The N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” is shaping up to be this year’s award season underdog story.
The two-and-a-half hour R-rated drama about the history of the members behind one of rap music’s most iconic groups has already exceeded the expectations of most in Hollywood with a historic opening weekend in theaters.
But now it sounds like Universal is gunning for the ultimate prize.
GoldDerby.com’s Tom O’Neil has confirmed to Business Insider that the studio has already begun their Oscar push for the film as they had a screening for Academy voters in Beverly Hills on Saturday.
“The theater was packed with 700 people who gave the film a hearty response,” O’Neil emailed to BI.
Most studios wait to release their award season hopefuls until September or October at the earliest as it can use the prominent fall film festivals like Telluride, Venice, Toronto, and New York film festivals to garner buzz, but it looks like the incredible response to the film has motivated Universal to roll the dice.
“Universal didn’t position ‘Compton’ as an awards contender,’ O’Neil notes. “But it’s suddenly getting that buzz because of its quality and audience impact. Once it plays out in theaters, the studio will campaign it aggressively to Academy members via DVDs shipped to their homes.”
The Oscar campaign could also include getting the film’s director F. Gary Gray and actors in the film like O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who is receiving rave reviews playing Ice Cube, who is his father in real life) to host parties where they mingle with award season voters before the nominations deadline.
But just because the film is raking in the dough in theaters doesn’t mean it’s a shoe-in for award season nominations.
Mike Hogan, Vanity Fair’s digital director, believes the film has an up-hill battle to become a contender.
“Music biopics in general don’t perform terribly well with the Academy,” he wrote to BI in an email. “'La Bamba' and 'The Doors' were blanked. 'What’s Love Got To Do With It' and 'Walk the Line' were shut out of Best Picture [Oscars] even though they scored in acting categories.”
Hogan notes the Best Picture nominations for "Ray," the biopic on Ray Charles in 2005, and "Coal Miner’s Daughter," biopic on Loretta Lynn in 1980, as exceptions because those he believes had the perfect mixture of focus on universally beloved legends and directors who were industry veterans.
There’s also the factor that “Straight Outta Compton” doesn’t shy from the raw realities surrounding the group, from their violent upbringing in Compton, their in-your-face lyrics, and their groupie lifestyle on the road.
“That rawness could make it a tough sell with Oscar voters who are older, whiter, and more sentimental than the general public,” said Hogan.
But O’Neil believes this might be the perfect moment for a film like “Straight Outta Compton.”
O’Neil believes the buzz for “Compton” is real and that it could “snag a nomination for Best Picture.”
BI reached out to Universal for comment but has not yet receives a response.