When Birdman won Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars, it was up against some pretty steep competition: Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and perhaps most notably, Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. Selma is a historical film about the 1965 civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King and received critical acclaim upon release, still holding a score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet the only Oscar Selma took home that night was for Best Original Song – there was no nomination for DuVernay for Best Director, nor for David Oyelowo for Best Actor for his portrayal of Dr. King. Logically, the film should’ve swept awards season.
In light of the murder of George Floyd and countrywide protests in support of Black Lives Matter, Oyelowo and DuVernay have come forward about why they feel Selma was snubbed for Best Picture. In an eerily parallel of Floyd’s death, Eric Garner was killed in July of 2014 when an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold, to which Garner responded, “I can’t breathe.” In solidarity with Garner, his family and the cast and crew of Selma wore t-shirts saying “I Can’t Breathe.” In an interview with Screen International, Oyelowo alleged that the Academy denied Selma Best Picture because of this.
“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**t?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that,'” recounted Oyelowo. On Twitter, DuVernay backed up this accusation by retweeting the article and saying “True story.”
True story. https://t.co/l7j8EUg3cC
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) June 5, 2020
In past years, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has become popular during awards season, alluding to the trend of Academy voters picking white movies, directors, and actors over those of color. In response to this sentiment, the Academy has made the effort to give projects involving non-white casts and creators more equitable consideration. In the year following Birdman‘s win, Moonlight took home Best Picture, and just last year, Parasite won both Best Picture and Best Director. While Moonlight and Parasite certainly deserve their accolades, one must wonder if the Academy’s liberalism is genuine or just for the sake of optics. When reports of blatant bias like this come out, it’s hard to believe the Academy’s so-called inclusivity isn’t all for show.