Nigerian-British actor, David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, one of the films predicted for the cinema circuit this year, has accused management of Oscars of favoring only ‘subservient’ black roles.
Oyelowo’s grouse stemmed from his non-inclusion in this year’s nomination in the acting category of Selma, despite the high prospects for his leading role in the revolutionary film.
The actor, who was snubbed by the Academy awards, for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, said: “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 have 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 also have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.”
The actor, who was speaking, Sunday, during an appearance at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, directed his criticism at both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the larger film industry for, often, telling stories about black people only through the eyes of white protagonists, saying, “So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative.”
It will be recalled that another black film, 12 Years a Slave, shone at the Oscars last year. Gene Seymour, a film critic, is among those who believe that the Selma’s Oscar snub is about race. According to Seymour, while the 12 Years a Slave is about blacks as victims, Selma is about strong blacks as agents of their own salvation.
Although Selma was nominated for Best Picture, the fact that Oyelowo and the film’s director, Ava DuVernay were not nominated, triggered a torrent of criticism, especially since, for the first time since 2011, all 20 acting nominees are white. This prompted the viral Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
According to Oyelowo, films about black revolution are so hard to get made. “People have often said to me, ‘Why has it taken so long?’ I mean, he [King] was assassinated almost 50 years ago. There has been no film where Dr. King has been the center of his own narrative up until now. That’s because up until 12 Years a Slave and The Butler did so well, both critically and at the box-office, films like these were told through the eyes of white protagonists because there is a fear of white guilt,” he said.
Explaining how 12 Years a Slave and The Butler changed the narrative, he said: “I know for a fact thatSelma got green light after both of those films made almost $200 million each. I know that because Paramount said to us, ‘Well, that means that Selma will probably make around $98 million, so let’s make it! (The film has grossed nearly $44 million so far). And God bless them for doing it — I love you Paramount, I love you, I love you. But that’s just the truth of the matter, is that up until now it’s been so hard to get these films made, but now they’re doing well internationally and critically and otherwise.”
Meanwhile, a popular Lagos-based church, House on The Rock, has decided to use Selma, as tool to promote peace and tolerance in Nigeria.
The church, noted for its annual gospel concert, The Experience, will be pioneering the premiere of Selmain Nigeria. The screening of the film is in partnership with the Embassy of the United States of America as an answer to Nigeria’s current socio-political and particularly election crisis.
In a statement, the senior pastor of the church, Paul Adefarasin said “Peace and harmony is important to us all. Regardless of our ethnicity, religion or political persuasion, our country Nigeria must remain united and peaceful. This is why House on The Rock Church, positioned as a centre for Social Justice and Equity, has decided to bring people from various classes in the Nigerian society together for a remarkable event where we can all stand united for peace at a time like this. We also seek to remind individuals with the Selma movie premiere event that regardless of any differences or grievances we may have, violence is not the answer, thus non-violence must continually be our stance.”
The Selma movie premiere event is expected to feature high profile personalities from corporate Nigeria, various cadres of the government, the media, the diplomatic corps, politicians including governorship and presidential candidates of various political parties amongst other eminent personalities.
Selma had four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Actor, and won for Best Original Song. It has also garnered nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards.