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#WhiteOscars criticism fails to recognize selection process

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Voters do not choose to exclusively vote against one film or another, they instead vote for the films they deem the best in each category.

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As the Oscars rapidly approach, star of Best Picture nominee “Selma,” David Oyelowo, criticized the Academy for praising black actors who portray slaves or servants, but not leaders. 

Deemed the #WhiteOscars, all 20 nominees in all four acting categories for the 2015 awards are white. Oyelowo, who has received critical praise for his role as Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Ava DuVernay directed biopic, spoke out against what he considers his own snub in the Best Actor category Sunday.

“Generally speaking, we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being in the center of our own narrative, driving it forward,” Oyelowo said.

But Oyelowo apparently fails to understand how the Academy actually conducts its voting process. Voters do not choose to exclusively vote against one film or another, they instead vote for the films they deem the best in each category.

To claim one actor, film, song, etc., was “snubbed” is to ignore the merit of the nominated pictures. Of course Oyelowo is entitled to think he or DuVernay, who was not nominated as Best Director, were “snubbed,” but it’s a subjective term, not a generally shared one.

The British actor cited “white guilt” as the reason for his lack of a nomination, claiming films such as 2014’s Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” take home awards because they are told through a white protagonist’s eyes.

“We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals,” Oyelowo said. “We’ve been all those things. But we’ve been leaders, we’ve been kings, we’ve been those who change the world.”

He references other “snubs” including Denzel Washington in “Malcolm X” and Sidney Poitier in “In the Heat of the Night.” But he fails to mention the films they were up against.

Oyelowo captured the spirit of a character the world knows flawlessly. He played an impossible role with complexity and honesty. And he should have been nominated for an Oscar.”

He also fails to mention the triumphs for black actors in roles beyond servants and slaves. Poitier was nominated in 1963 for his role as a veteran who builds a chapel for a group of nuns in “Lilies of the Field,” and Washington was nominated for “Training Day”—although he plays a criminal, he beat Will Smith’s portrayal of Muhammad Ali for the Oscar, and he’s still not a servant.

Oyelowo captured the spirit of a character the world knows flawlessly. He played an impossible role with complexity and honesty. And he should have been nominated for an Oscar.

But so should Steve Carell for his ability to dive into the mental instability of John du Pont in “Foxcatcher.”

So should Bradley Cooper for his subtle and tragic depiction of Chris Kyle in “American Sniper.”

So should Eddie Redmayne for falling apart physically and emotionally as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”

So should Benedict Cumberbatch for giving a face to a different kind of persecution as Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

So should Michael Keaton for going against the voices in his head as Riggan in “Birdman.”

Each man deserves to take home an Oscar for his performance in six of the year’s best films. The Academy recognizes that fact, and it voted not against Oyelowo and “Selma,” but for the other five men. Not for white men and against the black man, but for five performances it deemed worthy of the award.

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