Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard has been delivering memorable silver screen performances for over four decades. Woodard has been in some of the film's most memorable moments from the Oscar-winning drama 12 Years a Slave to Netflix's feel-good hit Fatherhood. Whether it is a leading or supporting role, the actress has always stood out.
Despite being regarded as one of the 21st century's greatest actors, Alfre Woodard scored only one Oscar nomination in her career for her role as Beatrice (or Geechee) in 1983’s Cross Creek. But this one nomination doesn’t mean Woodard’s other performances haven’t been Oscar-worthy. So, here are just some of Alfre Woodard's movies that were worthy of an Academy Award.
Passion Fish (1992)
After her performance in Cross Creek, Alfre Woodard's performance in Passion Fish was one of her most acclaimed and well-known. She played the hell out of troubled nurse and caregiver Chantelle.
The acclaimed actress showed she was more than worthy of an Oscar with this role. Compared to previous roles, Alfre Woodard was allowed to be complicated and nuanced as her character dealt with work and personal issues. Woodard channeled a mix of sincerity and sensitivity with a sense of sternness and stubbornness. She never sacrificed her performance in juggling Chantelle's complex relationships.
Chantelle’s push-and-pull dynamic with the recently-impaired May-Alice wouldn’t have been possible without the chemistry of Alfre Woodard and film and television star Mary McDonnell. Given their talent and technique, the two actresses brought out the best in each other, allowing the narrative to transform from a tension-filled beginning to an unlikely sisterhood. In showcasing their story, Woodard was allowed her character to experience a spiritual, mental and emotional transformation.
For her performance in Passion Fish, Alfre Woodard did receive an Independent Spirit win and a Golden Globe nomination for Supporting Actress. Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination despite Mary McDonnell's nom for Best Actress. Without Woodard’s performance, the film’s narrative wouldn’t have been as powerful and transformative.
As a versatile performer, Alfre Woodard knows how to shift from one role to another effortlessly. In Spike Lee’s family drama Crooklyn, Woodard played the loving and strict matriarch, Carolyn Carmichael.
Unlike her previous roles, Alfre Woodard was able to bring out her maternal side on the big screen. She tapped into the dynamics of being a Black woman in the 1970s, giving a realistic portrayal of a woman balancing work, everyday life and motherhood. Despite not being a real family, the acting titan gave off motherly vibes with her young co-stars, especially in the intimate moments.
But it was Alfre Woodard’s dynamic with young co-star Zelda Harris that served as the film’s core. With Woodard as her emotional and moral core, Harris was allowed to tap into being the only girl in a house of boys. Of course, Carolyn and Troy dealt with the common push-and-pull of mother-daughter dynamics. At the same time, there was a mutual love and understanding between the mother and daughter. This became a catalyst for Troy's growth as their dynamic shifted due to Carolyn’s cancer diagnosis.
This shift even played into Alfre Woodard’s chemistry and dynamic with Delroy Lindo’s jazz musician father. Carolyn’s level-headed and stern approach played well with Woody’s creative and free-spirited personality. It allowed for the roles of a Black heterosexual relationship to be somewhat reversed.
Unfortunately, none of this translated into a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This role allowed Alfre Woodard to play the background while still standing out in this ensemble film.
Down In The Delta (1998)
Once again, Alfre Woodard got to play a mother but one who was more of a liability rather than the backbone. Woodard became drug-addicted single mother Loretta Sinclair in the family drama Down in the Delta.
The Oscar nominee played a mother but acted more like a woman child compared to her actual offspring. This performance allowed Alfre Woodard to find that delicate balance between immaturity and responsibility. This was only complicated by her character’s inner demons from childhood in addition to her fight with drugs and alcohol.
This collision of internal battles may have driven another actress to strike a more dramatic tone. But Alfre Woodard chose to play into the dramatic and comedic moments once her character went to visit her family. Experiencing these tonal shifts allowed the actress to master her transformation from irresponsible and immature to centered and mature. In turn, her character became a better mother and daughter.
Like many of her roles, Alfre Woodard was at her best in scenes with other actors. Her scenes with Esther Rolle and Al Freeman Jr. gave more parent-and-child dynamic despite being her aunt and uncle. Her best scenes were with Wesley Snipes as they played off each other in both small and big moments.
The complexities Alfre Woodard had to play into were worthy of a trip to the Academy Awards. Her performance at the time should’ve been an automatic Best Actress Oscar nom. As the lead character of this family drama, Woodard carried the entire film from beginning to end.
American Violet (2008)
Playing mothers on film seemed to be Alfre Woodard’s forte at this point in her career. So, playing a mother based on a real-life story pushed her in another direction. Woodard played Alma Roberts, the mother of a wrongfully-convicted young woman, in the film American Violet.
The acclaimed actress served as the backbone to her daughter (played by Nicole Beharie). The two shared a potent mother-daughter dynamic throughout the film despite their oil-water relationship set up in the beginning. Woodard came off as a supportive but stern mother standing by her daughter through an extremely challenging time.
In trying to get justice for her daughter, Alfre Woodard channeled all her chops to portray a variety of emotions. She blended sternness and worry with love and sensitivity when interacting with Nicole Beharie or the young actors. In playing a mother and grandmother, Woodard displayed the differing dynamics between her daughter and grandchildren. Her performance captured the effects of the justice system can have on not only prisoners but their loved ones as well.
The actress not only played well with Nicole Beharie but with other co-stars as well. Some of her most powerful scenes played out with Timothy Blake Nelson. As usual, Alfre Woodard shone brightly in those ensemble moments.
While Nicole Beharie received critical acclaim and some award nominations, Alfre Woodard should’ve been recognized more for her performance. Woodard deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for being so nuanced. The actress once again showed she can play the background while serving an acting masterclass.
Alfre Woodard proved she was still at the top of her game in the acclaimed drama Clemency. She played a troubled prison warden Bernadine Williams dealing with the effects of her work.
As Williams, the acting titan showed a woman’s evolution as she dealt with the complex intertwining between her personal and professional lives. In doing so, Alfre Woodard handled Williams’ inner demons with nuance and delicateness. This work played into the emotions and turmoil associated with her job. Playing a prison warden allowed Woodard to be a blend of sternness and coldness with femininity. At the same time, she didn’t have to sacrifice her performance.
Working as a prison warden also showed the duality in her work and home life. As a powerful woman, her relationship with her husband (played by Wendell Pierce) could be adversarial at times. She pushed against her husband’s love and concern with her harshness. On the opposite end, Alfre Woodard seemed more invested in a death row inmate (played by Aldis Hodge) as she showcased a motherly tenderness and caring.
Along with Pierce and Hodge, the actress played well with other actors, including Michael O’Neill and Richard Schiff, in some intense moments. All this allowed Woodard to channel her character’s emotional journey.
For her powerful performance in the Netflix drama, Alfre Woodard received critical acclaim and scored numerous nominations, including Independent Spirit and BAFTA. Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nom. Despite the Oscar snub, most cited this role as one of her best roles. Carrying such a heavy emotional load made the film and her character even more important during these trying times.
The above performances showcased how undeniable Alfre Woodard’s commitment to her craft is. With that said, not having an Oscar on her mantle hasn’t stopped Woodard from excelling in her career. The actress has multiple projects lined up for 2021 and beyond, including The Gray Man and See Season 2. Hopefully, Woodard will be able to stand on the Oscar stage one day.
A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).
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