The case for and against ‘Selma’

Ah, Selma. Almost completely snubbing this brilliant piece of cinema is one of the most shameful moments in recent Oscar history. The Academy seemingly came so far last year, and this year, they’ve regressed right back to their tired old ways. It seems the film had too many strikes that it couldn’t overcome. A female director? A black female director? A predominantly black cast? A movie that casts shade on white people? No, no, no, no. Pathetic, isn’t it? I don’t like to cry things like racism easily, but I cannot see any other reason behind the lack of nominations for one of the best reviewed films of the year. That being said, it still somehow squeaked in for Best Picture (a guilty consolation prize, perhaps), and while it has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, it still deserves some analysis.

Why it could win Best Picture:

Black lives matter. After the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford, racial tension is at a new high in America. For a film like Selma to be released in such a climate just makes it that much more powerful and relevant. It’s highlighting how far America likes to believe it has come, but in actuality, it’s not all that different to the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. The Black Lives Matter movement is worldwide news. The world is looking to America at how it will respond to such travesties. The Academy could very easily throw its support behind such a moment by awarding Selma with Best Picture. African Americans may only make up a small portion of Academy voters, but they are vocal and can campaign like nobody else. That could be enough to draw enough support to pull off a shock win.

A backlash works wonders. Remember when Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director, and suddenly Argo was unstoppable to win Best Picture? The resulting backlash from a surprise snub can do wonders for your Oscar campaign. It was fairly unanimous amongst all Oscar pundits that the snub of Selma in the major categories like Director, Actor, Screenplay etc. was a disgrace. Calls of racism and sexism have been made by many major journalists, and that kind of backlash can encourage, and essentially guilt, voters to pick that snubbed film for Best Picture. It would be unprecedented to see a film take the big prize without nominations in other categories, but rules are made to be broken, and the chance to right a wrong like this can be hard to resist.

The chance to make history. Only one film directed by a female has ever won Best Picture. Only one film directed by a black person has ever won Best Picture. The chance to award a film not only directed by a female, but a black one at that, seems too tempting to pass up, right? Adding to that, Oprah Winfrey is the first black female producer behind a film nominated for Best Picture. That’s a lot of history making outcomes that could be achieved by awarding Selma with Best Picture. Tradition is one thing, but headline-grabbing news where history has been made is something Oscar loves to do.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

Black lives don’t matter. At least according to the Academy they don’t seem to. Not only was Selma essentially ignored, but they also failed to nominate any actors of colour this year, something we haven’t seen in over 20 years. The whitest Oscars ever will be won by white people and films about white people. They were kind enough to throw Selma a bone with a Best Picture nomination, but that’s as far as they’re willing to go this year. They gave it to the “black film” last year. We won’t see that again now for another decade or so. Old white men run the Academy, and this year, they showed how out of touch they are. It’s quite staggering, given the president of the Academy is a black woman. I know she is trying her hardest to change the backwards ways of these awards, but even she isn’t powerful enough to turn the ship around this year.

You can’t win with two nominations. Sorry, but you just can’t. Not when the only other nomination is for Best Original Song. If it scored a Director nom, maybe. If it scored an Acting nom, perhaps. But Original Song? Not a chance. We have to go back to 1932’s Grand Hotel to find a Best Picture winner that had such little nominations (in fact, it wasn’t nominated for anything else at all). These days, you have to score in the other categories, and rightly so. You can’t say something is the best film of the year without saying why, and the way you show why is to award it, or at least nominate it, for the sum of its parts. Rules are made to be broken, but not rules this concrete.

Selma has the least chance out of all the nominees…but you never know. Crash wasn’t supposed to beat Brokeback Mountain, and Shakespeare in Love wasn’t supposed to take down Saving Private Ryan, so anything is possible on Oscar night. Am I going to be insane enough to make that prediction?  Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.