In December 2006, the glitzy film adaptation of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls — a fictionalized retelling primarily based on the rise of Motown sensations The Supremes — opened to cheers from each critics and audiences.
“People are going to love this film,” raved Richard Roeper on an episode of Ebert & Roeper.
Although its star-studded solid was headlined by Jamie Foxx (contemporary off an Oscar win for Ray) and Beyoncé (on a rapid-fire ascent to turning into one of many world’s largest pop stars), it was finally the bravura performances of the third billed Eddie Murphy and below-the-title co-star Jennifer Hudson that — together with the movie’s energetic tempo and show-stopping musical numbers — constantly drew the most important kudos.
Murphy, 45 on the time however already a certifiable legend of comedy, had cracked the code in drama, too, together with his stirring and soulful flip as growing older R&B star Jimmie “Thunder” Early, a composite of James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson who succumbs to drug habit after his profession fades. It recalled equally inspiring performances of funnymen-gone-serious like Jim Carrey in The Truman Present (1998) and Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Murphy’s position in Dreamgirls additionally displayed his musical abilities in essentially the most tangible manner since his 1985 Rick James collaboration, “Party All The Time.”
Hudson, the American Idol breakout making her performing debut, was a revelation — however in some ways so was Murphy, with a common consensus quickly crystallizing amongst pundits and cinephiles: Eddie is certain to win an Oscar for this.
Proper on time, the nominations and victories started rolling in. On Jan. 15, he received the Golden Globe for Greatest Supporting Actor, beating out fellow heavy hitters Jack Nicholson, Brad Pitt, Mark Wahlberg and Ben Affleck. On Jan. 20, he received the Critics Alternative Award. On Jan. 28, he received the Display screen Actors Guild Award.
And within the thick of that every one, on Jan. 23, Murphy was nominated for the Academy Award, the trophy he appeared predetermined to say like Prince Akeem in ready to inherit the throne of Zamunda. Murphy had all of the momentum. His opponents — Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jackie Earle Haley (Little Youngsters), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) and Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) — had none.
Then, on Feb. 9, Norbit occurred. Er, opened.
The broader-than-broad comedy starred Murphy because the nebbish title character, a former orphan (Murphy additionally performs the Chinese language orphanage director, Mr. Wong) whose different defining attribute is that for many of his life he’s been dominated by his large-and-in-charge childhood girlfriend-turned-wife Rasputia Latimore (additionally Murphy, however in a fats swimsuit). Actually, although, Norbit has at all times been in love together with his childhood greatest good friend, Kate, whom he reconnects with as an grownup when she’s performed by Thandiwe Newton.
“I wanted to do something edgy,” Murphy mentioned on the time. “Because I’d been doing a lot of family movies, lots of stuff with kids like Shrek and Daddy Daycare and Haunted Mansion, which were terribly cute films, but I wanted to do something edgy.”
Opinions weren’t type. Registering a measly 9 % approval score on Rotten Tomatoes, Norbit was slammed for being “racially insensitive” and carrying “hideously offensive Black stereotypes.” There was additionally its fat-shaming caricature of Rasputia. “Even if you go back decades, body fascism has rarely been so brazen, or so unfunny. Horrifying,” wrote Timeout’s Anna Smith. “It’s offensively bad,” mentioned Dreamgirls rally caller Roeper.
“The reaction was vocally, ostentatiously negative. And not without good reason,” says Joe Reid, host of This Had Oscar Buzz podcast now. “Not only was Norbit a bad movie, but it was a movie that represented everything about Eddie Murphy’s 2000s career that critics were eager to see him move away from with Dreamgirls. The Klumps, the fat suits, the Dr. Doolittle-style cash grabs, the Pluto Nash-style disasters — Norbit kind of summed up everything that had curdled about Eddie Murphy’s film career all wrapped up in one.”
That didn’t hold audiences away. The film exceeded expectations with a gap weekend gross of $34.2 million, finally incomes $95 million within the U.S. and $159 million worldwide. Not too shabby for a February comedy.
It helped that Norbit’s distributors, DreamWorks and Paramount (the identical studios that launched Dreamgirls), executed a full-on advertising blitz for his or her $60 million funding. Norbit was in all places, and so was Rasputia.
In movie circles, Norbit’s immediately notorious labeling as contender for the worst factor Murphy has ever made naturally made its manner into the Oscars dialog. Ballots had been mailed out Jan. 31, and Academy members had been within the thick of voting as Norbit was being shredded to items within the press. Ballots had been due Feb. 20, precisely two weeks after the film’s ballyhooed opening.
“Is this what a future Oscar winner looks like?” requested the Los Angeles Occasions’s Greg Braxton and Robert W. Welkos.
“Eddie Murphy should lose the Oscar for doing Norbit in the same manner that a substance abuser should be put back in rehab for lapsing at their ‘welcome back’ party,” wrote Laremy Legel for MTV Information. “It’s a raw deal for Eddie because he was tremendous in Dreamgirls, but if losing the Oscar gets us out of another decade of bad choices by him, it’s a price we should all be willing to pay.”
Nonetheless, Murphy was largely predicted to nonetheless win gold proper up till showtime. “Eddie Murphy wins the category, deserves to, and will be back in starring roles unless he continues to choose unfunny comedies done just for the money,” wrote Roger Ebert. “The horrible ads for the horrible Norbit certainly haven’t endeared Murphy to voters in the last few weeks, but I think his momentum is such that he’ll win anyway,” opined Eric D. Snider. “He’s the one people have been talking about for months.”
It was 2006 Greatest Supporting Actress Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Fixed Gardener) who delivered the decision on Sunday, Feb. 27 on the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby) in Hollywood, Calif.
“And the Oscar goes to… Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine,” Weisz proclaimed because the telecast depicted a five-way split-screen of nominees, Arkin shaking his head in disbelief when the others cheered. That included Murphy, although the actor famously left the ceremony early after shedding.
“That he took a chance and allowed his legions of fans to see him in a serious drama was brave, but he acted like a spoilsport,” says Susan Wloszczyna, RogerEbert.com Oscarologist who visited the set of Dreamgirls and coated the movie for USA At this time “like a rug” when it was launched.
And similar to that, “Norbit cost Eddie Murphy the Oscar” was written into the annals of movie lore. “Norbit became a verb for how to mess up your chance to win an Oscar,” remembers Wloszczyna.
“Obviously, the critics weren’t fond of Norbit, but I think what hurt Murphy more then the reviews were the then-inescapable ads and the silly-sounding name,” says New York Times’s The Projectionist Kyle Buchanan. “The Academy likes to see comedians get serious and just when he’d pulled that off in Dreamgirls — to the tune of his first Oscar nomination — all those bad-taste Norbit commercials made them view Murphy as a dramatic dilettante.”
In 2013, Entertainment Weekly went so far as to dub the phenomenon of losing an Oscar because of a maligned follow-up release, “The Norbit Effect.” Though, curiously, among all the other examples cited — the release of the comedy dud All About Steve (2009) as Sandra Bullock chased an Oscar for The Blind Side, Anne Hathaway starring in the rom-com Bride Wars (2009) as she had buzz for Rachel Getting Married, Natalie Portman appearing in the rom-com No Strings Attached (2011) as her hype train for Black Swan felt unstoppable — it was only Norbit that EW proclaimed a true Oscar killer. (Bullock and Portman still won, while Hathaway was considered the underdog to Kate Winslet in The Reader.)
“Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore still walked away with Oscars in 2015 despite terrible reviews for Jupiter Ascending and Seventh Son,” Reid points out. “What happened with Norbit was that it directly contradicted the narrative that had become central to the Eddie Murphy Oscar campaign: namely that Eddie Murphy was back! He’d returned from the wilderness of so many bad movies and bombs, and now he was back to using all that charisma and talent towards something excellent. The Norbit release took some air out of that balloon.”
Of course, there’s no way of telling if it was actually Norbit that hijacked Eddie’s inevitable Oscar. You’d have to attempt to poll the roughly 6,000 members of the Academy at the time, several of whom we’ve no doubt lost over the past 15 years.
There were other factors working against Murphy as well. Though Dreamgirls lead all films that year with eight nominations, that seemingly impressive haul was actually considered a disappointment at the time. Considered the Oscars favorite as both a critical and commercial hit (the musical racked up $103 million in the U.S. and $155 million worldwide), Dreamgirls failed to land nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Bill Condon) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Condon). Those were heavy “snubs.” In fact, Dreamgirls became — and remains — the only film ever to collect the most Oscar nominations in a single year without one of those being for Best Picture.
“I think Academy members just liked the other movies better,” Condon said at the time.
It’s worth noting the demographics of those Academy members. This was 11 years before the first #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and longer before the organization’s efforts to diversify its ranks. Six years after the Dreamgirls snubs, the Academy was still 94 percent white, 77 percent male, and 86 percent age 50 or older. Sure there had to be some Supremes fans in that older white boys club, but as Condon said, they liked The Departed (which won Best Picture) and other noms Babel, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen more.
And while the Academy does have a history of honoring actors as much for their collective body of work as opposed to a singular performance (Al Pacino in Scent of Woman, Denzel Washington in Training Day, etc.), Murphy’s concentration in comedy — Trading Places, Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, Shrek — may not carry as much goodwill for serious-minded Oscar voters.
Carrey couldn’t even muster a single nomination for The Truman Show, The Man on the Moon (1999) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), neither could Sandler for Punch-Drunk Love or Uncut Gems (2019).
Arkin won on his third nomination, and had been working primarily in drama since the mid-1960s, even if he was hitting comedic beats as the lovable, drug-addicted grandpa to the precocious Olive (Abigail Breslin).
Wloszczyna thought Murphy was going to win. “But Alan Arkin is more of a typical beloved actor, one who had been nominated two times previously for an Oscar without a win,” she says. “He was a stitch” in Sunshine.
Murphy’s status within the business might have performed into his loss, too, Reid says. “There was additionally speak that Murphy wasn’t extremely well-liked in Hollywood circles, the identical sort of chatter that arose when Sylvester Stallone misplaced the Oscar he was broadly anticipated to win for Creed. That is all rumors and ephemera, in fact, but it surely all is.”
Even past Murphy’s loss, all that glitter in Dreamgirls didn’t make for a lot gold. It received solely two of its eight nominations: Hudson for Greatest Supporting Actress, and Greatest Sound Mixing.
Murphy, in the meantime, remains to be searching for his second nomination, although it’s not from lack of effort. He drew Oscar buzz once more in 2019 for his brash but heartwarming flip as underground comedy legend Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Identify, however like Sandler that yr for Uncut Gems, didn’t crack the Oscar poll.
“Whether or not Murphy should have won the Oscar for Dreamgirls, it’s wild that it remains his only nomination,” says Buchanan. “He should have been in the mix for The Nutty Professor, Dolemite… hell, even Bowfinger! But Oscar voters have never sparked to the act of comic transformation like you’d hope.”
Provides Reid: “We’ll never know for sure if Norbit was really part of the reason why Eddie Murphy lost, but the bottom line is that if voters loved him in Dreamgirls enough, Norbit wouldn’t have mattered.”