David Oyelowo, the actor who portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. in the historical film “Selma,” blasted the Motion Picture Academy Sunday for awarding black actors with Oscars “more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.”
Oyelowo said, “No, look, historically — this is truly my feeling, I felt this before the situation we’re talking about and I feel it now — generally speaking, we, as black people, have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.”
As evidence, Oyelowo argued that “Denzel Washington should have won for playing Malcolm X” and that Sidney Poitier should have won his Oscar for In the Heat of the Night rather than Lilies of the Field. “So this bears out what I’m saying,” the actor continued, “which is we’ve just got to come to the point whereby there isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy — a notion of who black people are — that feeds into what we are celebrated as, not just in the Academy, but in life generally. We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.”
Oyelowo was not nominated for his portrayal of King in “Selma,” a move that caused an uproar among anti-science Leftists.
A look at the overall history of the Academy proves Oyelowo’s analysis mostly correct (I would argue that Poitier’s “Lilies of the Field” character is a lot more complicated than people remember). In more recent history, Oscar’s snub of director Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992) and “Do the Right Thing” (1989) are still impossible to comprehend. Lee’s vibrant direction didn’t earn even a nomination. Watching “Driving Miss Daisy” win it all the same year “Do the Right Thing” went home empty-handed was an Academy low point.
Nevertheless, over the last decade, and especially the last 5 years, things have improved considerably in this regard. “Selma” just wasn’t that great of a movie and Oyelowo’s performance simply did not scream Oscar. It was all very HBO.
The performance by a black actor overlooked this year was really Chadwick Boseman’s transformation into Godfather of Soul James Brown in “Get On Up.” Unfortunately for the incredibly talented Boseman, his performance didn’t get the campaign support it deserved.
Because things have gotten better over the last 5 years and “Selma” just wasn’t all that great of a movie, this incessant complaining over “Selma’s” lack of Oscar love (one year after the “12 Years a Slave” win) feels like sour grapes mixed with emotional racial blackmail.
Be gracious when you lose. Try harder next time.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC