It’s Oscar season, when film companies jockey for nominations from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. We are particularly fond of documentary films, and a record 170 feature documentaries have been submitted to the Academy this year — shattering the previous record of 151 in 2013. A shortlist of 15 films will be announced in December and nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 23, 2018.
In the meantime, for your consideration, here are our seven picks for Best Documentary Feature (compiled from Shadow and Act):
1. Bronx Gothic: Based on Okwui Okpokwasili’s lauded performance piece of the same name, Bronx Gothic follows the Bessie Award–winning actor, dancer, writer, performance artist and singer as she stages a final tour for her one-woman show. Inspired by Okpokwasili’s early 1980s Bronx childhood, director Andrew Rossi’s film asks the audience: “Can I make all of you be born again as a black girl?”
2. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story: Directed by Daniel Kaufman, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story celebrates the first 20 years of the Bad Boy Entertainment record label. It gives a raw and exclusive look behind the scenes at the history and legacy of the hip-hop label and paints a complex portrait of the label’s mastermind, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, aka Puffy, Puff Daddy and most recently Brother Love, as he tries to reunite his Bad Boy Family in the course of a frantic three-week rehearsal period.
3. Chasing Trane: Described by Shadow and Act as the definitive John Coltrane documentary, John Scheinfeld’s film is “smart, passionate, thought-provoking and uplifting for anyone who appreciates the power of music to entertain, inspire and transform.”
4. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson: Director David France’s film chronicles the life of legendary New York City drag queen Marsha P. Johnson. The Stonewall veteran and trans-rights movement co-founder was found dead in the Hudson River 25 years ago, and the film investigates this unsolved cold case. The documentary also gives a worthy spotlight to Johnson’s best friend and fellow charismatic activist Sylvia Rivera, an unsung hero of the LGBTQ rights movement. As hate crimes against transgender women of color is on the rise, the film is timely and relevant.
5. Strong Island: Shadow and Act calls Yance Ford’s Strong Island a “powerful, poetic documentary that chronicles the arc of a family across history, geography and tragedy.” It is the story of Barbara Dunmore, William Ford and their three children and how their lives were shaped by the enduring shadow of race in America.
6. Whitney. “Can I Be Me”: Directors Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal weave never before seen video, candid interviews and behind the scenes performance footage into a raw and uncensored portrait of Whitney Houston, who died suddenly at age 48 in her guest room at the Beverly Hilton hotel on the eve of the 2012 Grammy Awards after years of struggling with addiction. Exploring her far-reaching impact, in Whitney. “Can I Be Me”, the directors focus on Houston’s central dilemma: even though she had made millions and was hailed as having one of the greatest voices of all time, she still couldn’t do what she wanted, either professionally or personally.
7. Whose Streets?: Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, the film is a nonfiction account of the Ferguson, Missouri uprising told through the eyes and by the people who lived it. Shadow and Act calls Whose Streets?, “an unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back – and sparked a global movement.”
The 90th Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live on ABC and in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.