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Barkhad Abdi

Barkhad Abdi: 5 Things to Know About the Captain Phillips Oscar Nominee

 

2013 marked an unprecedented year for black films with movies like "The Butler" and "12 Years a Slave" scoring big at the box office. But despite those victories, many black actors and filmmakers argue that there's still a long way to go, especially at the Academy Awards.

Of the nearly 3000 Oscars that have been awarded since 1929, fewer than 30 been given to people of color. That number could increase significantly this Sunday with six more people of African descent being up for Academy Awards My brother, Chiwetel Ejiofor happens to be one of them.

 

While this year has created a slew of opportunities for black actors, critics say that many of the acclaimed roles are based on true stories and therefore could never have been played by white actors anyway. It's not like Leonardo DiCaprio can play Nelson Mandela. One of the only ways where black people get to play the lead is literally when there is no white competition.

 

David Oyelowo played Louis Gaines in 'The Butler', a movie about an African American White House butler who served 8 American Presidents. Pam Williams, one of the the movie's producers, says that some investors refused to fund it unless she gave the white actors bigger roles. One potential investor asked, could we give the butler a white best friend?

 

I don't think the investors we went to were racist, I think they buy into this myth that is white people only wanna see white people on screen so how can we put more of them into a black movie to make it more acceptable. And more marketable.

 

According to Rentrak, a company that tracks movie ticket sales, Only five predominantly black movies have made over $100 million domestically. And then there's the issue of audience, African Americans make up just 11% of frequent moviegoers, while white Americans make up 56%. The Butler started out with a predominantly black audience, and in the the second week in the box office.. it shifted.. there were more white people going to see the film.

 

Critics say for black actors get more of these types of roles, multi dimensional, with mass appeal, they need to be more assertive. Until black people are willing to invest their own money, we're gonna have to settle for what we can get. A role that Ryan Gosling can play, I don't see why I shouldn't be considered for, if race isn't an issue.

 

From taxi driver to Oscar nominee! Newcomer Barkhad Abdi has generated an immense amount of buzz following his breakout role as desperate Somali pirate Abduwali Muse in the Paul Greengrass-directed film Captain Phillips.

The first-time Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor has received several trophies so far this season, including Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTA Awards. The 28-year-old goes up against Golden Globe winner Jared Leto, and seasoned Hollywood actors Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, and Michael Fassbender at the 2014 Oscars on Sunday, Mar. 2.

PHOTOS: Stars who've never won an Oscar

Here are five things to know about the new guy in Tinseltown:

1. Captain Philips Was His First Role Ever

With no prior acting experience, director Greengrass cast him in the role of pirate leader Abduwali Muse opposite Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips. "That’s why I got the job, they had to have a Somali person play it," Abdi told The Daily Beast of scoring the role opposite two-time Oscar winner Hanks. "I understand the pirates' motive," he continued. "They wanted money. They were desperate guys."

2. He Was a Taxi Driver Before Captain Phillips

Abdi was working multiple gigs in Minneapolis -- as a taxi driver, store worker, and DJ -- when he saw on TV that producers were holding auditions for the film. "You know it never hurts to try," Abdi told Us Weekly back in October of pursuing a dream. "That's what I did, you know." Despite a dizzying awards season, the newly-minted actor said he would do it again in a heartbeat -- and if all else fails? "I'm going to go back to driving a taxi," joked Abdi, now in talks for another fact-based film, The Place That Hits the Sun.

PHOTOS: Stars' first jobs!

3. He Witnessed Civil War in His Native Somalia

"Growing up in Somalia was beautiful, honestly," Abdi told the Daily Beast. "Imagine a very peaceful place. Everyone loved each other," he explained. Then at age 6, Abdi witnessed the outbreak of a civil war in his home country in 1991. "It turned overnight to chaos, killing and guns," he said. "You would find guns everywhere, bullets and bullet parts. There were bodies outside. It was a very scary time for me and my family." Abdi eventually escaped and moved to Yemen, and later, America. He immigrated to the U.S. at age 14 to Minneapolis with his family.

4. He Scared Tom Hanks the First Time They Met

Abdi's first time ever speaking to Hanks was in character. The line? "I am the captain now," Abdi recalled to the Daily Beast. "I had to scare him. Since I admire him that was hard for me. He was more Captain Phillips than Tom Hanks and that made me more my character than me. We kept our distance during filming and didn’t go out for dinner until afterwards."

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5. He Has a Rap Sheet

Abdi has been arrested and charged with fraud and drugs possession, on multiple occasions. "I wasn’t a complete man," Abdi admitted to the Daily Beast, speaking about the charges for the first time. "I made mistakes to satisfy certain friends and to be cool and I took the consequences. I look back and smile now. Now I know not to do that, and how serious it was."

The 86th Annual Academy Awards airs live on Sunday, Mar. 2 at 7 p.m. EST on ABC.