The Oscar snubs of Selma star David Oyelowo and especially its director Ava DuVernay — who would have been the first black woman nominated for Best Director — stirred up a fair amount of controversy, a Twitter hashtag, and much theorizing on the part of Oscar followers (including some from me).
But there was one theory nobody shared that seems to have influenced at least some Academy members. Selma, as it turns out, may have been too relevant to racial tensions in the US in the present day.
That's one of the chief takeaways from a long, excellently reported Entertainment Weekly piece on DuVernay's snub. Reporter Nicole Sperling writes:
Journalists consistently—and accurately—drew a line between the film and current events. Oddly, this seemed to rankle some Academy voters, as if DuVernay, the media, and the film’s campaign were all saying: If you don’t vote for Selma, you’re not taking a stand against this outrage. "It’s almost like because she is African-American, we should have made her one of the nominees," says one member. "I think that’s racist. Look at what we did last year with 12 Years."
Of course, the Academy has many different members, even in the directors' branch that would have nominated DuVernay. As Sperling points out, there are numerous reasons for a member not to vote for DuVernay, ranging from not having seen Selma to not liking the film at all.
Sperling's piece also notes that, intriguingly, DuVernay herself was pretty sure she wouldn't be nominated — way back in December, before the movie was even released. The reason, she said, was her complete disconnect from the directors' branch. She didn't know any of its members, and, as Sperling notes, the directors' branch is demographically an old boys' club. That was the group most likely to be stung by the allegations that the film treated LBJ unfairly.