Discussing Selma‘s role in educating American children about the past, and advancements in the film industry that allow for such films to be made, star David Oyelowo described himself and helmer Ava DuVernay as “cinemactivists.” The comment came during a press conference this evening for the Martin Luther King drama that’s showing in the Berlinale Special section here. The pair, joined by co-star Colman Domingo, spoke thoughtfully about Selma, race relations, and how Germany has dealt with its own dark past. Among the other subjects discussed was Selma‘s Oscar nominations — or lack thereof.
Asked what she thought about the Oscar noms, DuVernay said, “I think we were nominated in some categories and not in others. People act like we got dragged out of there with nothing.” DuVernay added she hadn’t had any expectations for herself. “I’m a realist and there was no precedent for a black woman director to be nominated, so it wasn’t going to change with me.” She did note, though, that despite a Best Picture nomination and critical love for Selma, she’s not been inundated with new opportunities. “I don’t think I’m getting as many offers as my counterpart Morten Tyldum,” she quipped.
She added she was “hurt” that Oyelowo wasn’t nominated as Best Actor “because I know what it took to get that performance.” But, she allowed, “I don’t need anyone to tell me it’s one of the best performances of the year.”
Oyelowo said he wasn’t targeting the Academy specifically, but commented, “It takes time for institutions to catch up to change.” He noted Selma is “officially the best reviewed of the year” and that 370K students have gone to see it, making it “something that transcends awards.”
But the actor allowed that Hollywood is changing somewhat with pictures like Selma getting made — and he thinks President Obama has something to do with it. “I really link my personal career to his time in office,” he said. America and the world, he suggested, are looking for context as to how the U.S. achieved having a black president. Films like 12 Years A Slave and others “are being greenlit because people are saying, ‘OK, let’s open this up a bit.’ I say a bit because there is much work to be done.”
Speaking to the German press corp, Oyelowo said it was “very poignant to be in Germany because this is a country that has dealt with its dark past.” He said he was surprised to have learned that both Imitation Game and Inglourious Basterds have done very well here given their subject matter. Recalling an Auschwitz memorial he saw on the way in from the airport, he said it was “amazing to see these beacons of repentance, of saying ‘never again’… Germany has done that wonderful thing of being repentant for the past. We don’t have them as far as I can see in America.”
Selma‘s overseas box office will tell its own story. With about $50M in domestic takings, it is just beginning its international roll out with Fox UK releasing this past weekend to a solid $1.2M at 361 locations. DuVernay said, “People tell us no one wants to watch movies about black people outside of America. We’re constantly told ‘no one cares, no one wants to see them.’”
She is next making a TV series for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, and plans to reteam with Oyelowo for a love story/murder mystery feature set during Hurricane Katrina which is in development. She intends to keep telling stories and infusing them with her activism, she said. “Whether I’m doing an episode of Scandal or a fashion video for Prada, I’m always trying to say something and push it forward.”