The 2014 Oscar nominations have not only been safe this year, they’ve also been overwhelmingly predictable. With Jennifer Lawrence stealing the BAFTA and Golden Globe from Lupita Nyong’o for her supporting role in American Hustle, the legitimacy of award season has been raised (again)—the same names, the same roles, the same results…
If you haven’t heard of indie drama Short Term 12, don’t be surprised. While it was the winner of the Audience Award at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, and earned Brie Larson a Gotham Award for best actress (beating Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine), its visibility has been slim and has fallen through the mainstream cracks.
Rumors regarding Brie Larson’s performance prior to Oscar nominations began a buzz about whether the film would receive recognition next to the goliaths of Hollywood. While Larson delivered a few scenes that were worthy of recognition, the scene-stealer, and the greatest powerhouse performance of the film, came from a complete unknown—LaKeith Stanfield.
The 22-year-old who was formerly “working in a weed factory learning the science of marijuana,” is now an Independent Spirit Award nominee and proof of the power of personal reinvention. He’s also another example for Hollywood to realize that raw, untrained talent still exists.
Short Term 12 is a foster care facility that helps to promote positive learning and development for at-risk teens. The heavy plot becomes slightly discombobulated while trying to tie 20-something-year-old counselor Grace’s personal struggles inside and outside Short Term 12 and the repercussions in-between.
While the delivery of Short Term 12 has the best intentions muddled in a overly-congested plot, the short-lived screen time of Marcus (LaKeith Stanfield) proves to be the film’s silver lining. We’re introduced to Marcus a week before his 18th birthday, which marks his expiration date at Short Term 12. His demeanor is intimidating, but behind his tough exterior unfolds layers of emotional bruising, fear and uncertainty. Despite the revelry from counselors surrounding his birthday, Marcus doesn’t want a celebration nor a cake; he wants to shave his head–not to be hip, but to emotionally signify a release from his past.
There are some movies that have a particular scene that has the ability to emotionally paralyze an audience. LaKeith Stanfield delivers that scene in Short Term 12. The scene involves a rap between Marcus and another counselor that reveals the personal struggles of his childhood. Stanfield delivers such an emotional authenticity to his character that you forget it’s only a movie – the pain is genuine, and Stanfield makes you feel it.
That pivotal scene was the show-stopper for Short Term 12, and a scene that had viewers and critics alike, myself included, wondering if the Academy would pay attention to this film. The Internet also circulated curiosity as to whether or not Marcus’s rap “So You Know What It’s Like” had the ability to push the envelope the same way “Lose Yourself” and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” did in previous years – both unlikely songs to receive nominations and Oscars from the play-it-safe members of the Academy.
“My character is going through a transitional period walking into unknown waters. It was completely a new experience, and at that time I was just scared out of mind. The performance that you see is just me completely scared. I made him show kind of what I felt with this new experience. Destin [Cretton, director/writer] wrote the original rap. It was just basic, kinda dry. I’ve been writing for a long time — if not it would probably be worse [than Destin’s] if I wrote it. I took it, rewrote the whole thing, and we went back and forth and came out with the final product. And that’s what you get. So it was a collaboration between me and Destin. And it was crazy; the first time we did it they were like, ‘All right, we’re done. The rap scene is done, first take.’ But we did a couple more takes. And actually, I found myself getting emotional. So there’d be times I would just get choked up on my own emotions and that’s the one they chose to use.” LaKeith Stanfield via The Wrap
Although Short Term 12 isn’t entirely groundbreaking, both LaKeith Stanfield and Brie Larson deserve acknowledgment for their acting in this low-budget indie. Stanfield’s heartbreaking performance raises the bar and challenges the mainstream actors of Hollywood.