In his debut performance as Agu, Abraham Attah delivers what awards analysts like to call a “breakthrough.” Attah is a revelatory tour-de-force in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation. Adapted, directed and shot by Fukunaga: this gem was bought for worldwide distribution by Netflix for around $12 million. Netflix’s strategy for release was to simultaneously distribute Beasts into theaters and through its online subscription video on demand service. Considering it a violation of the traditional 90-day window of exclusivity to theaters, AMC Cinemas, Carmike Cinemas, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment-four of the largest theater chains in the United States, announced that they would boycott Beasts of No Nation– effectively downgrading it to a limited release at smaller and independent theaters.
Firstly, I’m glad that this fantastic film got picked up and will find an audience. Netflix is proving to be a pioneer for ensuring accessibility for independent cinema, so amen to them. But what’s upsetting is that come awards season, which just begun, Beasts of No Nation will struggle to get honored because not enough people are going to be able to see it. Netflix has done well in the TV side, with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black scoring Emmy wins. But when it comes to the film awards, it’s a bit trickier. By losing the big four movie theater chains in the United States, not enough members of the Academy or Hollywood Foreign Press, for instance, will be able to see this film. Let’s just say most of the members of these voting groups don’t know how to even use the Internet. It will cost money for Netflix if they really want to campaign for this film and Attah.
This is problematic for a great independent film like, Beasts of No Nation because a film like this DESERVES awards recognition. Particularly, for lead actor Abraham Attah, who at just 14-years old out-acted every male performer I’ve seen this year. Yes, that includes his co-star Idris Elba who does remarkably, haunting work as the “Commandant.” Fukunaga’s efforts as filmmaker have resulted in a brazenly confident piece of cinematic art where every image immerses you deeper and deeper into Agu’s horror. Attah more than matches his director/cinematographer/co-writer in visual attention to his surroundings and to what is happening in our young protagonist’s mind. Attah can handle a close up, I saw nothing but the truth on his face without a word of dialogue. But there’s a moment when Agu makes his first kill in which we hear his voice-over. Usually in movies I think narration is unnecessary and just forcing exposition into the story. What is so eerie about Beasts of No Nation is how the narration is actually Agu’s subconscious and when he makes his first kill, he softly but powerfully says “I’ve sinned.” This cultivates Attah’s performance and begins to build his arc from an innocent, naiive boy to a dangerous, killer. Without Abraham Attah’s performance, I don’t think this film would have received the critical acclaim that it has been getting or have lingered in my head as long as it has.
Back in 2013, Quevenzhane Wallis received an Oscar nomination at just nine-years old for her performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild (one of my favorite movies of 2012). So considering that movie was also a super low-budget film, no one really saw it, and ended up receiving three more Oscar nominations, means that there is hope for Beasts of No Nation. Abraham Attah won the Marcello Mastroianni Award (similar to the National Board of Review’s “Breakthrough Performance” award) at the 2015 Venice Film Festival, which should mark the beginning of an Oscar campaign for his astounding lead performance in Beasts of No Nation.
FYC: BEST LEAD ACTOR-Abraham Attah
Watch BEASTS OF NO NATION on Netflix now!