Selma and the Case Against the Oscars

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I’m a 53 year old white guy living in one of the most diverse zip codes in the country. 98118. I love this zip code. I love the people in it. I love that, for the most part, we live harmoniously among each other despite our differences, despite our country’s lack of tolerance for diversity – even in 2015 – and despite the hate the has risen so sharply, one against the other, all over this world.

I love our little Ark Lodge Cinema in Columbia City. It’s a small miracle that it exists, and continues to cling to the idea that a small, non-corporate owned theater can play a movie like Selma on a Saturday night and hope for a packed theater to keep its doors open. Tonight was one of those nights. There wasn’t an open seat. A rapt audience sat and watched an extraordinary film full of beautiful portrayals by a fine cast of the many people who struggled so hard against injustice.

Not since I saw “The Deer Hunter” at a theater during its first run in Westwood, CA in 1978 have I seen an audience stilled until the last of the main credits rolled and then clapped.

And now I think of injustice. Oh, the Oscars might seem fluff to a lot of people, but I have loved the Oscars all of my life. I have loved watching them with friends and family, and I have seen both the good and the bad shows, and I was looking forward to them again until tonight. Until I saw SELMA.

The Oscar snub is reflective of all that has happened in the US these past years – police beatings, the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, racial profiling, and the disparaging of a black President. Despite what you think of Barack Obama – and yes, I voted for him, and yes, I’ve been disappointed, but also uplifted, but that has been true of any President I’ve lived under who has dealt with difficult issues in difficult times. When has this country not had difficulty? But the amount of vitriol our President has endured by our Congress, seated members on the Supreme Court, the Senate and the many voices over the airwaves filled with hate, is beyond the pale.

In the film, SELMA, Martin Luther King is presented as a flawed man, not a saint, and a man conflicted within himself, and David Oyelowo, embodied all of the roiling emotions that moved this man to action, both good and bad. And yet he was snubbed by the Academy voters even though he has been feted and recognized almost everywhere else.

Ava DuVernay, who directed SELMA, was left off the DGA list and the Oscars. I’ve seen all of the films of the directors chosen and SELMA, was far and away, superior than some of those selected. She had to wrestle with the expectations of many and the tropes of creating a bio pic and delicately deal with events that divided this country. Her choices were not what one would expect of these kinds of pictures, her framings were not those of standard issue films of this nature, her choices of actors to fill the roles, particularly the lead actors, was, most likely, a painstaking process. And yet she created a beautifully crafted film and  was snubbed by her peers and the Academy.

SELMA only earned two nominations for Best Picture and Original Song when, clearly, the work on this film should have been nominated in practically every category.

The Academy has exposed itself as our country has itself been exposed. I will be a lot less interested in what happens at the Oscars, and I won’t be rooting for anyone except for maybe “BOYHOOD” simply because Richard Linklater’s film is full of the same humanity that SELMA is, and he’s made film after film that exposes humans in all of their frailties and strengths.

But I’m thankful for those that made SELMA, and those that continue to fight for justice, and am thankful for our packed little theater in Columbia City, and the people in it tonight for the communal experience of watching this film, and for making me feel good about being a citizen again.

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