It’s that time of year again when the nominations for the Academy Awards are announced. The announcement usually comes with some discussion concerning surprise entries and films or people that missed out, but this year there seems to me to be a glaring omission. Having recently watched the film Selma in which David Oyelowo dominated every scene as Martin Luther King Jr, giving a charismatic performance of quiet intensity, I found myself thinking that this must surely be an award contender, if not winner. A well told biopic of a famous historical figure portrayed by a British actor seems to be a shoo-in for the Oscars and BAFTAs (looking at you The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything). However upon reading that David Oyelowo was snubbed by the academy, with Selma garnering a paltry two nominations for Best Picture and Best Score, I found myself questioning the decision making process of the Academy.
With the recent events of Ferguson present in my mind I was quite baffled how a high-quality film about Civil Rights and the racial problems of America could be nominated in so few categories. Indeed, it almost makes the year before, in which 12 Years a Slave claimed the best picture gong, seem, despite the excellence of that film, like a product of guilt more than appreciation.
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act which in 1965 solidified the voting rights of minority voters, predominantly in the southern United States under the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution. During the last year in which racial inequality and inherent discrimination has once more reared its ugly head, perhaps the Academy don’t wish to court more controversy by deigning to give Selma more than two nominations. But Selma’s Best Picture nomination comes across as an extension of this guilt which has seeped into the zeitgeist of modern America. In last year’s nominations for this category, each film dealt with an element of American society, be it corruption in American Hustle, avarice in the Wolf of Wall Street, or prejudice in Dallas Buyers Club, so the theme of racial discrimination fits right in with this pattern.
Whilst one can argue that a Best Picture nomination is hardly a snub, let’s not forget that every other film in this category this year has received a nomination in at least one of the other top five categories (Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress). So surely if Selma is deserving of a Best Picture nomination, its director, actors and actresses should be better recognised across the board.
Whilst the Academy is on par with the BAFTAs for film recognition, the publicity campaigns for an awards contender in today’s climate can run into tens of millions of dollars. I believe that it is important to recognise the meaning of being Oscar-nominated. History and legacy, you might say, are what make it such a great achievement. Yet it is a history dominated by (predominantly male) white actors and directors up until the 1990s; a trend which continues well into the present day. Indeed if American Sniper, a film depicting the imperialistic predisposition of the US, were to win the Best Picture award, is this not a case in point? There is something clearly wrong when a high-quality film made by, with and about a racial group other than white male does not receive the attention and acclaim it deserves. The snubbing of this film is more than a shame, it is indicative of the wider problem of the under-representation of minority groups that resides at the heart of Hollywood and indeed American society.
By James Hill
Image source: http://www.selmamovie.com
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham