#OscarsSoWhite: Why the 'Selma' snub breaks my heart
I woke up yesterday morning to text messages from my friends asking me if I felt Selma had gotten snubbed. I quickly checked the full list of Oscar nominees, and then I replied: Yes. Yes, it was snubbed. And yes, this is a huge problem, a larger reflection of the film industry’s disturbing bias. While Selma is nominated for Best Picture, the film had been skipped over for Best Director, Best Actor, and cinematography, for which I felt this film was one of the best of the year in all three categories.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many worthy nominees this year. Boyhood deserves every honor it gets and Wes Anderson finally gets a nod for his accomplishments in cinema. But at this point, I’m simply bored. Thursday’s Oscar nominations were the whitest noms since 1998. Out of 20 actor nominations, not one is a person of color. On top of that, women were absent in the categories for director (Selma’s Ava DuVernay being one), screenplay (hello, Gillian Flynn), and cinematography. These omissions hint to a larger problem within the film industry—one that’s resolved to tell the same stories over and over. Hence, the boredom and the sadness.
Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once warned us of the danger of the single story. Perhaps we should email her speech to the Oscar voters, who happen to be overwhelmingly white (94%), male (77%), and over the age of 50 (86%) and implore them to find more diverse stories to celebrate. Or perhaps (and most likely) the voting body itself needs to add different kinds of people to its roster.
And apparently, I’m not alone in my feelings. The Twitterverse has spoken with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. It’s a frustrated takedown on social media of everything that’s wrong with the lack of diversity at this year’s ceremony. Some of the tweets are smart, satirical criticisms.
As Media Diversified pointed out with their infographic, the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards is, sadly, nothing new. Still, it’s alarming that Hollywood hasn’t heard the latest calls to fight racial injustice in America, and instead is only feeding into the problem by overlooking a film, like Selma, so deserving of more recognition.
As Scott Mendelson noticed after the Selma snub, this year’s nominations contain a lot of “good, great, and lousy fictionalized true-life biopics about allegedly great or somewhat interesting white men.” (See: The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and The Theory of Everything). While these men/characters are all individuals, there is a sameness to their narrative in that they are films about white men, made by white men.
Let me assure my critics that I have nothing against white men. (In fact, there’s one white man’s story that I believe was also snubbed in this year’s nominations, the beautiful documentary about Robert Ebert, Life Itself.) But there are so many more narratives to celebrate, that were brilliantly told through film, than this one particular group. If this year’s snubs taught us anything, it’s that if you want to see a women- or minority-led production be celebrated, you’re better off watching TV.