By Julissa Catalan
Many were shocked Thursday morning when the nominations for the 2015 Academy Awards were announced and the critically acclaimed film Selma was shut out of almost every anticipated category. The snub helped make this year’s Oscars the “whitest” since 1998, with not one Black person nominated for an acting award.
While Selma—the film set in 1965 about Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., at the peak of the civil-rights movement—was nominated for Best Picture, Ava Duvernay was notably missing from the Best Director category, while David Oyelowo was not nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr.
Had Duvernay been nominated, she would have made history by becoming the first Black woman ever nominated for Best Director.
She also would have become the fifth woman to be nominated for Best Director—the only one to win was Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.
It’s not just a woman thing. Black men have not done well at the Oscars either when it comes to the Best Director category. Only three Black men have ever been nominated—John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood (1991), Lee Daniels for Precious (2009) and Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave just last year—and none of them won.
This year’s Oscars are a big contrast compared with last year’s ceremony, which was applauded for the diversity of its nominees and winners. To recap:
Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave, becoming the sixth Black woman to win in this category. She followed Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind), Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), Mo’Nique (Precious) and Octavia Spencer (The Help).
Meanwhile, 12 Years a Slave became the first Best Picture winner with a Black director, McQueen, who dedicated his award to “all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”
Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Rayon, a character who was both HIV positive and transgender, in the film Dallas Buyers Club.
According to the Los Angeles Times, out of 6,028 Academy award voters, 93 percent are white, while 76 percent are male.
Ironically, the Academy’s President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is a Black woman who has openly advocated for more diversity.
“We’re in the second decade of the 21st century, and it’s a whole new environment for entertainment,” Boone Isaacs told Variety.
“I think part of this is a recognition that there are different voices that need to be heard—and that there are audiences for these different voices. We at the Academy want to be a place where these voices can be recognized.”
The only other category for which Selma received an Oscar nomination was Best Song, for “Glory” by Common and John Legend.
The two accepted the Golden Globe for Best Original Song last week, leading to the most inspirational and moving speech of the night.
“The first day I stepped on the set of Selma, I began to feel this was bigger than a movie,” Common said. “As I got to know the people of the civil-rights movement, I realized, I am the hopeful Black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed Black kid who maybe needed a hand, but instead was given a bullet.
“I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty,” he added, referencing last month’s murder of two NYPD officers.
It was the only Golden Globe Selma took home that evening.