David Oyelowo: Oscar Voters Rejected ‘Selma’ After Cast Wore ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-Shirts

Ava DuVernay and her "Selma" cast wore "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts to the New York City premiere after the death of Eric Garner.
David Oyelowo and Ava Duvernay on the set of "Selma"
David Oyelowo and Ava Duvernay on the set of "Selma."

Update (3:00pm ET): Paramount Pictures has announced it is offering free rentals of “Selma” for the rest of June

Earlier: Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King Jr. drama “Selma” was one of the best reviewed films of 2014 (it boasts a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes from 304 reviews), and yet it only received two Oscar nominations: Best Picture and Best Original Song. The Academy’s failure to recognize DuVernay in the Best Director category and actors such as David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo is part of the reason #OscarsSoWhite went viral when nominations for the 2015 Oscars were announced. In a new interview with Screen Daily, Oyelowo reveals that one reason “Selma” was snubbed by Academy voters was due to backlash against the “Selma” cast and crew for wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts to their New York City premiere.

“Six years ago, ‘Selma’ coincided with Eric Garner being murdered. That was the last time we were in a place of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ I remember at the premiere of ‘Selma’ us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts in protest. Members of the Academy called in to the studio and [said to] our producers saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring S-H-I-T?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’”

“It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite,” Oyelowo added. “They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”

DuVernay tweeted out the Screen Daily interview with Oyelowo and wrote: “True Story.” The filmmaker was left out of the Best Director race at the 2015 Oscars in favor of Alejandro G. Iñárritu (winner for “Birdman”), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”), Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), and Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”). Miller was considered the dark horse of the group as, unlike “Selma,” his film “Foxcatcher” was not nominated for Best Picture.

In the same Screen Daily interview, Oyelowo shared his belief that the BAFTA Awards should distance themselves from the Oscars. The BAFTAs often take place just a week before the Oscars ceremony. Oyelowo said that if the BAFTA Awards stop being just another road trip on the awards season path to the Oscars then the ceremony can take strides towards having its own individual identity.

“That will bring about real change,” Oyelowo said, “because when you think about the Grammys, it’s independent of the Mobos. The Emmys has its own identity; the TV BAFTAs is not a stop on the way to the Emmys. Change that date! You are not Oscars’ poor cousin; change the date, and be something that is truly autonomous of that. Take back the power, BAFTA – I’m just saying!”

Head over to Screen Daily’s website to read Oyelowo’s interview in its entirety.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.