Jews in the News: Marc Platt, Sacha Baron Cohen and Pippa Ehrlich

The Most Complete Guide to Jewish Oscar Nominees: 2021

The Academy Awards will be presented on ABC on Sunday, April 25 (8PM, EDT). Again, this year there will be “no” host. Award presenters include HARRISON FORD, JOAQUIN PHOENIX, and MARLEE MATLIN.

Best Picture/Actors

The best picture award goes to the film’s principal producers.  Three of the eight nominated films (have a Jewish producer: ERIC ROTH, 76, “Mank”; MOLLYE ASHER, 43, “Nomandland”, and MARC PLATT, 63, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”.

---The title “Mank” refers to the nickname of HERMAN J. MANKIEWICZ and the film chronicles how he co-wrote the classic 1941 film “Citizen Kane”. (Gary Oldman, who played “Mank” is a best actor nominee). Roth is a top screenwriter himself, with an Oscar win for “Forrest Gump” and five other screenwriting “noms”.

---“Nomadland” is a gritty film about an older woman who is forced to take to the road and live in her RV after her financial supports disappear. Mollye Asher is a leading, award-winning producer of indie films.

---Marc Platt is a leading film and Broadway stage producer.  This is his 3rd “nom” for best pic. A practicing Jew, Platt and his (Jewish) wife have five children, including well-known actor BEN PLATT, 37. “Chicago 7” depicts the trial of seven anti-Vietnam War activists who were dubiously blamed for the violence that happened at the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention.

SACHA BARON COHEN, 49, is the only Jewish thespian nominated this year. He is up for a best supporting actor Oscar for playing real-life ’60s radical ABBIE HOFFMAN in “Chicago 7”. While a student at Cambridge University (UK) Cohen traveled to Atlanta (1992) to research a thesis on American Jews’ role in the Civil Rights movement. He learned that Abbie Hoffman, later a “Chicago 7” defendant, was a Civil Rights ‘Freedom Rider’ (1963). So, when STEVEN SPIELBERG said (2007) he was making a “Chicago 7” movie, Cohen really wanted the part. He got it after proving to Spielberg that he had mastered Hoffman’s tricky Boston accent. However, the film (written by AARON SORKIN) was cancelled due to a long writer’s strike.  In 2020, the film (script by Sorkin) was finally made.

Writers, Live Action Short Film, Documentary, Music

WILL BERSON, 43ish, is nominated for co-writing the original screenplay for “Judas and the Black Messiah”. Nominated for the same Oscar is Aaron Sorkin, 59, the writer of “The Trial of the Chicago 7”.

---“Black Messiah”, a best film nominee, is based on the life of Fred Hampton, a charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader in the late ‘60s. He was heavily targeted by the FBI and a black informant (‘a Judas’) was planted in his organization. Berson began “shopping” a script about Hampton in 2014. Two African-American writers (Keith and Kenny Lucas) began “shopping” their Hampton script around the same time. Long story short: Berson and the Lucas brothers “joined forces” with “Black Messiah” director/co-writer Shaka King and all four are nominated for a screenwriting Oscar.

---As noted above, Aaron Sorkin wrote the “Chicago 7” script in 2007, but the production was long delayed. Sorkin is very famous so I won’t say much here. I am just hoping that the success of “Chicago 7” will lead, fairly soon, to a film version of a new play Sorkin wrote (2018) based on “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  It was a huge Broadway hit and many say it ranks with his best work.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, is nominated for best adapted screenplay. Nine “Moviefilm” writers are nominated. I am sure 4 of the 9 nominees, including Cohen, are Jewish: JENA FRIEDMAN, 38, a comedian and TV show producer; DAN MAZER, 49. He met Cohen when they went to the same “fancy” UK private school; and DAN SWIMER, 48, a veteran UK comedy writer.

---“Nomadland” is also up for a best adapted screenplay Oscar.  The nominee is Chloe Zhao, who also directed the film. The film’s nomination notes the screenplay is based on the acclaimed book “Nomadland” (2017) by veteran NY Times writer JESSICA BRUDER, 44ish. No doubt, Bruder will be thanked from the stage if, as expected, “Nomadland” wins Oscars. Bruder’s non-fiction book describes how she spent years following older people who were displaced by the Great Recession. Chao’s script has some fictionalizations.

“White Tiger”, directed and written by Israeli filmmaker TOMER SHUSHAN, 40ish, is nominated for best short live action film (producer SHERA HOFFMAN shares the nomination).  It’s a poignant story about a Tel Avian who finds his stolen bicycle in the street. In 20 minutes, he has conversations with 10 Israelis of different ethnic backgrounds. These conversations reveal a lot about the biases and class structure of Israeli society.

The original Netflix documentary, “My Octopus Teacher”, is nominated for best documentary feature. It was co-directed by South African PIPPA EHRLICH, 33. This film has attracted a huge audience. Here’s the capsule plot: a (real) “burned-out” documentary maker returns to South Africa and ‘heals’ via snorkeling in an ocean kelp forest, where he sort of becomes friends with an astonishingly intelligent octopus. The storytelling and photography is superlative.

Including this year, JAMES NEWTON HOWARD, 69, has been nominated for seven Oscars for best score and two more for best song. He hasn’t won yet. He’s nominated this year for his score for the Tom Hanks’ film “News of the World”.  Long after his father died, Newton discovered his father was born Jewish. This led to him embracing his Jewish background and he is a practicing Reconstructionist Jew. Like Howard, DIANE WARREN, 64, is an “always a bridesmaid” story. Including this year, she has been nominated 12 times for best song and hasn’t won one. She’s nominated for co-writing the song “Seen” from the film “The Life Ahead” (about a Holocaust survivor).


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