Ava DuVernay‘s Selma was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2014, racking up a 99% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, when it came time for Oscar nominations, it was only nominated for Best Original Song (which it won) and Best Picture, but surprisingly without any nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, or Best Actor for David Oyelowo‘s performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So what happened? Why was Selma largely overshadowed in favor of middling dramas like The Imitation Game (8 nominations), The Theory of Everything (5 nominations), or American Sniper (6 nominations)? It may have had something to do with t-shirts.
Oyelowo spoke to Screen International saying that the cast and crew of Selma wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts in remembrance of Eric Garner, who was murdered by cops in July 2014. Academy members respond by saying that they were “stirring shit” and would not vote for the film because “it wasn’t their place to do that.” DuVernay confirmed the story on Twitter:
The Academy has worked to diversify sti membership in the years since, and the recognition of films like Moonlight and Parasite show that there is some progress, but stories like these are a good reminder of how to film like Green Book won Best Picture. For some Academy members, who would likely swear up and down that they’re not racist, think that the highest good is avoidance of conflict and that a neutral peace is the same as justice. What the cast and crew of Selma were doing were showing that their movie wasn’t just a nice MLK biopic where everyone holds hands and then magically the civil rights happen. You’ve got to make white supremacy uncomfortable, and if that means losing out on trophies, so be it.
Selma is free to rent until the end of June on all major VOD services, and DuVernay’s miniseries When They See Us is available on Netflix. Click here to read our review of Selma from 2014.