‘Selma’ Star David Oyelowo on Oscar Snubs: ‘Black People … Celebrated More When We Are Subservient’

“We’ve been leaders, we’ve been kings, we’ve been those who change the world,” the actor says at Santa Barbara Film Festival Q&A

Last Updated: February 3, 2015 @ 1:08 AM

“Selma” star David Oyelowo got candid about why he thinks the film, in which he plays Martin Luther King, Jr., was snubbed on Oscar nomination morning.

“Generally speaking, we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders, or kings, or at the center of our own narrative driving it forward,” Oyelowo said at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where he was honored with a Virtuoso award for his breakthrough performance in the Ava DuVernay film.

Oyelowo singled out Denzel Washington‘s performance in “Malcolm X,” and Sidney Poitier, whose “In the Heat of the Night” performance has become iconic, but who won for “Lilies in the Field” instead.

“We’ve just got to come to the point whereby there isn’t this self-fulfilling prophecy, a notion of who black people are, that feeds into what we’re celebrated as,” he continued. “Not just in the Academy, but life in general. We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals and all of those things. But we’ve been leaders, we’ve been kings, we’ve been those who change the world.

Oyelowo also discussed the difficulty of getting such films made, citing the fact that King was assassinated almost 50 years ago but only now is there a biopic which features the Civil Rights leader as the center of his own narrative.

“That’s because, up until ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘The Butler’ that did so well, both critically and at the box office, films like this were told through the eyes of white protagonists,” he said. “Because there is a fear of white guilt, you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative.”

He credits “12 Years a Slave” and “The Butler” for “Selma” getting the greenlight.

“I know that because Paramount said to us, ‘Well, that means that Selma will probably make around $98 million, so let’s make it!’” he recalled. “But bless them for doing it. I love you Paramount, I love you, I love you. But that’s just the truth of the matter, is that up until now it’s been so hard to get these films made, but now they’re doing well internationally and critically and otherwise.”