February 23, 2017

The Historic Places Behind 2017's Oscar-Nominated Films

Caroline County Courthouse

photo by: Jimmy Emerson, DVM/Flickr/CC BY NC_ND 2.0

Filming for "Loving" was done at the historic Caroline County Courthouse, where the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia were taken.

The best films make use of the places they're set in, turning location into another essential character. The films honored at the 2017 Academy Awards—presumably a collection of the very best—are no exception.

Whether it's Los Angeles' musical culture in La La Land or the history of Southern segregation in Hidden Figures, the settings of this year's nominees are integral to the movies.

Below we explore the places behind the stories at the 89th annual Academy Awards.


Nominated for: Best Actress.

A powerful love story at its core, Loving claimed a spot alongside some of the great American civil rights films this year. The movie depicts the plaintiffs in the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended anti-miscegenation laws in the South.

In a remarkable turn of events, the cast and crew actually used the very courthouse (which dates back to around 1830) and jail in Bowling Green, Virginia, where Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving—an interracial married couple—were first taken upon arrest.

"I think to walk in their footsteps, to see the walls that they were contained in, the walls that they had to plead guilty in, it sort of brings it all so much closer," star Ruth Negga told the Los Angeles Times. "Makes everything so much more urgent and specific."

Griffith Observatory

photo by: Tom Benson/Flickr/CC BY NC_ND 2.0

The Griffith Observatory is the scene of interstellar tap dance in "La La Land."

"La La Land"

Nominated for: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Cinematography, Original Screenplay, and more.

One of the most magical and transfixing scenes of this year's Oscar darling, La La Land, comes when Mia and Sebastian are beamed up to outer space for a song and dance routine at the Griffith Planetarium.

The whole film—nominated for a whopping fourteen awards—is something of a love letter to Los Angeles and its landmarks, but the Observatory scene is perhaps the grandest, using one of the most iconic structures in the city.

First opened in 1935 under the Works Progress Administration, the Art Deco building sits atop Mount Hollywood and has been a backdrop for numerous films such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Terminator. While some shooting for La La Land used the observatory's exterior, the inside was a recreation.

Virginia Key Beach

photo by: Ines Hegedus-Garcia/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Virginia Key Beach in Miami was one of the few places for black beach-goers during Jim Crow.


Nominated for: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and more.

If Moonlight—the touching and troubling film about a young black man growing up in Liberty City, Florida, and coming to grips with his sexuality—is in some ways about places that make us feel safe being ourselves, its use of Virginia Key Beach Park in Miami couldn't be more appropriate.

The secluded beach appears when Juan is suspending a young Chiron in the water, teaching him how to float. It's a fitting location; that specific waterfront area has a long history of being a safe space for Miami's black population.

During segregation, almost all of the city's beaches were exclusively for whites, and the sale of what's known today as Fisher Island left Miami's black community without a beach of its own in the 1920s. Unofficially, though, certain beaches became accepted as places for black Miamians. Virginia Key Beach Park was one, and after a protest in 1945, the beach became an officially designated recreation area for African-Americans.

Langley Research Center

photo by: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

Still a major part of NASA's operations, Langley Research Center is celebrating its centennial throughout 2017.

"Hidden Figures"

Nominated for: Best Picture, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay.

Hidden Figures tells the true story of a group of African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s

Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson were world-class mathematicians but were still treated as second-class employees at the agency. Jackson was the first woman engineer at NASA and fought segregation in the organization and beyond in the city of Hampton, Virginia, where the film takes place at Langley Research Center.

Being the site of some of NASA’s most important operations, Langley has seen a great deal of history, housing the world’s first pressurized wind tunnel in 1922. In the 1950s and '60s it was also central to the space program. Neil Armstrong even practiced his moon landings there.

The Langley Research Center is celebrating its centennial throughout 2017.

Manchester by the Sea

photo by: Benjamin Bezine/Flickr/CC BY NC_ND 2.0

"Manchester by the Sea" was filmed throughout the towns of Cape Ann, including Rockport (pitctured above) and the real life Manchester-by-the-Sea.

"Manchester by the Sea"

Nominated for: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay.

The New England coast is no stranger to the big screen, but few films so intimately approach life in the region's small waterfront towns as Manchester by the Sea.

The story of a janitor from Quincy, Massachusetts, moving to a small seaside town to care for his nephew, the film was shot entirely on location. In fact, much of the filming being done in its namesake town, Manchester-by-the-Sea. Like the many small fishing towns of Cape Ann, Manchester (as it is more simply known) dates all the way back to the mid-1600s, and some of its architecture from the 1800s still stands.

The film's crew worked intensively to learn about Cape Ann's history and culture before filming even began.

“We've created Americana without hitting anybody over the head,” production designer Ruth De Jong told Architectural Digest.

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Jared Foretek enjoys historic train stations, old bars, and interesting public spaces, he was an editorial intern at the National Trust.

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