'Selma' Oscar Snub: Why the Film Didn't Win Best Picture
Waylan Choy stashed this in Film & Cinema
A much more detailed breakdown and historical context of the pattern:
Take any number of Oscar-winning movies starring people of color: The Help, Driving Miss Daisy, Monster's Ball, Ghost, Precious. Each has a clear white savior power dynamic. Perhaps the only award-winning film of the past 20 years to break the template was Training Day. Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar portraying not the firebrand Malcolm X, nor Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, wrongly imprisoned and fighting for his freedom. He got it for a chain-smoking, dope-dealing, criminal monstrosity who can only be conquered when a white rookie cop gets black gang members to turn against the self-proclaimed “King Kong” of crooked cops.
Selma may follow the underappreciated path of The Color Purple, the 1985 classic nominated for a record eleven Oscars, winner of none. Its narrative, built around black women, and missing a white savior, didn't capture voters. You know what beat it for Best Picture? Out of Africa, about a white plantation owner and her affair with a big-game hunter in which Kenya serves as a backdrop for white romance. I’m not kidding. A transformative, rich female narrative about jazz, blues, and Americana in rural Georgia was bested by a Tarzan-esque story about taming Africa.
Two years later Cry Freedom told the story of a South African anti-apartheid activist through the narration of his white reporter/friend. Washington was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Sean Connery in The Untouchables. The following year, Mississippi Burning earned seven nominations, winning for cinematography. Its story dealt with the violence civil rights activists faced in the 1960s—through the lens of two white FBI officers investigating it.
Astute observations. Hollywood is still following the bad patterns of the past.
It amounts to a battle of cultural narratives. Selma tried to shift the arrow—oh, if ever so slightly—toward black stories that move beyond the white savior trope. The old guard, in turn, voiced its resistance.
That resistance is blind to the past 30 years of privileged white male narratives. It’s not merely that movies are telling white stories; it’s that they’re largely the same white hero journey. American films have, in Ayn Randian fashion, ignored the collective waves that propel the world. Since Greek myths, fiction has removed facts to reach for greater cultural truth, to uncover human nature. But these hagiographies with Westernized patriarchical narratives read like a Final Draft template for action movies: One man and one gun/algorithm/speech/magic potion will save everything all at once by himself (maybe with a sidekick/servant/secretary, who along the way dies, or has sex with him, or both).