On Thursday morning, seemingly milliseconds after the nominees for this year's Academy Awards were announced, we heard a familiar cry: the Oscars are whitewashed, again. Selma was snubbed, and out of twenty nominations in the acting categories, exactly none went to a person of color.
With the exception of a few isolated years — last year was one of them — this should come as no surprise. The Oscars are not known for being an even playing field for women or people of color. While the outrage (#OscarsSoWhite has been trending on social media) is understandable, the question remains — when are we going to stop putting so much stock in the Academy Awards?
To put things in perspective, here's a breakdown of Oscar voters: 94% white, 76% male, and an average age of 63. This mean the average Oscar voter was born and raised during Jim Crow, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of films nominated for Best Picture depict the struggles of white males.
The snubs directed at Selma, which got a Best Picture nomination but failed to be recognized in the Best Director and Best Actor categories, is arguably the best press the film could've received. Ava DuVernay's civil rights drama is already a film with a purpose, inspiring people to rally behind its cause. #OscarsSoWhite only motivates audiences even more to support the film, which is now in wide release. Expect the box office to boom for this small indie flick.
That the Oscar nominations were coincidentally timed with the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, who David Oyelowo portrays in the film, is poignant. Dr. King wasn't concerned with awards, recognition by mainstream society or accolades — like Selma, he had a purpose far more powerful than that. The fact that the film has already inspired to many, and will introduce a whole new generation to the legacy of Dr. King, already puts the film far above the usual Oscar bait.
As DuVernay said in an interview with BET.com about the film's four Golden Globe nominations, "It wasn't in the plan but I'll take it." DuVernay clearly didn't make the film for awards, or to advance her own career in Hollywood. It was a mission, and she was called to it. That so many have been inspired to follow her — including a growing group of Black business leaders who are footing the bill for students to see the film for free — means she is a winner already.
Those who know DuVernay would argue that the greatest satisfaction she would get from being the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Director would be the doors it would open for other women and people of color in Hollywood. The filmmaker, who got her start as a publicist on films like The Help (which earned Octavia Spencer her first Oscar) and Good Hair, has spent a huge swath of her career putting a spotlight on Black films. As a director, she has made her own way, creating films according to her standards while being an unapologetic Black, female filmmaker.
While #OscarsSoWhite is a problem that deserves our attention and outrage (during her speech at the Critics' Choice Awards, actress Jessica Chastain pleaded with her fellow celebs to "please speak up" about Hollywood's diversity problem), it should come with the recognition that a nomination is more a reflection on Hollywood politics than the quality of a film. City of God, Eve Bayou, Do the Right Thing...all powerful, cinematic masterpieces with or without Oscar recogntion. Likewise, Selma is the most important film of the year for many, regardless of how many golden statues it collects.
More than 275,000 students will see Selma for free and carry forward the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King as a result. Ava DuVernay already won.
Clay Cane contributed to this article.
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(Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Paramount Pictures)
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