One day, the Academy will be embarrassed about snubbing Selma

Before we go any further, just a reminder that this is your average Academy voter:

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The Oscar nominations are in (you can read the full list here), and while there are the usual cries of “that guy?!” and “not them?!”, it’s pretty much as expected. It was a good turnout for British People Suffering While British movies. Meryl Streep was nominated. Clint Eastwood, despite making a lazy piece of propaganda that’s only watchable because Bradley Cooper brought the fucking thunder to his performance, pulled half a dozen nominations just because he’s Clint Eastwood. But there were some pleasant surprises. Marion Cotillard, despite barely campaigning and a hard press from Jennifer Aniston, got a Best Actress nomination for her stellar work in Two Days, One Night. Poland’s gorgeously rendered Ida got a Best Cinematography nod. And despite most people’s belief that Best Picture and Best Director must be married, it IS possible to do an excellent job as a director and still make a movie that is slightly less than excellent, so Foxcatcher getting a director nod for Bennett Miller but not a Best Picture nomination feels right. It is a technically stunning movie, but it doesn’t resonate once you leave the theater.

So, as is the case every year, the Academy got some things wrong and other things right. But where they did fuck up, they fucked up HARD. The snubbing of Selma—and this is a snub, not a matter of taste or opinion—is going to sting in years to come. It’s going to be Exhibit A on some future “OMG you guys our grandparents were so fucking racist” internet listicle. Before we go any further, just a reminder that this is your average Academy voter:

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Instead of doing a straightforward review of Selma—which is an excellent film and you ought to go see it—I’m going to frame what’s exemplary about Ava DuVernay’s film in terms of the Academy blowing it. Selma did earn a Best Picture nomination, which is not a small thing, but in shutting out DuVernay, lead actor David Oyelowo, and Paul Webb’s script, the Academy missed the best trifecta of above-the-line talent in 2014. Miller’s work on Foxcatcher was technically masterful, but he was hobbled by an unemotional script from writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, one that maybe deals in a pernicious kind of homophobia. In Moneyball, the underdog warmth of the story of Oakland A’s manager Billy Bean counterbalanced Miller’s clinical style as a director, but in Foxcatcher Frye/Futterman’s chilly script only compounded that remote tendency of Miller, to the film’s detriment.

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But not so in Selma. DuVernay, making her directorial debut, matches Webb’s script perfectly. Both show a restraint and lack of sensationalism that keeps Selma from becoming exploitative. Webb writes instances into the story that could have been played for maximum exploitation, but DuVernay consistently chooses to go the less provoking, more emotionally engaging route. Which is not to say that Selma is soft—it isn’t. DuVernay’s gaze—unapologetically black-centric—doesn’t flinch from showing police murdering unarmed black men—particularly timely—or beating elderly black people. She opens the film depicting a bombing at a church in which four young black girls are killed. There’s no blood or gore or even fire, just an artful, slow-motion shot of a frilly dress hem and a stocking-clad leg barely seen through the smoky haze and it’s a sucker-punch of a moment. It hits you right where you live, and it does it without exploiting events.

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It’s the same with Oyelowo’s performance. He’s riveting as Martin Luther King, Jr., and it’s not only because his performance is entirely natural, it’s also because DuVernay doesn’t frame him like a god. So much of Lincoln was spent looking up at Lincoln, or watching scenes in which everyone was sitting except for Lincoln, allowing him to tower over everyone else. Yes, Abraham Lincoln was very tall—freakishly tall in his day—but up-shots are a common way to “heroize” a character. Subconsciously is makes us see that character as a leader. But DuVernay keeps her camera level on MLK—he’s of the people, not above them, which allows Oyelowo to fully humanize his portrayal. And Webb’s script does make reference to MLK’s extramarital affairs, so it’s not like they’re trying to sweep his indiscretions under the rug, either.

Before we go any further, just a reminder that this is your average Academy voter:

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Selma is a tremendous film, and it won’t take long for us to look back on its significant exclusion from the Oscars as an embarrassing omission. To be fair, there was a snafu with screeners that plagued its campaign and led to it being shut out guild nominations, which can have a big impact on Oscar voting. But I can’t shake that feeling that the geezer contingent in the Academy—which is most of them—feels like they “did the black thing” last year with 12 Years a Slave, and this year they can go back to kissing Clint Eastwood’s saggy ass. And the terrible price of their tunnel vision is not that Selma didn’t get more Oscar nominations, it’s that this will give dumbass producers a reason to not hire Ava DuVernay. They’ll read the exclusion not as a symptom of a larger diversity problem within the industry but as proof of some kind of inferiority on DuVernay’s part. When in truth, she was one of the top five directors of 2014.

Also, no Feature Animation nomination for The LEGO Movie is bullshit.

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2 thoughts on “One day, the Academy will be embarrassed about snubbing Selma

  1. Katie

    Do you think, because of publicity surrounded the snub, the Academy will overcorrect (for lack of a better word) and Selma will take out Boyhood for Best Picture?

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