#OscarsSoWhite helped shape the discourse following a 2015 Academy Awards ceremony with nearly no diverse representation among its categories—a result, no doubt, of a voting body that was 94% white, 77% male, and 86% age 50 or older. Since then, the Academy’s sought to shake up its ranks, but, as Green Book’s big win shows, real progress takes time.
The only film from a Black filmmaker to make an impact at the 2015 Oscars was Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. that, while nominated for Best Picture and Best Score, was surprisingly shut out of the directing and acting categories. Now, in a new interview with ScreenDaily’s Screen Talks, star David Oyelowo credits the film’s lack of Oscar recognition to the Academy’s problems with a tribute he and the cast paid to the late Eric Garner.
“Six years ago, Selma coincided with Eric Garner being murdered,” Oyelowo said. “That was the last time we were in a place of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ t-shirts in protest. Members of the Academy called in to the studio and our producers, saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring S-H-I-T?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’”
As Vulture points out, Oyelowo’s story is supported by an anonymous interview The Hollywood Reporter conducted with a female Academy member in 2015. “I’ve got to tell you, having the cast show up in t-shirts saying ‘I Can’t Breathe’—I thought that stuff was offensive,” the woman is quoted as saying. “Did they want to be known for making the best movie of the year or for stirring up shit?”
DuVernay, meanwhile, took to Twitter to confirm Oyelowo’s account. “True story,” she wrote.
The Academy has already responded: “Unacceptable,” it posted to Twitter on Thursday. “We’re committed to progress.”
As we wait to see what that actually means—and as our streets swell with those protesting police brutality and systemic inequality—Selma has been made available as a free rental on all U.S. digital platforms throughout June. “We’ve gotta understand where we’ve been to strategize where we’re going,” DuVernay wrote in a tweet promoting the rental. “History helps us create the blueprint. Onward.”
We called Selma the “rare studio movie about black American history to not focus on (or invent) a white savior figure” in our review, and praised the complexity of its portrayal of King. “What emerges at center is a vision of King as a savvy strategist, not a noble saint; there’s a fascinating tension between his nonviolent tactics, informed by his faith, and his understanding that violence, when perpetrated by the other side and caught on camera, can be a powerful motivator.”
As our timelines continue to fill with clip after clip of police violence, the message couldn’t be more timely.
And Selma isn’t the only work of Black cinema to be offered for free this summer. According to Variety, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and O Cinema are teaming with Magnolia Pictures to make a trio of excellent documentaries—I Am Not Your Negro, Whose Streets?, and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am—available to rent for free. Beginning on June 7, one of the films will be made available for free each Sunday and will be followed by a virtual conversation the following Monday night. Sign up for O Cinema’s newsletter for more information.
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved
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