The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is responding to a recent claim made by actor David Oyelowo and filmmaker Ava DuVernay alleging that Oscars voters refused to support their 2014 film “Selma” after the cast and crew protested the death of Eric Garner.
Oyelowo, who played the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the film, charged in an interview with British-based Screen Daily that members of the academy threatened to sabotage the movie’s awards chances. The voters allegedly disapproved of Oyelowo, DuVernay and others wearing T-shirts with Garner’s words, “I can’t breathe,” to the movie’s 2014 premiere in New York.
Garner, a black man, died after a white New York police officer put him in a chokehold and wrestled him to the ground, ignoring Garner’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, did not face charges.
Although “Selma” did win an Oscar, for best original song, it lost the best picture award to “Birdman.”
After DuVernay confirmed Oyelowo’s account on Twitter, the academy addressed the controversy.
“Ava & David, we hear you,” the academy tweeted to DuVernay. “Unacceptable. We’re committed to progress.”
The premiere of “Selma” coincided with Garner’s death, Oyelowo told Screen Daily. “I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts in protest.
“Members of the academy called in to the studio and our producers saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring [expletive]?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’ ”
Despite the movie’s other Oscar nominations, Oyelowo was snubbed for his critically acclaimed lead performance as the legendary civil rights leader. The academy drew harsh criticism for its all-white slate of acting nominees.
DuVernay was also snubbed for a directing nomination, which in part helped foment the social media movement #OscarsSoWhite.
“It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite,” Oyelowo told Screen Daily. “They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”
DuVernay shared Oyelowo’s interview on Twitter, adding: “True story.”
Both vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, the director and actor have been using their platforms in recent weeks to demand justice for George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
In an emotional Instagram video, Oyelowo reflected on how racism has affected him personally, recounting the hatred he and his family have endured and looking back on his challenging “Selma” experience.
“We were protesting the death of a black man, and we felt we had the right to do that,” Oyelowo said. “They said, ‘We are not going to vote for that film because they have the audacity to be protesting when all they are is actors.’
“You feel like you have these moments of progress ... but you constantly get slapped in the face with the reality that things are essentially the same.”
This isn’t the first time Oyelowo has spoken up about the “Selma” incident. In 2018, he told the Hollywood trade paper Variety that academy members “reprimanded” the cast and crew for their activism.
DuVernay has announced on Twitter that “Selma” will be free to stream on all digital platforms in the United States through the end of June.
“We’ve got to understand where we’ve been to strategize where we’re going,” she tweeted. “History helps us create the blueprint. Onward.”