’Hoos Up For an Oscar? ‘Hidden Figures,’ ‘Life Animated’ Put UVA on Red Carpet

Oscar statues

’Hoos reviewing this morning’s list of Academy Award nominations might recognize some familiar names.

Two nominated films were based on bestselling books by University of Virginia alumni and several more were featured in the 2016 Virginia Film Festival, which continues to bring some of the year’s best films to Charlottesville. Each shares moving stories of resilience, strength and compassion, told by people who are passionate about bringing those stories to life.

“Hidden Figures,” the box office hit based on alumna Margot Shetterly’s book, earned a coveted best picture nomination for its portrayal of three African-American women who fought systemic discrimination to play critical roles in John Glenn’s successful space launch. The film, which beat out major films like "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" to top box office sales during its opening weekend, also earned nominations for best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress for Octavia Spencer’s portrayal of mathematician Dorothy Vaughn.

“This is really an all-American story, told through the eyes of these women during the great feats of the American 20th century – World War II, the civil rights campaign, the space race and the fight for gender equality,” said Shetterly, who served as a historical consultant for the film. “All of these things define the 20th century, which is what this book is about. I hope people see it as a fusion of American history.”

Read more about “Hidden Figures” in UVA Today’s Q&A with Shetterly.

Alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind also earned an Oscar nod for “Life Animated,” nominated for best documentary feature. The documentary, based on Suskind’s book of the same title and directed and produced by Roger Ross Williams, shares how classic Disney films helped Suskind’s autistic son, Owen, recover his voice after he suddenly stopped speaking at age 3. It has already won four critic’s choice honors, including the directing award for a U.S. documentary at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Suskind presented “Life Animated” at the Virginia Film Festival in November, joining his son for an on-stage discussion after the screening.

The festival’s advisory board chair, UVA alumnus and film producer Mark Johnson, is a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Academy Awards, and has himself won a best picture Oscar for his film, “Rain Man.”

Several more nominees were featured prominently at this year’s festival, sponsored by UVA. They include two best picture nominees: the drama “Lion” and the exuberant musical “La La Land,” which was the festival’s closing film and earned a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations.

“UVA’s arts programs and the Virginia Film Festival are so fortunate to have the wise counsel and enthusiastic participation of so many UVA alumni who are doing extraordinary work and have enjoyed great success in the film industry,” said Jody Kielbasa, UVA’s vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival.

 “The participation and support of UVA alumni in the industry brings obvious benefits to film festival audiences, but also offers a variety of unique engagement and networking opportunities for UVA students as well.”

The 2016 festival’s opening film, “Loving,” garnered a best actress nomination for Ruth Negga’s moving portrayal of Mildred Loving. Shot entirely in Virginia, it chronicles Richard and Mildred Loving’s ultimately successful fight for equality after the state of Virginia refused to recognize their interracial marriage. Several of the film’s producers, including famed actor Colin Firth, traveled to Charlottesville for the film festival premiere, along with director Jeff Nichols and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

Other Oscar-nominated films featured in this year’s festival include “Jackie,” nominated for best actress for Natalie Portman’s portrayal of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy; “Elle,” nominated for lead actress Isabelle Huppert’s turn in the psychological thriller; documentaries “Fire at Sea” and “I Am Not Your Negro,” which will compete with “Life Animated” for best documentary; “The Red Turtle,” nominated for best animated feature, and “Land of Mine,” a Danish-German historical drama nominated for best foreign language film.

Media Contact

Caroline Newman

Associate Editor Office of University Communications