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Ava DuVernay’s riveting historical drama Selma is transitioning from critical darling to crowd-pleaser, now that more audiences are able to see the Christmas Day release. Many industry analysts who track a film’s progression on the awards circuit still pencil the film onto Oscar’s charts, seeing as how the powerful Civil Rights drama deserves inclusion in such heavy hitting categories as Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for David Oyelowo) and Best Screenplay. But there are a few pre-Oscar touchstones that Selma -- strangely – has missed, and it has more than a few critics questioning the efforts of the movie’s parent studio, Paramount.
In his write up of the annual year-end awards handed out by the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) – a group, full disclosure, of which I am a member – Collider scribe Matt Goldberg tried to explain why Selma didn’t make the group’s collective Top 10, even though it DID earn the organization’s Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South. Goldberg explains that the majority of the SEFCA membership didn’t have access to a Selma screening, and that Paramount chose not to send out screener discs to critics’ groups – SEFCA, specifically. He writes:
My concern is that people might think that the critics in the South didn’t vote for Selma because of discrimination, since that’s one of the things the South is known for (these people may not know we voted 12 Years a Slave Best Picture last year). This wasn’t because of discrimination, but rather because Selma didn’t reach enough of our members."
This isn’t an isolated event. While it’s absolutely true that Selma wasn’t finished nearly as early as films like Boyhood, Birdman or Foxcatcher -- which means it didn’t have time to burn and ship awards screeners to multiple groups ahead of its deadline – the fact that certain groups are omitting the movie from their nominations is becoming part of the story. The Screen Actors Guild, for example, shut Selma out earlier this month, and I was informed by a source that screeners were not sent to SAG members in time to nominate. But Selma got a big boost from both the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who nominated the important drama for the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, respectively.
Could Paramount do more to promote and push Selma through the awards season? Possibly. The studio’s hands might have been tied by a lack of availability for the film. But I can report that as a member of the BFCA, I was invited to a timely screening of Ava DuVernay’s searing drama, which is why it made my Top 10 list of the year’s best films. Should Paramount have lobbied hard for the support of SEFCA, of all groups? Absolutely. Still, Oscar is the top prize. And so long as Selma is well represented when the Academy announces their nominations on January 15, Paramount likely won’t complain too much about what happened during the race, or what didn’t happen.