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David Oyelowo lambasts 'unforgivable' failure to acknowledge actors of colour at Oscars

David Oyelowo

Story by Jack Foley

BRITISH actor David Oyelowo has described the failure to nominate an actor or actress of colour among this year’s Oscar nominees as “unforgivable”.

Speaking at a gala honouring Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Monday night (January 18, 2016), the actor – who was famously overlooked for a nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King in Selma last year – said he felt reform was needed immediately.

“The Academy has a problem. [And] It’s a problem that needs to be solved,” he said.

“A year ago, I did a film called Selma and, after the Academy Awards, Cheryl invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then. We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of colour, actresses of colour, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.”

The stinging comments come on top of calls to boycott the Oscars by several prominent black stars: most notably Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee.

But while they may appear as though Oyelowo is still hurting from last year’s snub, he went on to elaborate why he feels the issue is so important at this moment in time.

“The reason why the Oscars are so important is because it is the zenith, it is the epitome, it is the height of celebration of artistic endeavour within the filmmaking community. We grow up aspiring, dreaming, longing to be accepted into that august establishment because it is the height of excellence.

“I would like to walk away and say it doesn’t matter, but it does, because that acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live in.”

And he said of the current Academy: “This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.”

He went on to refer back to Selma and the issues that film raised – most notably the passing of the Voting Rights Act and how quickly it was pushed through after sustained pressure from Martin Luther King. And he maintained that the same pressing need was apparent now to bring about change.

He continued: “There was a photograph up here earlier, and it’s a photograph of Lyndon Johnson giving a pen that was used to sign the Voting Rights Act to Dr. King.

“The year before that photograph was taken, the Civil Rights Act was passed. It was started as an idea by JFK; LBJ used the sentiment at the loss of JFK’s life to bring about the Civil Rights Act being passed. When Dr. King said we need the Voting Rights Act to be passed, LBJ said it’s too soon, it can’t be done.

“People were losing their lives. People weren’t allowed to vote. Dr. King said [we cannot] wait. What was done was done not in years but months. The march from Selma to Montgomery, those marches began in January of 1965, and by March of ’65 the world was aware what was going on in Selma. By August of that year, the Voting Rights Act was passed.

“The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly. It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on. The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change is going to come.

“We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard.”

Oyelowo’s comments come on the same day that Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued her own statement in which she expressed her frustrations and disappointment at the all-white nominations. Read more

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