RaMell Ross’s stunning directorial debut, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, has garnered critical acclaim and a host of accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. An impressionistic and avant-garde film set in Hale County, Alabama, it examines the quotidian and intimate moments of its African American protagonists and the community in which they live. In his use of poetic images and nonclassical structure, Ross resists easy quantification and quick summary about black life in the South, making Hale County’s nomination a choice unlike any other in the Academy’s contemporary history.
If Ross were to win, he would be the third African American documentarian (following T. J. Martin for Undefeated in 2012 and Ezra Edelman for O.J.: Made in America in 2017) to do so in the category, an acknowledgment that speaks more to the Academy’s wavering race politics than to a lack of worthy films by black filmmakers. While the Oscars, an inefficient if much heralded mechanism of promotion for the U.S. film industry, has mostly disavowed the works of these artists, Hale County’s provocative formal style buttresses its potential to win.
Before he began filming in 2012, Ross strategized to “shoot from, not at” his subjects. He moved to the area in 2009 to teach photography and coach basketball, and later met and befriended the film’s protagonists, Quincy Bryant and Daniel Collins. Immersing himself in their lives, Ross privileges interpersonal and communal exchange and experiences. As both participant and observer, he recorded 1,300 hours of footage over five years, condensing the film into 80 powerful minutes that provide snapshots into the lives of Quincy, Daniel, their respective families, and their rural southern town.