Back to the Circuit: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Beyond the Lights”)

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**”BACK TO THE CIRCUIT” is a new weekly column, inspired by the Twitter hashtag #BackToTheCircuit, looks at a film, performance, or technical aspect from any year that was deemed Oscar-worthy and should have been included in the respective lineup.  At the end of each piece, the contributing writer will give their opinion on which nominee should be replaced to make room for the subject.**

In the Best Actress category, there’s usually a new face that competes against more esteemed competition. Just last year, Yalitza Aparicio broke through with “Roma” while Jennifer Lawrence arrived with “Winter’s Bone” nine years prior. However, there was one performance from five years ago that somehow didn’t receive the same love.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw had quite a stellar 2014. First, she carried “Belle” where she played a real-life mixed-race aristocrat. Then came “Beyond the Lights” which was a complete 180. After starring in a historical drama, Mbatha-Raw played a modern pop star succumbing to the pressures of fame. Her performance as the tormented Noni Jean achieved positive acclaim, including a Gotham Award nomination for Best Actress.

The Gotham nomination, though, is the only precursor love she received. Thankfully, the film got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Yet, if voters saw the film, one has to wonder why its star didn’t earn any attention. Is it because the film isn’t within Oscar’s wheelhouse? Was the Original Song nomination a case of name-checking since Diane Warren wrote it? Regardless of why she was omitted, Mbatha-Raw’s work in the film, and in the overall year, warranted a slot in the Best Actress five.

THE NOMINATED FIVE:

  • Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
  • Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” (WINNER)
  • Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
  • Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

WHICH ONE GOES?:

Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”

Trading a Brit for a Brit. Felicity Jones offers fine work as Jane Hawking. That being said, the “supportive wife” role which Jones was nominated for feels a bit too traditional. Also, as opposed to Mbatha-Raw whose character has more agency, Jones’ character is rather sidelined. Despite “The Theory of Everything” being about the relationship between Stephen and Jane Hawking, it feels more focused on Stephen’s arc.

Do you agree that Gugu Mbatha-Raw was overlooked? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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