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Now known as Outstanding British Film at the BAFTAs, Jessica Cripps discusses I, Daniel Blake‘s controversial exclusion from the Oscars.

I, Daniel Blake (2016), winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, has failed to receive recognition in the Oscar nominations.

The 89th Academy Awards, which will take place on the 26th February, will likely see favourites La La Land (2016) and Manchester by the Sea (2016) sweep the board.

La La Land praises the determination of those who ‘dare to dream’, while the American drama Manchester by the Sea grapples with the universal experiences of death and grief.

The acclaimed French-British funded I, Daniel Blake failed to engage the attention of the Academy, despite five BAFTA nominations and worldwide recognition at the Vancouver, Stockholm and San Sebastián International Film Festivals, among others.

The gritty life-on-benefits drama, directed by Ken Loach, is based in the Geordie-heartland of Newcastle. 59-year-old Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) finds himself skirted through an unforgiving system when, contrary to his doctors’ recommendations, he is deemed by the government to be fit to go back to work after a heart attack.

After being refused Employment and Support Allowance, and waiting for a date to appeal the decision, Daniel is forced to seek work to claim Jobseekers Allowance.

I, Daniel Blake challenges a widespread public condemnation of those who claim benefits. Daniel is portrayed as a victim against a compassionless system set to catch him out. His life switches between grey hospitals, beige job centres and an uncharacteristically gritty Newcastle.

Perhaps the mightiest moments of I, Daniel Blake are too specific to British culture to be appropriately appreciated by an American film board.

Daniel speaks in a Geordie accent which, while recognised in the UK as one of the friendliest, is perhaps too gruelling for an American market. Newcastle-born Cheryl Fernandez-Versini was famously fired from X Factor USA due to the American audiences failing to understand her friendly drawl.

Similarly, the coarse listlessness of the conveyed Newcastle is reflective of an untranslatable national understanding that the demise of its thriving industrial past resulted in a regional rate of high unemployment. 8.1% of North East residents were unemployed in 2015, compared to the national average of 5.6%.

Ken Loach’s blunt direction and almost non-existent score are symbolically reflective of a stark, inescapable decline into poverty. Meanwhile American dramas, such as The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), push a peppy emphasis on overcoming poverty, rather than addressing the realism faced by those who are engulfed by it..

The most dramatic moments of the film are not climaxes of an Americanised build up, but small, quiet moments of characteristically British desperation. Daniel’s friend, Katie (Hayley Squires), softly breaks down at a food bank. She is reduced to spooning cold beans into her mouth to forgo starvation, apologising profusely as Daniel wipes her eyes and gets her a glass of water in a typically British gesture of compassion.

Conversely, La La Land’s drama sees Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) lifted in the air at a planetarium to a musical swell of strings, before their first kiss. This seems a typically overtly grandiose gesture of Hollywood filmmaking, compared to Ken Loach’s understated British approach. Hayley Squires’ performance won her a best actress award at the Denver Film Festival; Emma Stone looks likely to scoop an Oscar for Best Actress.

Successful cinema leaves an impact on its audiences. I, Daniel Blake reached parliament when MP Jeremy Corbyn recommended Prime Minister May watch the film as an example of the government’s ‘institutionalised barbarity’.

The gritty realism may have failed to create a buzz in Hollywood, but the honesty has touched the hearts of audiences worldwide; it lives on in political ripples rather than in an Academy Award.


Do you think I, Daniel Blake should be nominated? Let us or @jessiecee3 know on @EpigramFilm.

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