David Oyelowo Slams Academy for Snubbing ‘Selma’, Comes to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Defense

lack of Diversity
Academy President speaks out about Selma snub, lack of diversity at Oscars
sing a long
Brad Pitt teaches everyone how to pronounce David Oyelowo's name
David Oyelowo portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, the new civil rights drama that’s up for Best Motion Picture at this year’s Oscars.

David Oyelowo, however, is not up for Best Actor, which has caused justifiable and generous outcry for a performance undeniably so deserving of a nomination. Oyelowo slams the Academy, and speaks out against the discrepancies regarding race when it comes to getting casted for roles in Hollywood.

Oyelowo recently commented on his Oscar snub at the Santa Barbara International Flim Festival, saying actors who are black are singled out for awards and “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.”

“We’ve just got to come to the point whereby there isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy — a notion of who black people are — that feeds into what we are celebrated as, not just in the Academy, but in life generally. We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.”

However, he added, “Those films are so hard to get made. People have often said to me, ‘Why has it taken so long?’ I mean, he [King] was assassinated almost 50 years ago. There has been no film where Dr. King has been the center of his own narrative up until now. That’s because up until 12 Years a Slave and The Butler did so well, both critically and at the box-office, films like this were told through the eyes of white protagonists because there is a fear of white guilt.

“So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative. We don’t want to see that pain again, so you don’t even go into what that pain was in an authentic way. Both of those things are patronizing to the audience. You can’t have people curating culture in this way when we need to see things in order to reform from them.”

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Oyelowo also remarked that after graduating from Lamda in 1998,  he told his agent to find him roles intended for white actors:

“When I looked to heroes I wanted to emulate, I constantly found myself mentally jumping over the pond. I had read that Denzel Washington had told his agent early on: ‘Give me everything that Harrison Ford is turning down.’ That stuck with me.”

Oyelowo does his best to hunt down “colorblind” roles; and yet, “The only way I get a leading role in a studio picture is if Ryan Gosling can’t play it, which is clearly the case with Selma. If this was a non-colour-specific character, it wouldn’t be me. It just wouldn’t.”

On not wanting to undercut his efforts to not be defined by race only, David commented, “It’s because films like Selma are so rarely made that we end up putting them under the microscope. One, maybe two, a year. As a white person, you don’t have that. You have the gamut. No one says to Oliver Stone: ‘Another film about Vietnam? White characters again?’ Benedict Cumberbatch is never asked, ‘What, you’re playing another historical character?’”

David comes to Benedict’s defense, however, after he had used the word “colored” in a discussion about black British actors having more opportunity in the US. He said, “Everyone has ended up ignoring the issue Benedict was talking about and focusing on that one word. It’s actually stopped us talking about race. Look, Benedict is a good friend. He was simply expressing, as someone who has no dog in the fight, that his friends are getting better opportunities in the US than here. That’s something worth examining. Instead, we get hung up on terminology.”