And the Oscar goes to…: Award-winning alumnus screens documentary at Western

Oscar winner and Western alumnus TJ Martin said Gwenyth Paltrow, who handed Martin his Oscar, is really just as gorgeous up close as she is on the screen.

“It was a very handsome couple that handed us the awards,” Martin said. “I was flattered.”

Martin said while he doesn’t think about dating celebrities since he has a girlfriend, that doesn’t mean he can’t have a celebrity crush.

“I still have a big crush on [Sin City’s] Rosario Dawson,” Martin said. “I saw her at a party recently and I was too nervous to say hi.”

Coming back to Western is a great honor, Martin said in a press conference prior to the sold-out showing of his Oscar-winning documentary “Undefeated” in the Performing Arts Center.

“Undefeated” follows high school football team the Manassas Tigers as they win their first game in 14 years, and then game after game until they find themselves in the playoffs. The documentary focuses more on the character development of the players than on football. Growing up in a rough town with underfunded education and athletic programs, each player faces their own struggle.

In a Q&A with the audience after his film showing, Martin said Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” greatly inspired his desire to be a filmmaker.

“I was too young to understand the content, but I knew how it made me feel, and I knew I wanted to do that for other people,” Martin said.

When Martin won the Oscar and went on stage, he felt such pure shock and excitement that he got a little bit derailed on his message and left out the people he wanted to thank most, he said.

“This is why it’s a little bittersweet, because the whole point of the acceptance speech was to really dedicate the award to the individuals that opened their homes and their lives to us,” Martin said. “The reality is the success of this film is 100 percent a testament to the individuals of North Memphis.”

“Undefeated” was quite a feat to edit, as Martin and his crew amassed more than 500 hours of footage filming the 110 minute movie, he said.

Although Martin has been dubbed the first African-American director to win an Oscar for a full-length feature film or documentary, he is actually biracial and does not identify as African-American.

“I’m mixed. I identify as my experience,” Martin said, referring to the people he has grown up around. “I think it warrants greater conversation.”

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