With the porcelain-hued 2015 #WhiteOscars right around the corner, snubbed Selma star David Oyelowo took the Academy to task Sunday for praising black actors when they play slaves and servants, but not strong leaders.
“Generally speaking, we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient when we are not being leaders or kings or in the center of our own narrative driving it forward,” the British thesp said at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where he was being honored for his breakthrough performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ava DuVernay’s critically acclaimed biopic.
Despite strong reviews and praise for Oyelowo’s commanding turn as the civil rights icon, Selma is Oscar-nominated in just two categories: Best Picture and Best Original Song. That’s a conspicuous cold shoulder from the predominantly white Academy a year after the awards triumph of 12 Years A Slave, which took home three Oscars including Best Picture. Or maybe not.
There’s a reason Hollywood at large shares The Academy’s problem with strong black characters, said Oyelowo: “White guilt.”
“[Until] 12 Years a Slave and The Butler did so well both critically and at the box office, films like this were told through the eyes of a white protagonists because there is a fear of white guilt,” said Oyelowo, who noted that Paramount only greenlit Selma after those films—the former backed by Brad Pitt, the latter powered by Oprah—raked in $187 million and $176 million worldwide, respectively. “So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative. And you also don’t want black people to see that pain again, so you don’t really go into what that pain was in an authentic way. Both of those things are patronizing to the audience.”
The actor reached back into Oscar’s own history for more ammo, pointing to Denzel Washington’s performance as another civil rights leader, Malcolm X (he lost to the hoo-ahing Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman in 1993), and Sidney Poitier’s un-nominated turn in 1967’s multiple Oscar winner In The Heat Of The Night.
Watch Oyelowo take aim at the Academy here: