“Academy Award-nominated actor David Oyelowo” is how I thought I’d begin this article. That’s how it seems like this article should start, that’s what my brain told me to write, and writing it felt right in my fingers. And yet “Academy Award-nominated actor David Oyelowo” is not a phrase you’ll find in this article, excepting those two times, or any other article for that matter. That’s because last year, the celebrated British thespian missed out on a nomination for his moving, masterly performance as Dr. Martin Luther King in Ava DuVernay’s electrifying Selma. Along with DuVernay herself, Oyelowo felt the Academy’s cold shoulder and ascribed the snub to the underlying culture of racism that quietly pervades the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. In all fairness, it’s hard to conceive of any other reason that would privilege Benedict Cumberbatch’s deeply worrisome turn as Alan Turing over Oyelowo’s thunderous MLK.
Now, the Hollywood Reporter notes that Oyelowo’s raising his voice once again. In response to another year of aggressively homogeneous nominees, Oyelowo spoke disparagingly of the Academy during a speech at a gala for its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs. (She has since released an official statement on the longstanding racial imbalance in the voting ranks of the Academy.) Displeased with another year of entirely white lineups in all four acting categories, Oyelowo spoke candidly about the matter of representation in Hollywood:
A year ago, I did a film called Selma, and after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then… We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.
The reason why the Oscars are so important is because it is the zenith, it is the epitome, it is the height of celebration of artistic endeavor within the filmmaking community. We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence. I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in… This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.
Oyelowo is only the latest prominent showbiz type to voice his disappointment with the Academy’s overwhelming whiteness. Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith have already announced their intention to boycott the Oscars as a demonstration of protest against an organization that seems to devalue their work, and work from people with skin like theirs. Whether this public furor will lead to concrete, measurable change will only be revealed with time, but for now, this year’s Oscar host Chris Rock must be sharpening his knives.
(Via the Hollywood Reporter)