The blockbuster Selma actor with unflinching faith has a fresh vision for Christianity in film
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing [not to be nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Selma.] Not least because it’s Dr. King, and I personally just want to see him celebrated in every way possible, and, of course, the film is an extension of that.” -David Oyelowo
A lot of what you need to know about David Oyelowo can be gleaned from a brief, viral, almost instantly GIF-able clip from the 2015 Academy Awards.
On the heels of John Legend and Common’s rousing, staggering performance of Selma’s “Glory,” the cameras panned the Oscar crowd, who had leapt to their feet as one in spontaneous, rapturous applause.
The adulation was richly deserved,but one man stuck out in particular: Oyelowo, who starred in Selma as Martin Luther King Jr. He was seated near the front, suited in a smartly tailored, Cabernet-red tuxedo (which would land him at the top of Esquire’s list of best-dressed men of the Oscars the following morning), applauding while tears ran freely down his cheeks.
Even in our age of 24/7 celebrity coverage, in which a Google image search can turn up photos of Gwyneth Paltrow expressing every candid emotion known to man, the moment seemed purely human and vulnerable. The Oscars almost didn’t deserve it.
The reason the moment was so indicative of Oyelowo (pronunciation: O-yellow-wo), is that,in person, it is exactly how he comes across. He is put together, but authentic—impeccably collected and utterly personable.
Oyelowo is becoming well-known for his ability to play other people, but it’s almost as astonishing just how easily he inhabits his own skin.
Parting the Red Carpet
Oyelowo’s presence at the Oscars was notable for another reason. For most of the awards season, his blistering Selma performance was widely expected to net him the Oscar for Best Actor, so it was a bit of a scandal when he wasn’t even nominated (Neil Patrick Harris even mocked the Academy for the snub during his hosting gig).
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing,” Oyelowo says, with refreshing candor. “Not least because it’s Dr. King, and I personally just want to see him celebrated in every way possible, and, of course, the film is an extension of that…”
A college professor reveals the method behind his madness in NOT always choosing Academy Award-winning films when selecting the stories students live by for classroom use. Part one in 2015 Oscar Week Series.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg recently opined: “I try to vote in a way so that, in 50 years, people aren’t going to go, ‘Huh?!'” Sadly, history reveals that, when it comes to picking a film audiences will recognize as truly great 50 years from now, Oscar voters nearly always miss the mark. Here’s why.
Sunday night tens of millions of viewers from nearly every nation on earth will tune in for the coronation of Hollywood’s “Best Picture” of the year.Studios spend millions of dollars in countless screeners, screenings, billboards, interviews, Variety Ads, Twitter campaigns, blog attacks, and countless party conversations, seeking to sway the roughly 6,000 members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters to crown their film as King or Queen of the industry.
Historical films are riding a five-year winning streak (The Hurt Locker, The Artist, and Life of Pi,Argo and Twelve Year’s a Slave), leading many to believe that the producing teams for Selma, Imitation Game, or Theory of Everything will be giving their carefully prepared acceptance speeches Sunday night. Other’s believe this will be the year that breaks that streak. My personal hope is for Selma, but my guess is that acting/directing of Birdman or the novelty of Boyhood will win out.
Mistakes of History
But no mater who Academy voters select, will they get it right? You wouldn’t think so looking at the award’s history. Arguments are legion. Nearly every year is controversial in one way or another. The truth is, many if not most Oscar winners simply don’t stand the test of time. For instance, there are few Academy voters today who would argue that Shakespeare in Love (1998) was anything close to a classic, yet it somehow managed to win over Stephen Spielberg’s WWII epic, Saving Private Ryan. The 1968 musicalOliver was certainly endearing, but not nearly as enduring as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why does such a careful and democratic process often fail? Here are a few reasons.
Politics as Usual
Many Oscar winners have “outside the film” appeal to voters that may not always be a genuine indicators of greatness.The Hurt Locker(2009) was a compelling film, but it is hard to imagine how voting might have gone if Katherine Bigelow had not been in a position to be the first female director to win top honors. (Or, if Avatardirector, James Cameron–Katherine’s ex-husband–had not alienated many academy voters with his “I’m king of the world” Oscar acceptance speech for his 1998 Titanicwin.) In fact, Katherine’s might have been more worthy of winning for Zero Dark Thirty (2012), but other political factors led to actor/director Ben Affleck’s film Argo winning after being snubbed by the directors guild in their nominations for best director. (Remember what I said about half the voters being actors?)
Even more dramatic are the publicity efforts launched by studios and internet devotees in order to promote their films and sometimes smear their rivals. 2011 winner The King’s Speechhad to overcome an alleged smear campaign launched by devotees of The Social Networkthat all but overshadowed the equally deserving Inception.
A Series of Unfortunate Timings
Some films are simply too far ahead of their times to even receive a nomination for Best Picture.Citizen Kane (1941) is near the top of most “All-Time Great Films” lists, but lost to the long forgotten How Green is My Valley. Hitchcock’s cutting-edge masterpiece Vertigo is still required viewing in any school of film, while only the most die-hard fans even remember the 1958 winner Gigi. 1999 genre-benderThe Matrix couldn’t even garner a Best Picture nomination, yet few doubt that it will be studied as a classic for years to come.
Other great films lose Oscars simply because they are up against other greats the same year.Forrest Gump (1994) garnered a much-deserved Best Picture Oscar. Yet few would argue that it was unequivocally better than two other celebrated films in the same year: Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking Pulp Fiction, and Shawshank Redemption(currently #1 on IMDB‘s greatest movies ever made.)
Sometimes a film’s novelty gives it a short-term popularity. The unique silent film aesthetics of 2012 winner The Artist helped give it the upper hand over more conventional films. Yet many purists point to the social importance of the civil rights movement portrayal of The Help, the acting excellence of The Descendants, and/or the overall of craftsmanship of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (11 nominations) as more deserving.
The truth is, the public-relations-driven, artistically myopic, and sometime overtly political nature of Hollywood often make an Oscar a highly unreliable measure of long-term greatness.
How Shall We Then Choose?
What about this year? Unfortunately, most Academy voters aren’t like Scott Feinberg who recently admitted: “I try to vote in a way so that, in 50 years, people aren’t going to go, ‘Huh?!'” Chances are they will get it wrong.
And what about those of us voting at home? If the professionals don’t always get it right, what hope do we mere mortals have?
Still, over two decades of using film in the classroom has taught me that there might be a better way to predict which film will have true staying power. Although I started out using only Academy Award-winning films, I quickly realized that the Academy isn’t very good at selecting the stories my students live by.
In the next three posts I’ll reveal what those standards are.