Right now, the popular culture is ablaze Â over â€œSelma.â€ Ava DuVernayâ€™s chronicle of Martin Luther King Jr.â€™s Alabama protests has stoked a vigorous debate. Itâ€™s a debate worth addressing, since it raises important questions about what it means to be a moviemaker (and a moviegoer) in an age of (thank God) increasing diversity.
The debate is centered around the fact that, despite â€œSelmaâ€™sâ€ Â great critical and popular acclaim, the film received a mere two nominations: one for Best Song, Oscar and one for Best Picture.
For many pop culture commentators, this snub is less than innocent. It reveals the Academy as a subtly discriminatory institution, as a Good-Olâ€™-Boys-club dressing up their abiding racism in a shoddy-tuxedo disguise.
Writing for the AV Club, Caroline Siede called â€œSelmaâ€™sâ€ tiny Oscar tally a â€œa slap in the face to aspiring filmmakers who arenâ€™t white and male.â€ Reverend Al Sharpton went a step further, accusing the Academy of a deliberate â€œracial shutoutâ€ and insisting that people of good conscience should organize â€œaction around the Academy Awards.â€
Admittedly, the Academy is whiter than your average scene from â€œLeave It To Beaver.â€ 94% white, to be exact. But when I think about this incident as clearly as I can, I find it hard to believe that the Academy engaged in a deliberate â€œracial shutout.â€ They did, after all, nominate the movie for the highest-ranked, most-desired award in all of filmdom.
But isnâ€™t it stupid to admit â€œSelmaâ€ into the Best Picture category without acknowledging any of the individual people of color Â in front of and behind the camera who made it Best Picture worthy? Yes, Dear Reader, it is mighty stupid. â€œSelmaâ€ didnâ€™t just descend upon us â€œdeus ex machinaâ€ style.
Yet these oversights, while non-sensical, are not uniquely discriminatory. In fact, in Academy-Land, theyâ€™re distressingly common. A few years ago, â€œExtremely Loud And Incredibly Closeâ€ was also nominated for Best Picture and virtually nothing else. In 1991, Barbra Streisandâ€™s â€œThe Prince of Tidesâ€ was apparently directed by an invisible metaphysical force instead of, well, Barbra Streisand. And this very year, â€œBoyhoodâ€ was nominated for Best Picture even as the actor playing the titular boy Â was completely shut out of the acting categoriesâ€”just like â€œSelmaâ€™sâ€ David Oyelowo was.
Shorter version: Academy not racist. Academy stupid.
I feel as though I have another question to answer: Why waste paper space defending a decidedly well-off institution like the Academy? Is it because I care about the reputation of the wealthy over the representation of minorities?
Look. Iâ€™m a bisexual Jew who grew up in the Bible Belt. Iâ€™m writing this Â article BECAUSE I care about the fight for greater diversity, especially within my beloved film industry. Consequently, I donâ€™t want us to waste our time, energy, and resources fighting the Academy, which isnâ€™t so much shoving back progress as it is spitting in the face of common sense.
Whatâ€™s more, the Oscars, for all their kitschy suspense and valuable promotion of art-house cinema, just arenâ€™t all that significant in the long run. This is the group that forgot to give â€œCitizen Kaneâ€ and â€œ2001: A Space Odysseyâ€ the Best Picture trophies. Why risk â€œoutrage fatigueâ€ by protesting the likes of them?
In short, we should care about pay inequality. We should care about blantant on-screen stereotyping. We should care about Hollywoodâ€™s tendency to ignore important subjects, as well as its propensity for turning bodies into objects. We should not care that a movie got two Big, Silly Award Nods instead of four.
â€œSelmaâ€ is well-crafted and important. But in the end, itâ€™s better to advocate for the film itself instead of organizing Â against an organization that, for reasons unknown to both you and me, overlooked it. Thereâ€™s no point in crying â€œracist!â€ when we arenâ€™t even sure that the beast of bigotry has reared its ugly head.
Like â€œSelmaâ€™sâ€ own protagonist, we all should fight for whatâ€™s right. But like Martin Luther King Jr., we must choose our battles wisely.