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‘Soul’ gives Pixar its 11th feature Oscar. Here’s why Kemp Powers was not a nominee

The lead character of "Soul" looks out a subway window, a half-smile on his face.
Joe Gardner in “Soul.”
(Pixar)

Pixar does it again.

Soul” won the Academy Award for animated feature at the 2021 Oscars on Sunday night, making it the 11th film from the storied animation studio to take the prize since the category was created in 2002.

The other nominees were “Onward” (also a Pixar production), the Netflix releases “Over the Moon” and “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” and the AppleTV+ title “Wolfwalkers,” from the Irish animation company Cartoon Saloon.

Directed by Pete Docter, “Soul” tells the story of Joe Gardner, a middle school music teacher with aspirations to be a professional jazz musician. After his excitement at landing a gig leads to an accident, Joe’s soul is determined to figure out a way to get back to his body on Earth instead of accepting his death and heading to the great beyond.

In addition to its accolades, “Soul” is notable for being Pixar’s first feature centered on a Black protagonist. As Docter previously told the Times, he initially tapped Kemp Powers to co-write the film after certain elements of the story started coming together. Powers’ contributions throughout the production enhanced the film‘s authenticity and led to him also being the credited co-director of the film.

Because Powers’ contributions to the film have been a prominent talking point around “Soul,” those unfamiliar with film credits and the Oscars rules might have assumed he would be among the credited winners for “Soul’s” award. But officially, Docter and producer Dana Murray are the two individuals who receive actual Oscars for “Soul’s” animated feature win.

“Soul” co-directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers explain the process of centering an animated fantasy around an authentically Black character.

According to the film academy’s rules, the recipients of the animated feature Oscar must be “the key creative individual(s) most clearly responsible for the overall achievement.” Generally, up to four people can be designated for this, including the credited director and others who must have a producer credit.

One of the subsections of the rules specifically states: “Production companies or persons with the screen credit of co-director or any credit other than director or producer shall not be eligible as nominees for the film.”

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A “co-director” credit is different than listing two (or more) individuals with a “director” credit on a film. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which won the award for animated feature in 2019, had three individuals with “directed by” credits — Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman — and they are all the Oscar recipients (in addition to producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller).

This year’s animated feature win marks the third Oscar for Docter, who has previously won in the category as the director of Pixar’s “Up” and “Inside Out.”

Other Pixar films that have won the Academy Award for animated feature are “Toy Story 4,” “Coco,” “Brave,” “Toy Story 3,” “WALL-E,” “Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo.” 1995’s “Toy Story,” which was released before animated feature was first presented in 2002, received a special achievement award at the 68th Academy Awards as the first feature-length computer-animated film.


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