Oscar History

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Who's That Girl? It's Nicole Beharie

Kurt here. Considering the overall deficit of good roles for great black actresses (an issue to which this site is no stranger), moviegoers really can't be too hard on Nicole Beharie for offering them such rare and infrequent peeks at her remarkable talent. Still, watching those peeks (and they're watchable indeed), it's easy to send "grrrs" in this petite, 26-year-old beauty's direction, as she's thus far only appeared in five movies, two of them not even on the big screen. Why must she deprive us so? Her phone has to at least be ringing a little bit, and it can't just be about her selectivity, as the titles she's appeared in, on the whole, aren't exactly of the street-cred variety. So, what, then, has she been doing?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. My first exposure to Beharie was in early 2009, in a little film called American Violet, which screened at that year's Philadelphia Film Festival and had a very limited theatrical run. To be frank, the movie is glorified Lifetime rubbish, focusing on a real-life single mom who fought back against a corrupt system after being wrongfully charged with drug-dealing in a persecuted Texas housing project (wah-wah). But Beharie is knock-you-out stellar in the lead role, and she easily made my personal Best Actress top five. Since then the Juilliard grad has been toiling away on various projects that are slowly making their way to screens. Some may have caught her in the Precious wannabe Sins of the Mother (which, incidentally, was developed for Lifetime), while others may have seen her work in the football movie The Express, but she's also starring in at least four as-yet-to-be-released films, including everyone's favorite fleshy hype-magnet, Shame.

Beharie in 'American Violet'

In the Steve McQueen sex-addiction drama, Beharie plays Marianne, a co-worker of the lead nympho, Brandon (Michael Fassbender). She offers him a shot at pure, normal intimacy. Beharie doesn't upstage Fassbender or Carey Mulligan (it's not that kind of role), but she brings more than what you'd normally expect from such a character (SPOILER ALERT: she is introduced for the very purpose of being dismissed). Her ability to be extraordinarily sexy in a heated makeout session (which may just be the mixed-bag movie's most well-choreographed scene) is hypnotic, as much a small feat of physicality as in-the-moment focus.

With Fassy in 'Shame'Compared to her character in American Violet (a headlining part Beharie has said she doesn't expect to land again), the sidelined Marianne is rather thankless. But nothing but good can come from the fact that Beharie is starring in a movie that anyone who gives a hoot about film is absolutely going to see. It's bound to give her profile a long-overdue boost.

Beharie flicks on the horizon include the sports drama The Last Fall, and the afro-centric Small of Her Back and Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day. Jot those titles down. Beharie will likely be reason enough to see them.



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Reader Comments (12)

Thanks for this article Nathaniel! She deserves the attention!! ;-)

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

Sorry! I meant Kurt!

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

I agree she's great, but what do you mean when you talk about "mixed bags" referring to Shame? Haven't you seen Rotten Tomatoes? I wouldn't define its reviews as mixed, but I might have misunderstood the sentence, as English is not my first language.

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Nicole is a beautiful girl she did a fine job in the short role she had in 'Shame'. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future. As an aside, she and Michael Fassbender would make a beautiful couple in real-life.

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSimone

Thank you for posting about her, she's one of my favorite up-and-comers!

@Tara- I think he was referring to the film itself being a "mixed-bag," meaning there are things he enjoyed about it and things he didn't. It's his own personal critique of the film, not a reference to the reviews (I think lol).

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Vanessa -- you can thank us both ;) After the screening i was like "wow" about her and Kurt knew who she was (I did not) so i asked him to write a piece on her. I'm anxious to see more of her work because she's excellent in Shame. All of her scenes are one continuous take and she's acting her ass of considering how flat the role could have been in lesser hands.

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Thank you both :) She also has a recurring role as an attorney on CBS "The Good Wife" Sunday nights at 9pm et, which started last Sunday. There's a lot of pics and updates in her fan page blog. :-)


October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

I know you TFE readers have moved onto the newer, nower and nexter, but just to clear up the "mixed-bag" thing, it is indeed my own opinion of the film, and not a reference to the consensus. Glad to see you guys appreciated the post. :-)

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