Selma actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay say the film was snubbed by Academy voters after the cast and crew protested the death of Eric Garner. Garner was a victim of police brutality who died after a cop placed him in a chokehold in 2014.
Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr., recently told Screen Daily that members of the Academy threatened to shut out Selma from Oscar nominations after the cast and crew wore T-shirts with Garner’s last words, “I Can’t Breathe,” to the movie’s premiere in New York City. This interview was published amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other victims of police violence and systemic racism.
“Six years ago, Selma coincided with Eric Garner being murdered,” Oyelowo said. “That was the last time we were in a place of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts in protest.”
He continued, “Members of the Academy called into the studio and our producers saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring shit?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film, because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.'”
The critically acclaimed movie was nominated for Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars and won Best Original Song for Common and John Legend’s “Glory,” but DuVernay was overlooked for Best Director. Oyelowo was also shut out of the Best Actor category when the Academy nominated all white men. That same year, the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign was born.
“It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite,” Oyelowo explained. “They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”
On Twitter, DuVernay backed up Oyelowo’s claims. “True story,” she tweeted.
A day later, on June 5, the Academy issued a response. “Ava & David, we hear you. Unacceptable. We’re committed to progress,” they tweeted from the official account.
The organization previously tweeted about their commitment to “do [their] part” to support Black Lives Matter.
Only time will tell if the Oscars keep their promise.