AFI Movie Club: RAY – American Film Institute
Ray Film Still - Jamie Foxx


AFI Movie Club: RAY

RAY was written by James L. White and became the first African American biopic ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards®. White got his start in the industry when AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Sidney Poitier hired him to pen the screenplay for the thriller RED MONEY.

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RAY – Reelgood

Watch Questlove announce RAY:

Movie Trivia About RAY

DID YOU KNOW? In RAY, Jamie Foxx played all of the piano scenes throughout the film, but he made no attempt to reproduce Ray Charles’s distinctive voice. Instead, all of the singing vocals in the movie were from recordings of Charles himself.

DID YOU KNOW? It was after seeing Jamie Foxx’s performance in Michael Mann’s ALI that director Taylor Hackford began to consider him seriously for RAY, which he’d been trying to get made for 15 years.

DID YOU KNOW? To prepare for the role of Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx studied Braille and lost 35 pounds to reflect Charles’ slender build. He also wore prosthetic eye pieces that rendered him sightless 12 hours a day.

DID YOU KNOW? The eldest son of Ray Charles – Ray Charles Robinson Jr. – served as a co-producer on RAY. He was the one who first approached Taylor Hackford about doing a film about his father.

DID YOU KNOW? Ray Charles was presented with a first cut of the film before he passed away of liver failure in 2004.

DID YOU KNOW? After every studio in Hollywood turned down the chance to make RAY, Taylor Hackford secured financing from billionaire investor and Ray Charles fan Philip Anschutz. Anschutz agreed to contribute $3 million out of his own pocket to develop the project and then put up the entire $35 million when no studio would share the production costs.

DID YOU KNOW? Universal, who came on board to distribute the film once it was complete, convinced the movie’s producers to change the title from UNCHAIN MY HEART to RAY.

DID YOU KNOW? RAY’s screenwriter James L. White felt an affinity for Ray Charles as the two men had very similar backgrounds. Both were African American men who grew up in the Jim Crow South and endured segregation, and both at one point in their lives were heroin addicts.

DID YOU KNOW? Kerry Washington, who stars as Della Bea Robinson in RAY, reteamed with Jamie Foxx in 2012 to play his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft, in Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

DID YOU KNOW? RAY was nominated for six Academy Awards® and won two for Best Actor for Jamie Foxx as well as Best Sound Mixing.

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The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-How did Ray Charles break barriers as a musician?

-What is your favorite song of his?

-What did you think of Jamie Foxx’s performance as Ray Charles? Was he able to embody the musical icon?

-How did Ray Charles’ mother teach him how to be strong at the beginning of the film and not let his blindness hold him back in life? How did she make him self-sufficient when he was a boy?

-How did Ray Charles’ brother’s death impact him?

-How did Ray Charles use his other senses to compensate for his lack of sight?

-How did the filmmakers depict the truth of who Ray Charles was and not gloss over his flaws as a man?

-How were the women in Ray’s life portrayed in the film from his wife Della Bea Robinson, played by Kerry Washington, to his mistress, Margie Hendricks?

-Margie Hendricks was a rhythm and blues singer. What was it like for Black female singers during this time?

-Why do you think no Hollywood studio would finance the making of RAY? How did the box office receipts prove that their fears weren’t justified?

-RAY is the first Black biopic to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar®. What is the significance behind this milestone and what do you think it meant to the Black community?

-How would you rate RAY?

Watch director Taylor Hackford talk about directing the film in this exclusive video from the AFI Archive:

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