Big news from the Sundance Film Festival this past weekend: for only the third time in
the festival's 25-year history, the Sundance jury and the audience
awarded their top honors to the same film. Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire (a title designed, no doubt, to distinguish the film from the sci-fi action film of the same name
starring Dakota Fanning that hits theaters later this year) won the
Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award.
Comedienne Mo'Nique also received a Special Jury Prize for Acting for
her dramatic performance in the film. Push
is an adaptation of author and performance poet Sapphire's powerful
story about a young African-American woman who struggles to overcome
incredible obstacles, including illiteracy, poverty and a harrowing history of
abuse. The film's star, newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is receiving rave
reviews, as well as her co-stars Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, and Lenny Kravitz.
The film is directed by Lee Daniels, an openly gay African-American filmmaker who had some moving words about the film's big win: "This is so important to me, because this is speaking for every minority that's in Harlem, that's in Detroit, that's in Watts, that's being abused, that can't read, that's obese and that we turn our back on. And this is for every gay little boy and girl that's being tortured. If I can do this shit, y'all can do this shit."
With this much buzz and critical momentum, you'd think that the film would be a relatively easy sell to a distributor. Apparently, this is not the case. Push still has yet to land a distribution deal. According to an Inquirer article published today, Daniels has been fielding a number of offers, but is holding out for a distributor who will market the film to mainstream audiences. Daniels insists, "This goes beyond the urban audience or the art-house audience. It's for that white guy in Oklahoma, or that Indian in Albuquerque."
One of the central themes of Push is the evolving relationship between the novel's main character and her ability to read and write. There's another film concerned with literacy and power in theaters right now: the Oscar contender The Reader (also adapted from a novel). It's not necessarily fair to either Push or The Reader to compare them directly, but I do find it dispiriting that The Weinstein Company has the muscle to sell The Reader as a powerful and relevant film, while Daniels has to campaign for Push's appeal. Let's hope Daniels can land a strong distributor who will give the film a fair shot at the box office.