When it comes to the Motion Picture Academy — and Hollywood in general — actor David Oyelowo thinks black performers tend to be honored “more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.” The actor, widely believed to have been snubbed for not getting an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” made those remarks Sunday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
During an interview at a public forum with journalist Dave Karger, Oyelowo, a British actor of Nigerian descent, aimed his criticism at both the Academy and the film industry in general for historically, due to “white guilt,” having told stories about black people through the eyes of white heroes. In Oyelowo’s opinion, “So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative.”
The actor did admit that due to the success of Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (in which he played a supporting role), things are beginning to change somewhat. However, he noted it was the fact both of those films were box office hits, that Paramount Pictures supported the release of “Selma.”
Oyelowo made his remarks at a ceremony at the Santa Barbara festival where he was honored as among 2014’s virtuoso performers. As for “Selma,” it is nominated for best picture, but it’s only other nomination is for best song. There has been a huge outcry since the nominations were announced. Not only were Oyelowo and “Selma” director Ava DuVernay overlooked, but all 20 of the acting categories this year went to white performers.
To provide evidence of his “subservient” comment, Oyelowo noted that “Denzel Washington should have won for playing Malcolm X” and Sidney Poitier should have won his Oscar for “In the Heat of the Night” rather than “Lilies of the Field.”
“So this bears out what I’m saying,” the actor continued, “which is 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, not just in the Academy, but in life generally. We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.”
The audience responded with applause.