Speaking with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman at Sundance
yesterday, “Selma” director Ava DuVernay responded to the furor surrounding the film with characteristic grace, paying homage to the “giants, real, bold, brave Americans of color, and otherwise, all kinds of people, who marched for something that was really important” before addressing Hollywood’s systemic failure to make room for diverse voices. (Watch the full interview below.)
Acknowledging that the film’s Best Picture nomination is “nothing to sneeze at,” DuVernay argues that the problem is not the Academy per se, but the fact that “Selma” was the only strong Oscar contender this year to feature people of color in prominent roles in front of and behind the camera:
[T]he question is: Why was Selma the only film that was even in
the running with people of color for the award? You know what I mean? I
mean, why are there not—not just black, brown people? You know what I
mean? Asian people, indigenous people, representations that are more
than just one voice, just one face, just one gaze? So, for me, it’s much
less about the awards and the accolades, because, literally, next year
no one cares. Right? I can’t even tell you who won the award for
whatever three years ago. I don’t know.
Following on the heels of DuVernay’s comments, Mark Harris files a must-read examination of “How ‘Selma’ Got Smeared” for Grantland. Before offering his own, reliably incisive reading of the film, Harris surveys the deluge of recent writing that has taken “Selma” to task for the sin of “artistic license” (per New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd). He concludes that such hand-wringing is not only “anti-Hollywood but anti-culture,” approaching the particular demands of the genre in bad faith:
It’s a bit like the axiom — popularized just a year after the Selma
protests — that if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail: If
you define historical drama as a failed, sloppy version of history, then
of course the natural way to discuss it is in the language of
preemption and condemnation, a language that is also ideally suited to a
click-driven, bullet-points culture: “What [X] Gets Wrong About [Y]” or
“What’s True and What’s a Lie in [X]” or “How [X] Distorts Reality.”
But treating drama as an inadequate half-stab at truth by underqualified
dilettantes is a bad-faith starting point that completely avoids any
deep or serious examination of why dramatists make the changes that they do.
Whatever you think of “Selma” as a work of art, DuVernay’s interview makes abundantly clear that she’s no dilettante, combining her personal, political, and historical acumen to produce a film that sheds new light on “the power of the people” that lay behind one of the twentieth century’s most important social movements.