Affleck.
Previous advantage:The Shape of Water, Get Out, Lady Bird, and Phantom Thread, which were all nominated for Best Director and Best Picture. New advantage:Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which did not earn a nomination for its director, Martin McDonagh.
Best Picture and Best Director almost always match.
Between 1987 and 2011, only five movies won Best Picture without winning Best Director: The aforementioned Driving Miss Daisy, 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, 2000’s Gladiator, 2002’s Chicago, and 2005’s Crash. By and large, the thinking went that if a film was great enough to win Best Picture, then its director probably had a lot to do with it.
By sharp contrast, between 2012 and 2017, only one movie has won Best Picture and Best Director: 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Every other year, the two categories have split, most recently with 2017’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight.
In the eyes of current Academy voters, while a film may not be deserving of Best Picture, it could still be impressively directed enough to win Best Director. In fact, the category could almost be renamed Most Directing, since the award has gone to the filmmakers who marshaled arguably the most technically and logistically challenging productions (Ang Li for 2012’s Life of Pi, Alfonso Cuarón for 2013’s Gravity, Iñárritu for 2014’s Birdman and 2015’s The Revenant, and Damien Chazelle for 2016’s La La Land). And in an Oscar tradition that has held firm, the Best Director winner at the Oscars has also aligned with the winner of the Directors Guild Award (save for 2012, when Affleck won the DGA without an Oscar nomination).
Old advantage:The Shape of Water, whose director, Guillermo del Toro, won the DGA award this year. New advantage: Any film that isn’t The Shape of Water.
The movie with the most Oscar nominations has the best chance at winning Best Picture.
Because almost all the Oscar nominations are determined by the members in each category’s individual branch — i.e. only costume designers nominate Best Costume Design — it makes sense that a movie getting the most nominations would suggest the broadest level of support within the Academy’s ranks.
That certainly has been the case for much of Oscar history: From 1980 to 2010, 23 of the 30 winners for Best Picture also led or tied for the year’s most nominations.
At this point, you can probably guess what happened after 2010: Only one Best Picture winner, 2014’s Birdman, was also the film with the most nominations. Instead of seeing Best Picture as the sum of its other categories, voters are increasingly considering each category on its own merits.
Old advantage: Again, The Shape of Water, which has the most nominations this year with 13. New advantage: Again, any film that isn’t The Shape of Water.
A movie has to win at least two other Oscars to win Best Picture.
If a movie is going to win Best Picture, it certainly follows that it should also win at least a few other Oscars as well. And it has — until Spotlight‘s surprise upset over The Revenant, when it became the first film since 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth to win Best Picture with only one other award (in Spotlight‘s case, Best Original Screenplay).
Several Best Picture winners lately haven’t earned much more hardware, either: Moonlight, Spotlight, and Argo each won only two Oscars in addition to the top prize.
In case you were wondering, to date, just one film has won only Best Picture: 1932’s Grand Hotel, which didn’t earn a nomination for any category but the top prize.
Old advantage:The Shape of Water and Dunkirk, which are favorites for many of the craft and technical categories, and Three Billboards, which is the favorite for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. New advantage:Lady Bird and Get Out, which are likely to win only one Oscar other than Best Picture — or win no other award at all.
A film can’t win Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination.
Even more than Best Director, the Best Editing category has been the most closely aligned with Best Picture. From 1981 to 2013, the winner for Best Picture was also nominated for Best Editing — 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, for example, was not nominated for its editing, foretelling doom for its Best Picture chances.
But then Birdman — a movie famously designed to look like it was made in one continuous shot — won Best Picture without a nomination for its editors, who did in fact seamlessly piece together the film from an array of individual takes. Will this win remain an Oscar outlier, or the first crack in the most sturdy Best Picture tradition? We’ll have to wait and see!
Old advantage:Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards, which were all nominated for Best Editing. New advantage:Get Out and Lady Bird, which were not nominated for Best Editing.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Through Monday, the Marvel Studios release has earned $242.2 million domestically, the second best four-day return ever for a feature film, behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The film has become a watershed for cinema starring black actors, dismantling the myth in Hollywood that they aren’t financially successful internationally. It is also an unprecedented hit for a film set in Africa — in Black Panther‘s case, the fictional nation of Wakanda, but still emphatically set within the continent.
Those figures indicate both how small and how new of a market sub-Saharan Africa remains for Hollywood features. For example, in Nigeria, which features a robust filmmaking industry known as Nollywood, many movies historically premiered either on television or direct to home video, bypassing theatrical distribution entirely.
Much like BlackPanther‘s impact elsewhere, however, the film has created a new model for how Hollywood could roll out its feature films in major African markets — and smaller ones, too.