The antidote to pale males

2015-02-08 20:15

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Ava DuVernay’s excellent Martin Luther King Jr biopic, Selma, picked up a best picture nomination for this year’s Oscars, but she was snubbed when the best director nods were announced.

Soon after, #OscarSoWhite started trending on Twitter.

After 12 Years a Slave did well last year, the Oscars are their usual shade of lily-white again. And with black Americans still reeling from protests in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of the police, it would have been a moment to celebrate both the historical giant of US civil rights leaders and the pure creative achievement of DuVernay.

But it’s hardly a surprise the Oscars are such a white-male affair. A 2012 Los Angeles Times survey found Oscar voters were 94% white and 76% male, with an average age of 63.

This would probably explain why a film such as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper – about an American “hero” who shoots 160 “targets” in Iraq – is up for best film.

DuVernay herself was understated about not being nominated. “You know what? I didn’t expect to be [nominated],” she said in an interview with US talk show host Amy Goodman.

“I was more bothered by David Oyelowo [who plays King] not being nominated. That hurt my feelings because I know how beautiful his performance was.”

Yes, the film stands out thanks to superb acting by Oyelowo, but it is the subtle, fluent, organic and never overwrought way in which DuVernay directs that truly propels it to greatness.

Her decision to focus on a single event in King’s career (the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery) was genius.

It condenses the political issues at play into one fraught period and manages to show King as more than just a lionised hero, but an imperfect human being and shrewd negotiator who had to make difficult decisions.

Directors who did get picked include Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman, Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game.

It is understandable Linklater is there; he is bound to win for the 12 years he spent making Boyhood. But Anderson? Budapest used the same dollhouse format he uses in all his movies. Shouldn’t a directing award go to someone pushing boundaries, doing something new? Someone, perhaps, like DuVernay?

She will be tackling another topic close to African-Americans’ hearts – Hurricane Katrina – next. Maybe by then she’ll receive some overdue recognition.

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