Selma: The otherwise ignored Best Picture Nominee

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love movies. Love them. I am perfectly fine going to multiple movies in a week. And recently, I have taken to bringing along a notebook to the theatre in order to write down thoughts and questions and observations I have about the film I am watching. Film is great.

My love of film does not blind me to the valid argument that the Academy Awards are by and large pointless and don’t bear a true reflection of the quality or importance of a film. Arguments against the value of the Academy Awards may include:

  • Instead of a group of people watching all the noteworthy films, and then basking in their film-watching brilliance before making a series of decisions, there are campaigns for films and actors and directors. That seems much less like awards are given out of sheer merit.
  • Isn’t it just a big expensive evening for rich and famous people? Couldn’t money be better spent elsewhere?
  • If you accept film as art, and art is meant to affect people on a personal and individual level, does a fancy award matter at all?
  • That one time Moulin Rouge didn’t win Best Picture and it broke my heart. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return!!!!!”

Those arguments and others aside, the Academy Awards matter simply because film is so prevalent in our culture. Film is arguably the most visible media we consume and therefore what films receive accolades matter. The nominated films become buzz words and achieve a longer stay at theaters. People who have never even heard of art houses will seek out independent theaters just to go see the Oscar nominated films that never made it to mainstream viewers. Actors and directors will henceforth have, “Featuring Oscar-nominated director…” in the trailers for new movies. There is a ripple effect as a result of nominations and wins.

So. Does winning an Oscar matter for the film itself? Not really. (Unless my favorite film of the year is nominated. I JUST WANT MY FAVORITE TO WIN!!!!)

But from a cultural perspective Oscar nominees matter greatly. Which is why I am so peeved at the Oscar nominations–or more accurately, lack of nominations–for Ava DuVernay’s Selma.

selma_movieSelma is nominated for Best Picture. Great! It deserves that nomination. Selma is an amazing film with great acting, great music, great directing, a great screenplay. (Pardon my overuse of the word ‘great.’) However, that is the only nomination for the film itself. Selma is nominated for Best Picture, yet is snubbed for every category that makes it great. If the categories leading up to the final award given at the awards show are what add up to make a film the all around best, how can a film nominated for Best Picture be absent from every single other category?

Winning awards in other categories does not guarantee a Best Picture win. But to me the absence of any other nominations seems like the Academy is saying, “Well, I guess we’d better include this here civil rights movie… People will be angry if we don’t. But I don’t really like it when women direct films and I don’t really like it when black men star in movies so let’s not give it any more nominations than we have to.”

Yep, I did it. I blamed sexism and racism for the Selma snubs.

Do I really know what went through the minds of the people who make the nominations? Of course not. But you can’t watch Selma without feeling stunned by the acting and overall experience. Ava DuVernay did a remarkable job as a director. David Oyelowo was the perfect choice to play Martin Luther King, Jr. Everything about that film is perfect. It is no wonder it has a Best Picture nominee. But it is sheer film-watching insanity that its only other nomination is for the song that plays during the end credits. And so I have to ask, Why? Why the snub? And then my mind turns to the darkest answers: Social diseases such as sexism and racism, the answers supported, of course, by the overall lack of diversity in film in general and in nominations for awards.

DuVernay directing

DuVernay directing

Here is a list of everything I can recall from Selma that deserves attention:

  • Costumes
  • David Oyelowo
  • Ava DuVernay
  • Carmen Ejogo
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Set design
  • Dialogue
  • Story
  • Depiction of a tumultuous time in history in such a way that the viewer starts to get a sense–even a tiny sense–of what it was like
  • A story about black people told by black people, and without the white savior character
  • I think I cried out in emotion at least four times–this film is essential
  • Cinematography
  • This movie acknowledged Martin Luther King’s philandering. An unpleasant but important thing to know.
  • While there weren’t many female characters, what women were present were REAL PEOPLE. And not just in the sense that this is a movie about true events and therefore historical figures. I mean the characters had depth. And good lines. And had stories of their own.

I’m not saying for sure what movies should win in which categories–there were a lot of great films this year (The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, anyone?). But the absence of Selma in the other categories irks me and hurts me. If it’s worthy of a Best Picture nomination, where are the nominees that add up to Best?

And when will the Academy and Hollywood at large start to recognize the tremendous contributions by all persons that do not fit the white male mold?

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