Selma Star Talks Oscars and Racism

By Julissa Catalan


David Oyelowo, the actor who portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, has been pretty quiet about his Oscar snub until now.

While critics and moviegoers were shocked that Oyelowo did not receive a Best Actor nomination, Oyelowo seemingly expected to be overlooked by the Academy.

“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,” he said to an audience during an interview at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Sunday. “Not just in the Academyjust in life generally.”

He added: “We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we’ve been leaders. We’ve been kings. We’ve been those who change the world. Those films where that is the case are so hard to get made.”

Oyelowo compared it to the 1992 Oscars, when Denzel Washington did not win the Best Actor award for Malcolm X.

Oyelowo also said that the making of Selma was not a possibility in Hollywood until the commercial successes of Lee Daniels’ The Butler and 12 Years a Slave.

“I know for a fact that Selma got greenlit after both of those films made almost $200 million each,” he explained. “Up until 12 Years a Slave and The Butler performed 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. And then you have Black people to be [like], ‘We don’t want to see that pain again,’ so you don’t really go into what that pain was in an authentic way.

“Both of those things are patronizing to the audience.”

Oyelowo also went on to defend fellow British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who received backlash for using the term “colored” while arguing that there needs to be more acting opportunities for Black actors in the U.K. Cumberbatch later apologized for using the wrong terminology.

“Everyone has ended up ignoring the issue Benedict was talking about and focusing on that one word,” Oyelowo said. “It’s actually stopped us from talking about race.”

Watch David Oyelowo’s complete interview here:

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