It’s with only a slight tinge of disappointment that we report that Oscar’s live-action short category does not feature the year’s most awful nominee. This slate’s biggest “crime” may be that it mostly delivers its predictably left-leaning sentiments in straightforward fashion, unlike some of the year’s higher-profile Oscar nominees that couch message within metaphor or direct their intentions through the side door of vintage time periods.
Only Kevin Wilson Jr.’s My Nephew Emmett, in fact, takes place in an entirely different era, though one could forgive voters for assessing this elegiac portrait of Jim Crow-era Mississippi as a cautionary tale, what with a white supremacist-emboldener currently occupying the Oval Office. At its best early on, when conveying the sense of perpetual unease that blacks in the rural south of the 1950s felt, it ultimately undercuts its own sense of disquietingly pastoral dread by pulling virtually the same gear shift that Kathryn Bigelow attempted with Detroit. In other words, it turns a flash point in civil rights history—in this case, the abduction and unspeakably brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till—into a high-concept home-invasion horror movie.