The Oscars took place last night, two and a half months later than usual, topping a strange year for the film industry in which cinemas were mostly shut and hot ticket releases streamed on the small screen instead.

Nomadland director Chloe Zhao made history as the first woman of colour and second woman to win best director, while British stars Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Kaluuya won acting awards. 

However far you've made it through the current crop of Oscars nominees and winners, here’s some further reading, inspired by (and in some cases the inspiration for) nine of this year’s leading films. 

 

Another Round

Childhood, Youth, Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen (2021)

Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg's buoyant comedy – and Best International Feature Film winner – about a school teacher who turns to alcohol to cope with his midlife crisis is very different in tone from Tove Ditlevsen's slim, punchy autobiographical trilogy Childhood, Youth, Dependency about a gifted poet who achieves fame but ends up a drug addict. Yet both are set in Copenhagen and wise to the slippery slope of substance abuse and its nihilistic appeal. Vinterberg finds black humour in tragedy, while Ditlevsen becomes mired in it. There's a plainspoken clarity to her prose that somehow makes the devastating trajectory of her short life hit even harder.

Read more: Tove Ditlevsen: Why it's time to discover Denmark's most famous literary outsider

The Father

Unquiet by Linn Ullman (2021)

French writer Florian Zeller adapts his own 2012 stage play for the screen, casting Best Actor-winner Anthony Hopkins as Anthony, an 80-year-old father battling dementia. The Father tells its story from his perspective. In Unquiet, Swedish writer Linn Ullman – daughter of arthouse filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and actress Liv Ullman – recounts a similarly heart-breaking tale, fictionalising her father's struggles with memory loss in old age. The narrator weaves her childhood memories with interviews she taped with her father in his deteriorating state; in the present day, she tries to fill in the many gaps with her own unreliable memory.

Read more: Linn Ullmann's Unquiet is a devastating famous family drama

Judas and the Black Messiah

The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas (2009)

Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition by Cedric J. Robinson (1983)

Fred Hampton was just 21 when he was assassinated. In Shaka King's twisty genre thriller Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya portrays the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party with invigorating – and Oscar-winning – force. Human rights lawyer Jeffrey Haas sought justice for Hampton's death at the hands of the FBI; his personal account covers the aftermath and ensuing conspiracy in riveting detail. “I am a revolutionary," declared Hampton to a room full of fellow Panthers. To better understand the Black Marxist context of that statement, scholar Cedric J. Robinson's 1983 study is a useful primer, tracing the tradition of Black radicalism across the diaspora.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Fences & Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson (1984)

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (1965)

In his final film role, Best Actor nominee Chadwick Boseman plays Levee Green, a live wire trumpeter in legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis)’s backing band. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is based on August Wilson's 1982 Chicago-set stage play (itself a fine read), but for another look at the spiritually transportive and occasionally narcotic quality of jazz, it's worth dipping into James Baldwin's 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man and reading his short story 'Sonny's Blues'. The narrator's younger brother Sonny is a jazz pianist and heroin addict desperate to escape Harlem; Baldwin describes Sonny's reverie as though "he were all wrapped up in some cloud, some fire, some vision all his own, and there wasn't any way to reach him". There are parallels too between the family trauma inherited by the narrator and Sonny and the unspeakable act of cruelty Levee describes seeing done to his mother by a group of white men. Both Baldwin and Wilson foreground the grit and pain that gives the blues its soul.

Read more: Where to start with James Baldwin

Minari

My Ántonia by Willa Cather (1918)
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong (2020)

Lee Isaac Chung's tender, semi-autobiographical immigrant drama is about a Korean family who move to rural Arkansas. Patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) hopes to trade in his factory job and set up a farm. Chung has spoken about drawing from Willa Cather's My Ántonia, whose tenacious heroine tends to her farm in the great plains of Nebraska. Perhaps unusually, Chung's characters make a home for themselves in rural America among a mostly white community, though the family's faith in the American dream is tested. In her essay collection Minor Feelings: An Asian-American Reckoning, Korean-American poet Cathy Park Hong recalls how her father began his American dream working for a transport company in Pennsylvania before moving to the more cosmopolitan Los Angeles, where she grew up. Her brilliant, stinging essays on the Asian-American experience range from stand-up comedian Richard Pryor to therapy to art school, all the time questioning the assumed value of assimilation.

Promising Young Woman

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (2019)

For better or worse, writer-director Emerald Fennell's Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman will likely be remembered as a response to the #MeToo movement, a manicured middle finger to misogyny, and a fist-bump to its female whistleblowers. Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the original New York Times story on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the sexual abuse he inflicted on more than 80 women; their book usefully retrains its gaze on the structures that enabled that abuse rather than on any individual retribution.

Time

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness by Michele Alexander (2019)

Are Prisons Obsolete by Angela Y. Davis

Abolition, Feminism, Now by Angela Y. Davis, Erica Meiners, Beth Richie and Gina Dent

Nominated for Best Documentary, Garrett Bradley's Time is an elegant and convincing manifesto for prison abolition. It follows mother of six Sibil 'Fox' Richardson as she campaigns for the release of her husband over two decades, combining present day footage with Fox's home videos. For further education on the prison industrial complex, Michele Alexander's 2010 bestseller The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness remains an essential and accessible text. It is indebted to activist Angela Y. Davis and her 2003 book Are Prisons Obsolete? which also queries the racist motives of the American carceral system. Davis has a new book, Abolition, Feminism, Now, co-written with Erica Meiners, Beth Richie and Gina Dent, a statement of intent sparked by a fresh wave of protest propelling the struggle for Black liberation.

What did you think of this article? Let us know by emailing us at editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk.

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

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