This weekend, I had the pleasure of watching April 2015's featured star, Merle Oberon, in The Dark Angel. Oberon received the 'Best Actress' nomination for her performance in this movie and eight decades later, she is still the only woman of Asian descent to be nominated in the category. I will get to that later.
"Kitty Vane (Merle Oberon), Alan Trent (Fredric March), and Gerald Shannon (Herbert Marshall) have been inseparable friends since childhood. Kitty has always known she would marry one of them, but has waited until the beginning of World War I before finally choosing Alan. Gerald graciously gives them his blessing. Then, Gerald and Alan go to war. Angered over a misunderstanding involving Alan and Kitty, Gerald sends Alan on a dangerous mission that will change all their lives forever." [IMDb Summary]
1935's The Dark Angel is the second film adaptation of Guy Bolton's play of the same name (the first movie was released in 1925, the same year the play premiered on Broadway). I'd previously been unfamiliar with the play, but if it's anything like the 1935 movie (not altered too much for the screen), then I will say that The Dark Angel is one of the 20th century's most beautifully written works. The 1935 movie is the kind of movie that manages to be both familiar and refreshingly unique at the same time.
|Guy Bolton, writer of The Dark Angel|
It's a love story--we're familiar with that. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, that kind of thing--but as is needed for all movies with familiar plots, there are complications thrown in to make it stand out--and this movie had all of that and more! It's very unfortunate that it wasn't nominated for Best Picture (or "Outstanding Production", rather).
The Dark Angel will make you chuckle--it will also frustrate you--and as any good romance/drama does, it will make you cry. The characters are written so beautifully: my favorite thing about them is that they were so in-sync with each other's emotions--they all knew when something was wrong with each other. They rarely expressed their feelings vocally and they rarely reacted vocally to each other's feelings, either. That my friend, is the stuff that makes screenwriting (and writers) great.
|Lillian Hellman, one of two screenwriters for The Dark Angel (1935). The other was Mordaunt Shairp.|
It's also unfortunate that Fredric March didn't receive a Best Actor nomination (the 'Best Supporting' categories weren't awarded until a year later). He too, gave a fine performance.
Merle Oberon standing alone...
Merle Oberon was the first person of Asian descent to be nominated for an Academy Award--and since her nomination in 1935/1936 (the awards ceremony was held in 1936), no other woman of Asian descent has been nominated for 'Best Actress in a Leading Role'. Eight decades. Eight years.
Over the last few years, I've had to wonder: "Should people of color strive for Oscars and other "mainstream" awards?" "Should these awards really be an end-goal for filmmakers and performers of color?" There are two (and probably more) ways to look at this:
First, it isn't wise to work for awards. If you love what you do, you typically won't care too much about the awards you do or don't receive. However, imagine what it's like to work in the same office for years and never be recognized for your work! Imagine how daunting it is when you constantly meet the criteria for an assignment (or an award) and you're constantly overlooked (see white actors being cast as Asian characters; see Ava DuVernay being snubbed for the 'Best Director' Oscar-nomination for Selma; see Fruitvale Station's star and director (Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler) being invited to "major" awards shows but receiving no nominations for said major awards).
With all of that said, while it is important for us to recognize the Asian/Asian-American artists who don't make it in Hollywood--because they are also important and their work is still worthy--I think that it is just as important to recognize the ones who are there. As long as people of color live and work in Hollywood, there is absolutely no reason why the majority of them should still be fighting for elbow room. It's like owning a boardinghouse, taking rent from ten boarders, but only cooking dinner for five of them--and telling the other five have to go out every night and find their own meals.
Eighty years later, Merle Oberon should not be the only actress of Asian descent to be nominated for the 'Best Actress' Oscar. Eighty years later, she should not still be the only Asian actress who obtained a role deemed Oscar-worthy.
Do you want to know what's even scarier? If the "secret" of Merle Oberon's background hadn't been revealed after her death, NO woman of (known) Asian descent will have been nominated for 'Best Actress' in the 87 years of the Academy Awards' existence.
With all of that said, I do recommend that you all watch The Dark Angel (1935). Revel in Merle Oberon's talent and beauty.