What better trailer to post today than Selma? If you haven't been keeping up, the theme for Our Daily Trailer this month is Oscar snubs, and today brought about the Oscar snub* of the year when Ava DuVernay was not nominated for Best Director this morning, and David Oyelowo was not nominated for Best Actor, and Selma was not nominated for Best Original Screenplay... but Selma was nominated for Best Picture. That feels like a handout. It feels like a concession. It feels like 12 Years a Slave taking home Best Picture last year was the result of white guilt. Go ahead. Throw your tomatoes at me for saying it. My body is ready.
The issue with the divide between the Best Picture and Best Director categories is obvious: how can you nominate something for Best Picture and not nominate the director? Did that film, the one you've christened as one of the best of the year, direct itself? If the direction wasn't worthy, why nominate it for Best Picture at all? That's the Academy essentially saying that the direction had nothing to do with why a film was amazing enough to earn a Best Picture nom. We all know the Oscars are ridiculous, but this year they've really outdone themselves. I know I shouldn't care this much, but I do.
Ava DuVernay did something exceptional with Selma. That a tepid biopic like The Imitation Game earns a Best Director nod and Selma doesn't is overwhelmingly infuriating. The Imitation Game is the sort of biopic we've come to expect. Selma isn't. To honor a banal biopic while dismissing one that's so exceptional feels so depressingly predictable.
Selma isn't a tepid biopic. It doesn't paint by the numbers. It's a film that humanizes a revolutionary man, that tells a story that's just as important and essential now as it was when Martin Luther King Jr. lived it. It's a mighty film about the power of refusing to stand down and having the courage to stand up. It's a breathtaking and exceptionally poignant film that relies on its humanity and the blunt force of its honesty - just as brutal as the atrocious acts relentlessly visited upon the black people who were and continue to be disenfranchised in this country - to tell one of the most awe-inspiring and significant stories. It's not just a story. It happened. These aren't just characters. They're people. That's the power of Selma. It's not just a film - it's a visceral experience.
Ava DuVernay's direction is masterful, delivering punches to the gut that feel as painful and horrifying as they should - no film could ever possibly duplicate the awe and horror and heartache that these people felt, whether they were experiencing it first-hand or watching these events unfold from the safe remove of their living rooms, but Selma comes so achingly, beautifully close.
They couldn't acquire the rights to MLK's speeches for Selma, but David Oyelowo's speeches in the film capture the beauty, the power and the essential idealism of MLK's words. It cannot be easy to recreate a speech without duplicating it, but Selma cuts to the heart of his moral imperative, and honors his words and his vision, which moved so many people to rise up, to rise against, to refuse to be stifled any longer.
It feels almost reductive to discuss what Oyelowo does in Selma as a "performance" because he achieves something transformative, and helps bring vital humanity to a man who has become a legend. DuVernay's direction, Oyelowo's portrayal, the commitment of so many actors and creatives to not just recreating events but capturing the distressing and heart-wrenching spirit of this time, this place, these people - it's a glorious, deeply affecting symphony.
My words cannot do justice to the experience of this film, which powerfully recreates the emotions of this time - so relevant to our time now that it sadly feels like it only happened yesterday - with such reverence and beauty and sorrow. We shouldn't merely honor it for how essential it is or for how horribly socially relevant this story is. We should honor it for achieving something so rare, for all of these moving parts coming together to elicit such a powerful response.
This isn't the first time a film directed by a woman has been nominated for Best Picture while its director has not. Ava DuVernay shouldn't be nominated for the color of her skin or her gender, but because she's immensely talented, and she's achieved something so sublime. Only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director, and Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman who's ever won the honor. That's shameful. It's infuriating. We should be angry. We should be furious to look at yet another list of Best Director nominees and see nothing but white men, especially when DuVernay gave us a truly remarkable film. She deserves to be nominated for her extraordinary achievement.
*And yes, I am well aware of how Oscar campaigns work, and the fact that Selma is a victim of poor Oscar campaigning should make you - like me - even more furious. The Oscars aren't about who is most deserving, but which studio is most persistent and successful in shoving something down the throats of Academy members. A spoonful of money really makes the medicine go down when it's being swallowed by a bunch of old white dudes.