The so-called "Big 5" Academy Awards consist of:
• Best Picture
• Actor in a Leading Role
• Actress in a Leading Role
• Writing (either Original Screenplay or Adapted Screenplay)
The failure of the movie Selma to garner 4 of the 5 aforementioned Oscar nominations (it was selected for Best Picture) has caused a kerfuffle for some.
The Reverend Al Sharpton called for "an emergency meeting" to discuss potential actions against the Academy. Filmmaker Spike Lee stated the perceived Oscar snub proves "We're not free at last, not free at last, we're not -- according to the Academy -- free at last!"
Selma has largely received positive reviews. It was surprising to many, myself included, that it did not receive more nominations. Perhaps the biggest surprise in this subjective process was the failure of the Academy to nominate the movie's director, Ava DuVeray.
Historically, the Best Picture and Best Director nominations are closely linked. There have only been four films in the Academy's 86-year history that won Best Picture without the director being nominated.
This tidbit, however, is more than enough in the court of public opinion to develop a conspiracy theory. Too often the formula used by barristers in this particular court is one part fact and three parts conjecture to offer a hypothesis that masquerades as an ironclad truth that is universal in scope.
I recently moderated a spirited discussion on Facebook around the question: "Why is Selma receiving Oscar snubs in the most prestigious categories an issue?"
In the words of Claude Raines in Casablanca, my question became a clarion call for many to "round up the usual suspects" -- and the primary suspect was racism. This belief was fostered by the fact the composition of those who vote for the Academy Awards are overwhelmingly white, male and the coup des gras, they had an average age of 63.
Does this data alone equate to racism?
There is a valid argument to be made that the Academy needs to be more diverse in its nomination process. Diversity brings different perspectives that can be healthy for any institution.
I have no way of knowing if racism was indeed the underlying culprit. But when we become certain that our reflexive analysis has successfully proven what cannot be substantiated otherwise, are we not endowing ourselves with a form of arrogance that blinds us to any other possibility?
We all stand on different street corners. Our individual perspective should not be confused as the sum total of all there is to see.
My limited perspective as a heterosexual, well educated, male does not inherently make me sexist, elitist or homophobic if initially I'm unable to see other points of view. If I prefer John Coltrane to Charlie Parker, that's simply my perspective.
Personally, I don't believe Art Carney's role in the movie Tonto warranted the Best Actor Award in 1975 over Al Pacino in The Godfather Part 2 or Jack Nicholson in Chinatown.
Nor do I believe Judy Holiday, who was great in Born Yesterday, offered a better performance to garner the Oscar for Best Actress over Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard or Bette Davis in All About Eve in 1951.
The underlying question in this debate: Does the importance of Selma hinge on validation from the Academy?
While an important part of American history that needed to be told, the producers of Selma are in it to make money, lest it would have been a documentary. If given the choice between taking home the "Big 5" Oscars, a feat that has only been accomplished 3 times, or making a profit on their $40 million investment, I suspect the latter option would invariably win out.
The importance of Selma does not depend on the opinion of those who felt it did not deserve additional nominations for a trophy that stands 13 ½ inches, weighing 8 ½ pounds.
After Selma runs it course in terms of box office receipts (domestic and international), DVD sales, video streaming and cable television; its true legacy may be determined by its ability to spur curiosity to find out more about this dark but epic moment in American history that made us all better.