Was Selma Really Snubbed?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 15 2015 @ 8:35pm

Another year, another diversity headcount for the Oscars. But Linda Holmes does note a striking consistency among this year’s nominees:

Even for the Oscars — even for the Oscars — this is a really, really lot of white people. Every nominated actor in Lead and Supporting categories — 20 actors in all — is white.

Every nominated director is male. Every nominated screenwriter is male. Shall we look at story? Every Best Picture nominee here is predominantly about a man or a couple of men, and seven of the eight are about white men, several of whom have similar sort of “complicated genius” profiles, whether they’re real or fictional.

She wishes Selma director Ava DuVernay had been nominated:

[This] is a disappointment not only for those who admired the film and her careful work behind the camera, but also for those who see her as a figure of hope, considering how rare it is for even films about civil rights to have black directors, and how rare it is for any high-profile project at all to be directed by a woman. Scarcity of opportunity tends to breed much lower tolerance for the whimsical sense that nominations normally have, so that even people who know better than to take Oscar voting to heart feel the sting of what seems like a deliberate snub.

Selma did get two nominations, for Best Original Song and Best Picture. But that’s still a snub to many:

However, Joe Reid points out that Selma‘s production schedule greatly hindered the nomination process: “The film wasn’t completed until late November, which left it too late for distributor Paramount to send out screener DVDs to voters in most awards organizations, including the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild, and Directors Guild.” Tim Gray goes into greater detail:

[S]creeners were sent to BAFTA and [Academy] voters Dec. 18, after Par [Paramount] paid a premium for sped-up service, since it usually takes up to six weeks to prep DVDs for voters. … In theory, Par could have met final deadlines for some of the guilds, but instead it focused on in-person screenings in New York and Los Angeles, since the studio had already missed some guild deadlines.

Mark Harris also notes that less sexy factor of screener scheduling:

As I hope a lot of companies are realizing this morning, it is just about always a mistake to release a serious Oscar movie in the second half of December. Yes, American Sniper did very well today, with half a dozen nominations to take into its first weekend of national release. But it’s the only one of the eight Best Picture choices this year to open after December 1 besides Selma.

Joe Concha sighs:

So please, can we save the racist rhetoric for a more worthy discussion?

Selma — I would submit a better movie overall than 12 Years a Slave [which was nominated for 9 Oscars and won Best Picture, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay] — was still nominated for Best Picture. It may very well win (Vegas odds coming shortly). Sometimes (often) the Academy screws up with the nominations, and I’ve still never forgiven them for selecting Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas for Best Picture or Forrest Gump over Shawshank. But for credible newsmen and publications to call out the Academy’s skin color as the defining factor in what and who gets nominated is the kind of dialogue that cheapens the argument.

Freddie is frustrated as well:

Selma has already rapidly become one of those artistic objects that our chattering class will not allow to exist simply as art, and instead is used as a cudgel with which to beat each other over various petty ideological sins. … [O]ur media is filled with people who presume to speak for those who lack privilege but who enjoy it themselves, racial and economic privilege. The difference in stakes between those who suffer under racism and classism and most of those who just write about them distorts the conversation over and over again. Which leads to things like last year, where people preemptively complained about the racism inherent in 12 Years a Slave not winning, whining about American Hustle and white privilege, and then actually seemed disappointed when 12 Years did win. You know you’re a privileged person when the fun of complaining about injustice outweighs the pleasure of a just outcome.

Could there be a national conversation the various issues playing out here that was edifying, smart, and meaningful? Sure. Will there be? Hahahaha, no! There’s tons of important things to be said about the relationship between art and politics, about the continuing racism of Hollywood, about what it means to be universal in the way that Boyhood is frequently praised for (and largely black films usually aren’t), about what it means to be Oscar-bait in the 21st century…. But I can pretty much guarantee you that we won’t have an effective conversation about any of it, because lately our whole apparatus seems broken.

By the way, it’s worth recalling another big controversy over a critically acclaimed film getting “snubbed” at the Oscars, in 2006, because of perceived prejudice:

West Coast critics seemed to favor Crash, a movie about Los Angeles, whose characters spent a lot of their time in their cars. A massive ensemble piece that seemed to employ half the Screen Actors Guild (no wonder actors who were Academy members liked it), it purported to make a grand statement on the still-troubling issue of Racism: It infects everybody. East Coast critics, however, found Crash‘s racial politics simplistic and its plotting too full of programmatic twists and coincidences (nearly every character is revealed to be something other than the hero or heel he or she seems at first.)

Instead, they favored Brokeback Mountain, which deconstructed cherished Western archetypes about cowboys, machismo, and rugged individualism in order to tell mainstream Hollywood’s first gay love story. And while director Ang Lee won an Oscar for his sensitive handling of the material, its three principal actors were snubbed (a particularly galling omission in the case of Heath Ledger, whose breakthrough performance turned out to be the last opportunity to give him a trophy while he was alive, and whose posthumous prize for The Dark Knight is often considered a consolation prize for his being passed over here).

And the Angelenos who make up the bulk of the Academy gave Best Picture to Crash.