“Selma,” the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic backed by Hollywood luminaries Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, was among the eight motion pictures nominated for the 87th annual Academy Awards on Thursday. But despite a resounding reception from both critics and audiences alike, the film was snubbed from all of Oscar's other major categories, and only garnered two nominations in total.
Had she been nominated for best director, "Selma" filmmaker Ava DuVernay would have made history as the first black female nominee for her nuanced tale of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the brave individuals who risked their lives to secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The Academy's oversight follows DuVernay's recent snub by her peers in the Directors Guild of America (DGA) for its annual honors. However, the up-and-comer won best director at 2012’s Sundance Film Festival for her second feature-length film, “Middle of Nowhere."
Throughout the Academy's nearly nine decades, only one female, Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"), has won the Oscar for best director. With DuVernay's omission, the nominees were once again all male and nearly all white, save Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican filmmaker nominated for "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)." Iñárritu's nomination comes one year after his co-patriot Alfonso Cuarón become the first Latino to win the award for his visual masterpiece "Gravity."
Ironically, the snubs for "Selma" came on King's 86th birthday. A gracious DuVernay tweeted that the film's pair of nominations were a present to the famed civil rights leader. "An Oscar gift for you. To SELMA cast + crew led by our miracle David Oyelowo! To Common + Legend! Kudos! March on!" the director wrote.
"Birdman" and Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" tied for the most overall nominations with nine each. But with six weeks until the big ceremony, Golden Globes darling “Boyhood,” the coming-of-age tale of a young man named Mason, is the favorite to win Oscars’ top two prizes in 2015: best picture and best director for Richard Linklater. The innovative film was shot as its three lead actors aged naturally over a 12-year span. Unsurprisingly, frontrunners Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything") led the pack of best actor contenders, and Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”) were among the best actress nominations.
Despite the presence of “Selma” in the Best Picture race, the remaining films and actors nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) are a vivid reminder of a consistent issue still hanging above film’s most prestigious accolades – an overwhelming lack of diversity. Among the 20 actors and actresses nominated for the most outstanding performances from the last year in film, all were white for the second time in almost two decades. Every performer from "Selma" was overlooked, including British actor David Oyelowo, who pundits predicted would be nominated for his deeply human portrayal of the film's central character, King.
The Academy Awards' lack of representation of people of color did not go without a response from the American public. In the aftermath of the nominations, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending on social media. By early Thursday afternoon, there were more than 20,000 mentions of the hashtag on Twitter, which lambasted the Academy's perceived racial hangup.
To put AMPAS' long and troubled history with race into perspective, one needs to look back to 1996 when only 1 in 166 nominees was black. An enraged Rev. Jesse Jackson protested that year's ceremony saying, ‘’It doesn’t stand to reason that if you are forced to the back of the bus, you will go to the bus company’s annual picnic and act like you’re happy."
AMPAS does not publicly disclose its membership information, but an often-cited study of the Academy conducted by the Los Angeles Times found that its more than 6,000 voting members were mostly white (93%) and male (76%) as of 2013. Moreover, the average age of each voter had increased from 62 to 63 year over year.
In a marked shift, AMPAS elected black film executive Sheryl Boone Isaacs as its third female president in 2013. The public relations guru has made it her mission to make the Academy more reflective of the general population, taking such actions as removing a cap on membership and inviting diverse individuals to apply for membership.
"This is a great medium, and we really want to keep it fresh and be more inclusive," she told National Public Radio ahead of last year’s Oscars. "The Academy has really pushed forward, and I know my election is part of this ... a recognition of the diversity that's out there that has been able to rise."
Despite Boone Isaac’s efforts, the LA Times study predicts AMPAS will be 89% white and 72% male in the year 2030 based on current trends. Academy members serve life terms.
Interestingly, one of the most-watched categories among this year’s nominations, best original screenplay, didn’t feature a single one of Hollywood’s hottest stars. Criticisms over how “Selma” portrayed former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s support for the Voting Rights Act have been hotly debated in the press. Ultimately, British screenwriter Paul Webb did not score a nod for his "Selma" script.
