David Oyelowo: The Academy only celebrates black actors in ‘subservient’ roles


On Jan. 15, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed their nominees for the best performances in film in 2014. Like many years in the past, the long list of nods was lacking in diversity, with the biggest snub-related uproar surrounding director Ava DuVernay’s film Selma, about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s (played by David Oyelowo) 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

In the weeks since the Oscar nominations, Oyelowo has taken his snub in stride “I say to people [about being left out of the category], ‘Calm down, it’s OK.’ ” Wait, really? “No, get angry!” he joked during a panel discussion at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 1.

“Historically — this is truly my feeling; I felt this before the situation we’re talking about and I feel it now — generally speaking, we, as black people, have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being in the center of our own narrative driving it forward,” Oyelowo continued.

The 38-year-old proceeded to point out that Denzel Washington didn’t win an Oscar for playing Malcolm X, and though many moviegoers would have banked on Sidney Poitier winning an Academy Award for his performance in In the Heat of the Night, he wasn’t honored by the Academy until he portrayed a handyman in Lilies of the Field.

“This bears out what I’m saying, which is that 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, just in life generally,” Oyelowo said. “We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we’ve been leaders, we’ve been kings, we’ve been those who changed the world,” said Oyelowo.

Although Oyelowo was snubbed in the Best Actor category, his film, Selma, was recognized in the Best Picture category and will face off against Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, among others.

The 2015 Oscars will take place on Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

R. Hawkins
R. Hawkins

Humble with a hint of Muhammad Ali...

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Join Our Newsletter

Get the latest news from Rolling Out.