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Selma star David Oyelowo was one of those worthy actors who didn’t get to hear his name called out on Oscar morning when the Academy revealed the five members of this year’s Best Actor category. He’s not alone, as Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) and Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher) all harbored hopes of breaking into a ridiculously tough category. But Oyelowo has thoughts as to why his depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. was snubbed by the Academy, and they’re pretty controversial.
While speaking at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where he was accepting an award for being one of 2014’s virtuoso performers, Selma’s David Oyelowo was asked by moderator Dave Karger of Fandango what it’s like to be the subject of "Oscar snub outrage," meaning that many got angry on behalf of Oyelowo’s omission. He joked about it at first, but eventually got down to brass tax, stating:
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 driving it forward."
As an example, David Oyelowo pointed out the fact that Denzel Washington should have won the Oscar for playing Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s biopic, and that Sidney Poitier deserved the Oscar for In the Heat of the Night. Both actors did take home Oscars, but for playing crooked police officers (in Training Day) and a potential angel assisting a farm-load of nuns (in Lilies of the Field).
You can hear David Oyelowo’s comments in full context in the video below. You can see that he’s half joking at first, but also very contemplative and serious about the issue at hand:
Is he right? He is, and he isn’t. If this is indeed a trend that has been prevalent for years, then it’s worth noting. Look at recent history. You have Chiwetel Ejiofor nominated for playing a slave. But you also have Denzel Washington nominated for playing a deeply flawed, marginally heroic airplane pilot in Flight. And Morgan Freeman earning a nomination for playing Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastood’s Invictus. Not exactly "subservient" figures.
This year, also, is an anomaly because of the sheer number of actors who legitimately could have viewed themselves as Oscar contenders. The field was ridiculously stacked this year, and in any other year, Oyelowo might have walked away with the Oscar in a landslide. What do you think of his comments? Is he on to something? Or is he merely upset at the snub?