The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is responding to a recent claim made by actor David Oyelowo and filmmaker Ava DuVernay alleging that Oscars voters refused to support their 2014 film ‘Selma’ after the cast and crew protested the death of Eric Garner.
Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr in the film, said in an interview that members of the academy threatened to sabotage ‘Selma’s’ awards chances. The voters allegedly disapproved of Oyelowo, DuVernay and others wearing T-shirts with Garner’s famous last words, “I can’t breathe,” to the movie’s 2014 premiere in New York.
Although ‘Selma’ did win an Oscar, for best original song, DuVernay later confirmed Oyelowo’s account on Twitter, and by Thursday night, the academy addressed the controversy.
“Ava & David, we hear you,” the academy tweeted to DuVernay. “Unacceptable. We’re committed to progress.”
Garner died in July 2014 after a white New York police officer put him in a chokehold and wrestled him to the ground, ignoring Garner’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, did not face charges.
Six years ago, the premiere of ‘Selma’ coincided with Garner’s death, Oyelowo told Screen Daily. “I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts in protest.
“Members of the Academy called in to the studio and our producers saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring [expletive]?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’”
‘Selma’ was nominated for best picture at the 2015 Oscars, yet Oyelowo was snubbed for his critically acclaimed lead performance as the legendary civil rights leader. The academy drew harsh criticism for its all-white slate of acting nominees.
DuVernay was also snubbed for a directing nomination in 2015, which in part helped foment the social media movement #OscarsSoWhite.
“It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite,” Oyelowo told Screen Daily. “They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”
Hours later, DuVernay shared Oyelowo’s interview, simply writing, “True story.”
Both vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, the director and actor have been using their platforms in recent weeks to demand justice for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
In an emotional Instagram video, Oyelowo reflected Thursday on how racism has affected him personally, recounting the hatred he and his family have endured and looking back on his challenging ‘Selma’ experience.
“We were protesting the death of a black man, and we felt we had the right to do that,” Oyelowo said. “They said, ‘We are not gonna vote for that film because they have the audacity to be protesting when all they are is actors.’ ...
“You feel like you have these moments of progress. ... But you constantly get slapped in the face with the reality that things are essentially the same.”
This week wasn’t the first time Oyelowo has spoken up about the ‘Selma’ incident. In 2018, he told Variety that academy members “reprimanded” the cast and crew for their activism.
On Friday morning, DuVernay announced on Twitter that ‘Selma’ will be free to stream on all digital platforms in the United States from today through the end of June.
“We’ve gotta understand where we’ve been to strategize where we’re going,” she tweeted. “History helps us create the blueprint. Onward.”