David Oyelowo Blasts Oscar Voters as Academy Boss Pledges Change
After David Oyelowo was snubbed by the Oscars last year for his lauded performance as Martin Luther King Jr. in best picture nominee Selma, he inadvertently became the face of the Academy's diversity problem. The perceived slight sparked an intense social media backlash and drew criticism from Selma director Ava DuVernay and Oyelowo, who accused the Academy of only recognizing black actors in "subservient" roles.
A year later, Oyelowo again took the Academy to task for failing for the second time in a row to nominate any performers of color in any of its acting categories. In a Monday-night gala speech that evoked the Voting Rights Act and the Selma march, the British actor called it "unforgivable" that the Academy missed "20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color," according to The Hollywood Reporter. He delivered the remarks while presenting Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs with an award at the King Legacy Awards Gala in Los Angeles on the anniversary of King's birthday.
Not only that, but movies with black actors in the leads are carrying the box office, Oyelowo pointed out, though that's not reflected in the Oscar nominations. "We have a situation whereby currently the biggest movie in the world and of all time is led by a black man," Oyelowo said, citing fellow British actor John Boyega's starring role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. "The film was knocked off the top spot this weekend by a film led by two black men, Ride Along 2," Oyelowo said, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Oyelowo's comments came the same day that filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Jada Pinkett Smith announced plans to boycott the Oscars ceremony. In a Facebook video that has garnered more than 9 million views, Smith suggested that communities of color would be better served divesting their resources from the mainstream entertainment industry than "begging for acknowledgment" from the Academy. Pinkett Smith's husband, Will Smith, was not nominated for his role in Concussion—nor were actors Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation or Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight.
A statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs pic.twitter.com/Nqhgc7sbqG— The Academy (@TheAcademy) January 19, 2016
Oyelowo offered a counterargument by emphasizing the continued importance of Hollywood's most prestigious awards show, for better or for worse. "We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence," he said. "I would like to walk away and say it doesn't matter, but it does, because that acknowledgment changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in."