This is perhaps due to a lesser-known but equally big controversy surrounding the year’s most talked about screenplay. Although he is the sole individual credited for writing the script, Webb did not write the film on his own. Because of a contractual stipulation, he was entitled to sole credit even though DuVernay actually wrote the shooting draft of the screenplay, which included adding about a dozen new roles and writing an alternate third act, often considered to be a film’s emotional core. Additionally, DuVernay re-wrote the speeches that David Oyelowo delivered on camera, because King’s words weren’t licensed to be used by the late civil rights leader’s estate.
As it was overlooked in both the directing and editing categories, the road forward to a best picture win for "Selma" is steep. But the film has perhaps one sure-fire hope for Oscar glory -- literally. Fresh off their Golden Globes win, rapper Common and R&B singer John Legend were nominated for best song for “Glory.” The duo’s emotional acceptance speech at the Globes highlighted why "Selma" is much more than a history lesson. “'Selma' is now,” said Common, who referenced the recent deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. “We are still in solidarity with those out there fighting for justice right now,” Legend echoed.
Take a look at the full list of nominees below:
Best Picture"American Sniper""Birdman""Boyhood""The Grand Budapest Hotel""The Imitation Game""Selma""The Theory of Everything""Whiplash"
Best DirectorAlexandro G. Iñárritu, "Birdman"Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"Morten Tyldum, "The Imitation Game"
Best ActorSteve Carell, "Foxcatcher"Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"Michael Keaton, "Birdman"Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"
Best ActressMarion Cotillard, "Two Days One Night"Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"
Best Cinematography"Birdman""The Grand Budapest Hotel""Ida""Mr. Turner""Unbroken"
Best Foreign Language Film"Ida""Leviathan""Tangerines""Timbuktu""Wild Tales"
Best Adapted Screenplay"American Sniper""The Imitation Game""Inherent Vice""The Theory of Everything""Whiplash"
Best Original Screenplay"Birdman""Boyhood""Foxcatcher""The Grand Budapest Hotel""Nightcrawler"
Best Makeup and Hairstyling"Foxcatcher""The Grand Budapest Hotel""Guardians of the Galaxy"
Best Original Score"The Grand Budapest Hotel""The Imitation Game""Interstellar""Mr. Turner""The Theory of Everything"
Best Original Song“Lost Stars,” "Begin Again"“Everything is Awesome,” "The LEGO Movie"“Glory,” "Selma"“Grateful,” "Beyond the Lights"“I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” "Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me"
Best Animated Feature"Big Hero 6""The Boxtrolls""How to Train Your Dragon 2""Song of the Sea""The Tale of Princess Kaguya"
Best Documentary—Short"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1""Joanna""Our Curse""The Reaper""White Earth"
Best Film Editing"American Sniper""Boyhood""The Grand Budapest Hotel""The Imitation Game""Whiplash"
Best Production Design"The Grand Budapest Hotel""The Imitation Game""Interstellar""Into the Woods""Mr. Turner"
Best Animated Short"The Bigger Picture""The Dam Keeper""Feast""Me and My Moulton""A Single Life"
Best Live Action Short"Aya""Boogaloo and Graham""Butter Lamp""Parvaneh""The Phone Call"
Best Sound Editing"American Sniper""Birdman""The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies""Interstellar""Unbroken"
Best Sound Mixing"American Sniper""Birdman""Interstellar""Unbroken""Whiplash"
Best Visual Effects"Captain America: The Winter Soldier""Dawn of the Planet of the Apes""Guardians of the Galaxy""Interstellar""X-Men: Days of Future Past"
Best Documentary — Feature"Citizenfour""Finding Vivien Maier""Last Days of Vietnam""The Salt of the Earth""Virunga"
Best Supporting ActorRobert Duvall, "The Judge"Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"Edward Norton, "Birdman"Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Best Supporting ActressPatricia Arquette, "Boyhood"Laura Dern, "Wild"Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"Emma Stone, "Birdman"Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"
Best Costume Design"The Grand Budapest Hotel""Inherent Vice""Into the Woods""Maleficent""Mr. Turner"