Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar Oversights & A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Stanley Kubrick. Brilliant, cutting-edge film. No Oscar.
At tonight's Academy Awards, one of the more controversial topics of discussion that will take place on stage and off (and amongst those in the audience tonight), is director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo not being nominated for the film ‘Selma’ - despite the film being nominated for best picture.

Now Oscar snubs are by NO means limited to African-American directors and actors, or films that explore the black American historical experience.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) is historically equal opportunity when it comes to slighting actors, directors and producers on Oscar night.

‘Shakespeare in Love’ winning best picture over ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Elizabeth’ in 1998? 

How about the travesty of Stanley Kubrick's brilliant 'A Clockwork Orange' winning no Academy Award at all in 1971 when 'The French Connection' won best picture? 

Francis Ford Coppola loosing best director for ‘The Godfather’ in 1972 to Bob Fosse for 'Cabaret' ? Really? 

I’m far from the only person still simmering over Gwenyth Paltrow winning best actress for ‘Shakespeare in Love’ over Cate Blanchett in ‘Elizabeth’ in 1998. Those are just a few of the numerous glaring examples of the Academy being way out of step.

But ‘Selma’ being snubbed this year takes on a greater significance in light of the focus on the film industry continuing to lag behind television in terms of people of ethnic diversity and women in general being cast in leading or support roles, or having opportunities behind the camera, in the writer's room or in the executive suites of the top entertainment companies.

This year’s actor nominees are the least ethnically diverse in 20 years, but the media spotlight on ‘Selma’ has also brought new attention to a different kind of oversight. One that's much easier to correct.

KKK members march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1979  [Corbis Images]
The fact that the historic 1965 marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama that led to the passage of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act took place over a bridge named for a Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan who was also a Confederate general during the Civil War, seems out of step with current social and historical consciousness.

With the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches bringing this historic event back into the spotlight, in part because of the nation-wide Republican effort to restrict voter rights, a group of students are now leading efforts to rename the Alabama bridge that has become such an important symbol for civil rights and meaningful social change in America.

You can add your voice to this call for change by signing the online petition at that will be sent to the National Parks Service, the governor of Alabama and the mayor of Selma.

Renaming a bridge won't miraculously right past wrongs, or put an immediate halt to Republican efforts to disenfranchise millions of eligible citizens from their right to vote.

But it is an opportunity to honor the legacy of those who fought and sacrificed for the right of all Americans to freely participate in the Democratic process.

US Attorney Nicholas Katzenbach confronts George Wallace
It's also an opportunity for the state of Alabama to evolve its image beyond the legacy of Governor George Wallace defiantly standing on the steps of the University of Alabama (pictured left) in an effort to prevent African-Americans Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling as full-time students in June of 1963. 

Meaningful change rarely happens overnight, or as quickly as many of us would like it to. More often significant progress takes place in small, incremental steps; the kind that can lead to more lasting systematic shifts.

The kinds of changes that history and an evolving American cultural landscape compels both the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and the state of Alabama to make.

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