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Give Don Cheadle the Oscar For ‘White Noise,’ You Cowards

Hello, 911, I’d like to report a crime: Don Cheadle is not currently favored to receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 2023 Oscars for his performance in White NoiseAnyone who watches the film—which began streaming on Netflix today—would surely agree that this is a glaring oversight. Cheadle steals every scene he’s in, as the adorably earnest Professor Murray Siskind, and I, for one, think that deserves a nomination—if not the Oscar itself. (Sorry to Brendan Gleeson, but I just don’t understand why you cut off your fingers!)

Based on the 1985 Don DeLillo novel of the same name, White Noise is the latest from filmmaker Noah Baumbach. It tells the quirky, absurdist tale of a college professor named Jack Gladney (played by Adam Driver, a frequent Baumbach collaborator), who is the seminal expert in his self-invented field of “Hitler studies.” It’s objectively ridiculous and embarrassing, but Gladney couldn’t be more proud of himself. And he happily accepts the praise of his doting colleague, Professor Murray, who recently moved to Gladney’s Ohio-based college from New York. This is where Cheadle comes in, with all of his bumbling brilliance.

In Cheadle’s first scene in the film, he bustles up to Jack in a grocery store. (This is later revealed to be one of Murray’s favorite places on earth. What a character!). Wearing a gaudy teal ’80s windbreaker over a stuffy academic vest and tie, Murray lavishes Jack with praise. “You have a very impressive husband, Mrs. Gladney,” he gushes to Jack’s wife, Babette (played by a poofed-out Greta Gerwig). “Hitler is now Gladley’s Hitler! I marvel at what you’ve done with the man. I want to do the same with Elvis.”

This ludicrous dialogue is delivered by Cheadle without a hint of irony. His worship of Jack is obvious, accentuated by the way Cheadle tentatively reaches for Jack’s arm and leans hopefully into his space. It is, in short, delightful. That continues in Cheadle’s next scene in the college cafeteria, in which he bashfully asks Jack for his help “establishing an Elvis Presley power base in the department.” With pleading eyes, he tells Jack, “Elvis is my Hitler!” It’s maybe the movie’s funniest line, made all the funnier by Cheadle’s earnest sincerity. Elvis is his Hitler! He really means that!

The entire cafeteria scene is Baumbach—quite brutally—poking fun at self-serious academics. No one understands the assignment better than Cheadle. Later, Murray and Jack deliver simultaneous lectures on Elvis and Hitler, to a crowd of rapt students. Baumbach choreographs the scene to a tee, and the result feels like a Shakespearean soliloquy. It’s a testament to Cheadle’s considerable talent that he makes a speech about Presley sound like it belongs on a Broadway stage. (Sidebar: How has Cheadle not been on Broadway yet?)

As the movie’s plot progresses, the world of academia becomes less relevant to our heroes. But Baumbach wisely keeps Cheadle as a presence throughout, and he is no less delightful. He waxes poetic about the supermarket in such a way that you’ll wish you loved anything the way Don Cheadle loves supermarkets. If that isn’t worthy of an Oscar, I don’t know what is.

And so, to any Academy voters who may happen to find themselves reading this article, I submit this humble plea: Nominate Don Cheadle for White Noise. (His only other Oscar nomination is from 2005, for Hotel Rwanda, and he lost, if you’re the sort of Oscar voter who cares about the “who is due for an Oscar” sort of thing.) He deserves this. Professor Murray deserves this. Do it for Elvis.

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