Half a decade ago, after the death of Eric Garner, the cast and crew of Ava DuVernay’s film, “Selma,” wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts to show their support for the murdered Black man. The film would go on to earn a ton of acclaim from critics and enter into awards season as a favorite to receive a number of Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, the film only received two nominations, with lead actor David Oyelowo getting snubbed for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And now, years later, the actor explains that their support for Eric Garner was a contributing factor for being snubbed by the Academy.
Speaking to ScreenDaily, Oyelowo said that the Academy warned the producers of “Selma” that the cast and crew were causing too much drama by supporting Eric Garner and confronting racism.
“Six years ago, ‘Selma’ coincided with Eric Garner being murdered. That was the last time we were in a place of ‘I Can’t Breathe,’” said the actor. “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-H-I-T?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’”
He continued, “It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite. They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”
In response to those comments, “Selma” director DuVernay replied on Twitter, “True story.”
Obviously, with the murder of George Floyd recently, there is a lot of attention on the issue of racism in the US and around the world. And in the case of the Academy, the organization released a statement on social media fully supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and promised to do its part to help fight racism. This statement came as a number of high-profile Hollywood studios and companies were releasing similar announcements.
You can say that maybe the Academy and its membership and grown over the past five years, and that the #OscarsSoWhite campaign did lead to real change in the thought processes of those voting for the Academy Awards. But it’s hard to see comments like these from Oyelowo and DuVernay and not be concerned that the institutions that still hold power in the film industry are composed of people that would see protests surrounding civil rights as controversial.
Clearly, the film industry, like the rest of the world, has a long way to go.