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“Selma” Star Slams Oscars for Rewarding Only ‘Subservient’ Black Roles

Arts & Entertainment

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Paramount(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) — The subject of race in this year’s Academy Awards has been a hot topic, following the perceived snub of Best Picture nominee Selma in other major categories, and the lack of a non-white actor or actress among the nominees.

One such actor who could have been nominated for Best Actor and wasn’t was David Oyelowo, who portrays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. During an appearance Sunday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Oyelowo said he believes the oversights are because the Academy prefers to reward African-American actors “more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.”

In a video posted onThe Hollywood Reporter, Oyelowo said, “This is truly my feeling, I felt this before the situation [this year] and I feel it now.”

He added, “To me, Denzel Washington should have won for playing Malcolm X.” Oyelowo also brought up Sidney Poitier and his Best Actor Oscar win — not for 1967’s In the Heat of the Night, in which he plays a homicide detective, but for 1964’s Lilies of the Field, where he plays a traveling handyman.

“We have to come to the point where there isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy, a notion of who black people are, that feeds into what we are celebrated as…in life generally,” Oyelowo said. “We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals…but we’ve been leaders, we’ve been kings. We’ve been those who’ve changed the world.”

Oyelowo also said films in which blacks are leaders and game-changers are difficult to get made. “People have often said to me, ‘Why has it taken so long?’ I mean, [Dr. King] was assassinated almost 50 years ago. There has been no film where Dr. King has been the center of his own narrative until now,” he said, referring to Selma.  “That’s because up until 12 Years a Slave and The Butler did so 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.”

12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture, along with two other trophies, in 2014. Both it and The Butler made upward of $200 million each.

Oyelowo continued, “So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands throughout their own narrative.  We don’t want to see that pain again, so you don’t even go into what that pain was in an authentic way. Both of those things are patronizing to the audience. You can’t have people curating culture in this way when we need to see things in order to reform from them.”

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