7:47AM PST - "Wake the @!#$ up. Selma got snubbed in a big way."
That was the text I got from one of my best friends the morning of Oscar nominations, starting my day here in sunny Los Angeles. It is that time of year again, and one of the highest rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes (99%) and of great critical acclaim only gets a nod for Best Picture and Best Song. No acting noms for any people of color, and women noticeably absent beyond actress categories. Selma, a movie that is powerfully directed and incredibly cast, with some phenomenal supporting roles for actors both black and white, who portrayed people pivotal to the narrative of an important moment in our American history, and its talented director, Ava DuVernay, is practically shut out of the show. How does a film lauded for its greatness and harbors a nomination in the best picture category completely miss out for everything else except a song that plays as the credits roll?
What does this say about Hollywood? Twitter erupted with the trending hashtag of the moment, #OscarsSoWhite, and few can blame people for the frustration and disappointment they purport with some hilarity and biting truth. I have seen most of the other nominees, and plan on seeing the rest over the next few days, because I want to be as fair to the other movies as possible, and I also want to be justified in what I already know to be a snub that is wholly unjust. But let's not make it just about Selma, other movies with black actors in leading roles came out last year that were pretty solid - Top Five (87%), Beyond the Lights (81%), Dear White People (92%), Get On Up (80%) - a range of movies that include biopics, quirky comedies, romances, and intelligent satire that created a lot of buzz over the year in the indie festival circuit. I'm not saying that each of those films deserved to be a best picture, but there is some incredible acting as well as some strong writing, and other elements of the movie-making process that shouldn't go unrecognized.
As I sat down to watch The Imitation Game last weekend, there was a preview that played, simple and innocent enough, but it was yet another movie with a white lead, in pursuit of some mundane goal, that had been over-dramatized, as she struggled to reclaim a family painting. A PAINTING! Oh, but it's based on a true story, and the lead has a sophisticated accent, so I'm sure it will be among the nominations next year! I don't take offense to the subject matter, and I'm sure it is a powerful story that blends the trials of World War II, so I don't diminish that struggle. However, I immediately thought we have seen numerous versions of this type of film before, and I leaned over to my buddy and noted that it just seems unfair that a slew of films similar to this one get the greenlight and riveting stories with black characters are never known. So again, on a morning when even the story of Selma's journey to film is a compelling one, it's disappointing that it only received the two nominations. Rolling Stone's film critic Peter Travers is mad about it too. I wonder what A.O. Scott over at The NY Times will have to say about all of this.
Don't get me wrong, I love movies. I love movies with black people, and I love movies with white people, and movies with all types of people in them. I love drama, I love comedies, I love horror, I love comic book superhero movies and sci-fi. I love all kinds of movies and the movie-going experience. Jurassic Park and Shawshank are my two faves, and seeing dinosaurs on screen like that changed my life, even though a black man was the first to die at that technologically advanced theme park. I don't understand why there is such a lack of diversity and recognition, particularly when Hollywood has been under fire for being detached and out of touch on race, it's sad to me that these nominations only confirm that. Black movies matter, black actors matter, black directors matter, and the Oscars would matter more, if they included more people of color, more women, and more diversity in ideas and stories told, and quite frankly, if the Academy wasn't so white.
In a time of modern American protest, when a movie like Selma should be seen, it simply goes to show that it and other movies like it, simply are not. Awards season is gaining momentum, and with the recent Golden Globes, Hollywood's lack of public response to the protests in Ferguson, police brutality, and the massacre in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, reiterates the belief that certain lives and certain stories don't matter. I think Common said it best with his acceptance speech -
"The first day I stepped on the set of 'Selma,' I began to feel like this was bigger than a movie. As I got to know the people of the Civil Rights movement, I realized I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter, killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed kid who maybe needed a hand, but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. 'Selma' has awakened my humanity."
Well, with these nominations, I woke the $# up and this reaffirmed the need to tell stories, and hopefully find others driven to produce and direct diverse movies worthy of being seen, so that others can awaken as well and create a wave of academy voters who are better equipped to acknowledge great work no matter who it comes from.