Dear Black People: It's Okay To Be Mad Selma Was Snubbed By The Academy

Ava Duvernay (Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Ava Duvernay (Rob Kim/Getty Images)

In the next month, you will hear, read, and possibly even talk about how Selma was largely shut out of this year's Academy Awards. While the film was nominated for Best Picture — a category that has nine nominees and makes you wonder if Selma was placed there just so we'd shut up about it not being placed anywhere else — director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, cinematographer Bradford Young, and others whose work on the film merited recognition from the Academy, received no nominations.

SelmaIntersteller and Gone Girl were the only films I saw this year that received any type of Oscar buzz. So, while I did not see Foxcatcher or Boyhood or Birdman or any of the rest of this year's Academy darlings, I'm sure the people who worked on those films deserve the recognition they've received. Feeling sore about Selma does not mean I believe it (and the people attached to it) was more deserving than the people who received more recognition. It just would have been great if they (Selma) — and, by extension, we — received it too.

In the next month, you will also hear and read some arguments about why none of this matters. That things like Oscar nominations don't mean shit. Some of these arguments will be framed with a racial lens ("Why are we always so pressed for White recognition? We need to recognize our own work."). Some will be cloaked with apathy ("Awards don't matter anyway. Recognition doesn't pay any bills.").


And they will all be full of shit.

I get it, though. A common way of coping with disappointment is to act as if the thing you're disappointed about never really mattered much in the first place. You often see it when guys get rejected by women they're interested in ("Well, I didn't really want your ugly-ass phone number anyway.") or when an athlete loses a big game ("I mean, it was just another game."). When I taught, I often saw it with kids who were struggling to understand certain subjects. Instead of admitting they needed help, they just pretended they didn't care about school. Some of us have adopted the same attitude when it comes to being recognized for our work, where we're so used to not receiving it that we convince ourselves it doesn't matter.

Do not let these people fool you. Recognition does matter. It does make a difference when you labor over and produce a quality product and your peers actually notice. And it is okay — shit, it's fucking human — to acknowledge that. In Selma's case, it does matter that Ava DuVernay wasn't nominated for Best Director. Because she would have been the first Black woman to receive that honor. Although people don't still read almanacs, textbooks, and encyclopedias, that's the type of shit that makes it into almanacs, textbooks, and encyclopedias. It means more visibility, more work, and more opportunities for Black women (and men) to direct and produce films their own films. Which means more Black actors and actresses and directors and cinematographers and grips and production assistants and security firms and caterers would find work. It's okay to be upset about that. It's okay to be upset that Selma joins the list with Malcolm X and Fruitvale Station and other great films produced, directed by, and starring Black people that were largely ignored by the Academy. It's cool to not be cool about that.

Because, while feigning apathy might have some short-term, face-saving benefits, if you pretend you don't care long enough, if you continue to act like credit doesn't matter, people will believe you. And then, something worse will happen. You'll believe you too.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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Sarita Alexander

Should it have swept the nominations? Yes. Did I even once think it would? Nope. I'm not feigning apathy, I'm being honest. This is hollywood. Black ppl are nominated when they fit the boxes assigned to them. They win with the worst roles. drug addict? prostitute? slave? they'll win. A movie about black ppl that doesn't have a white savior coming to the rescue will not get awards. I'm more concerned that we award and support our own for their outstanding work.