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Oscar Nominations Lack Diversity; 'Selma' Snubbed


As we heard on the program yesterday, Oscar nominations are out and to some there was an omission. Many expected Ava DuVernay to be nominated for best director. It would've been a first ever for a black woman in that category. She directed "Selma," the epic biography of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The film was shut out of every category except best picture and best original song. Wesley Morris writes about popular culture for the online magazine Grantland, and we asked if the criticism suggesting that "Selma" and its director were snubbed is fair.

WESLEY MORRIS: Officially, yes. It seems like she was snubbed, but this is a complicated thing. Whenever these Oscar nominations come out there's always some narrative that takes hold about what exactly happened. In this case, there's any number of things that happened. Paramount sent the screeners to voters too late. The movie should've come out earlier in the year. A lot of things contributed to it only getting two nominations, and I think one of those things is the conversation around the veracity of information in the film, which is a completely...

GREENE: You're talking about the criticism that Lyndon B. Johnson, the president, was portrayed in too negative a light some people suggested.

MORRIS: Sure, the thing that I notice about what people of color get nominated for which Oscars - the Academy seems very comfortable nominating people of color who fall into a very familiar relationship to white people in movies. So I'm talking about playing slaves. I'm talking about playing housekeepers and maids and butlers and chauffeurs or famous entertainers.

GREENE: Well, that sounds like a very important point that you're making here. I mean, "Selma" was known for, you know, taking the perspective of black leadership during the civil rights era, which is unique. Are you saying that a lot of people who were voting might have been uncomfortable with that?

MORRIS: I mean, I - discomfort is kind of a strong word. I would say not used to. I would say that there is a kind of comfort with what people call a white savior narrative, where the point of view of something like the civil rights movement, the point of view belongs to a white actor. The agent of the change is white. That relationship is how Americans come to understand race in this country at the movies. I think it's really interesting to sort of breakdown how these things happen. But I'm not entirely comfortable with saying purely that racism is the answer.

GREENE: Let me just run this number by you; all 20 nominees in the four actor and actress categories - all white. And there's a Twitter hashtag out now - #OscarsSoWhite. What do you make of those numbers?

MORRIS: I mean, it's bad. But, you know, I think the thing that's interesting about this happening is it used to be 20 white actors every year. I think there are a lot of interesting things that happen with these nominations. And I think in some ways with "Selma" is just was - it just was unlucky in terms of a number of other things, too.

GREENE: Well, you say unlucky. We've talked about a lot of different factors that could have been at play. I just wonder should people look at "Selma" not getting the best director nomination, getting far fewer nominations than many expected - should they look at that and say wow, there is a problem with diversity in Hollywood?

MORRIS: Absolutely, yes. That is just a fact, and one of my favorite exercises when I get on in the subway is to look at posters and see who's on them. And more often than not it's, like, six white faces and none of color. That is changing, but it is still very much the status quo in the entertainment industry.

GREENE: We've been speaking about this with Wesley Morris. He won the Pulitzer for his film criticism with The Boston Globe. He now writes for the online magazine Grantland. Wesley, thanks a lot.

MORRIS: Thank you, David.

GREENE: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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