Selma for Best Picture

Jan. 19, 2015
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Selma will probably win. Increasingly, “based on a true story” is a Hollywood mantra and despite the business of what LBJ said to MLK, Selma is more truthful than most. Also, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences likes to give its Best Picture honor to movies with important themes, and what could be timelier, in our “post-racial society,” than the 1965 civil rights march that finally caused the lifting of legal barriers against African Americans? Yes, I think most of us have become painfully aware that other barriers remain firmly in place 50 years on.

The 87th Academy Awards are crowded for Best Picture nominees, but several can already be winnowed out of the running. Whiplash, one of my favorites of 2014, is too intense for many Academy members and was little seen by the general public. Grand Budapest Hotel was released early last year, which means many Academy members have forgotten it. American Sniper sits uneasily on political-factual controversy. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything belong to that oh-to-be-in-old-England (with problems) genre beloved by the Academy—but they will cancel each other out. Birdman, my favorite of last year, is cinematically great but not as socially important as Selma. Boyhood is a contender, but was out relatively early last year and while well liked, doesn't speak to the zeitgeist as loudly as Selma.

Selma should win come Oscar night.

Now, what about the criticism over the “incredible lack of diversity” in this year’s Oscar nominations? Let’s be  honest: other than Selma, name one great 2014 film by an African-American director or with a predominantly African-American cast. Sorry, Tyler Perry is prolific (and meaningful to his audience) but not great, and other than black romantic comedy-dramas, what else was there?

The problem is not with the Academy’s Nominating Committee—they don’t make the movies, they just chose from what’s out there. If more African-American content is a goal for the movie industry, then more African Americans must make movies that find their way into Hollywood. Admittedly, this has been no easy thing in an industry whose green light luncheons have been increasingly focused on mining ComicCons for material (we will soon be treated to the screen adaptation of Ant Man) and less concerned with depicting the human experience.

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