The great Selma snub.
That was the takeaway for fans of "Selma," the first major motion picture to look closely at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and the civil rights movement, following Sunday night's Golden Globes. Nominated in every major category, "Selma," directed by Ana DuVernay, won only one award, for best original song. (The acceptance speech by Common and John Legend for their song "Glory" was one of the highlights of the evening.)
The lack of hardware at the Golden Globes for "Selma" is par for the course with this movie, which as The Root points out, "failed to pick up nominations for awards given out by three out of the four most important Hollywood guilds: the Producers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America (which deemed Selma ineligible for its award)." (Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 15.)
So why is this happening? A groundbreaking well-reviewed movie, with a prominent cheering section, getting no award season love?
For some it confirms (or highlights) Hollywood's well-documented race problem. (Quick, name two major blockbuster, award-worthy movies starring a black, Asian or Latino. Or how about two television shows that have nothing to do with Shonda Rhimes or prison starring prominent people of color? It's hard to do.)
Sure, there are the period pieces and historical dramas ("The Butler" and "12 Years a Slave"), but by and large Hollywood doesn't churn out movies or television programs that look like their audiences. (The small screen is a few steps ahead of the big screen.) As Chris Rock wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, "It's a white industry. . . . It just is." The Golden Globes can't help but reflect that.
But with "Selma" there is another added layer of intrigue -- a controversy about the movie's treatment of Lyndon B. Johnson's legacy on race. Just as final ballots were going out to the 90 or so members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who choose the Golden Globe winners, Johnson scholars shredded director DuVernay's depiction of the 36th president. And Andrew Young, who was in King's inner circle, also questioned a small part of the film. It was a debate between two caricatures common in racial narratives: the white savior vs. the white racist. Johnson scholars thought DuVernay's Johnson veered too closely to the latter.
DuVernay, used to seeing blacks sidelined in their own stories (see "Lincoln"), wanted to show blacks having agency in their own lives. Vulture quoted her as saying: “For this to be I think reduced — reduced is really what all this is — to one talking point of a small contingent of people who don’t like one thing, I think is unfortunate, because this film is a celebration of people, a celebration of people who gathered to lift their voices, black, white, otherwise, all classes, nationalities, faiths, to do something amazing.”
Now all of it has turned to baggage, dragging the movie into more current, and always fraught, conversations about politics and race. (One less fraught theory, per Variety, is that Paramount simply didn't send out DVD screeners of "Selma" soon enough to people who vote during awards season.)
Perhaps the movie will get an Oscar nod (or many nods). Perhaps it won't. But, rest assured, Hollywood will keep mining politics and history for movies, big budget and otherwise, with racial tropes always an issue.