We’re all used to celebrities starting their awards acceptance speeches with some variation on the “I didn’t expect this” theme. But Ava DuVernay says she’s not surprised (unlike the rest of us) that she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. She says she really and truly was not expecting to be the first black woman to receive a Best Director nomination.
“It would be lovely,” she told EW… “When it happens to whomever it happens to, it will certainly have meaning.” But it would not be her. “This is not me being humble, either,” she said. “It’s math.”
The reason, she said, was simple networking. The nominations come from within specific branches. Every Academy member votes for every award, but only a director can nominate a director. And DuVernay says she “[knows] not one person in [her] branch.” Part of that may be due to her being a relative newcomer to the directing game. Of course, it might also have something to do with the overwhelmingly skewed demographics of the Academy. It was revealed in 2012 that of the members of the directors branch, 91% are male and 90% are white. Not that a white male would never vote for a black woman, but, in general, in every field, we go with what we know. We don’t like to branch out. Just look at pretty much any study ever done on the way race and gender affect hiring practices.
Cheryl Boone-Isaacs, the Academy’s current president (who also happens to be the first African American to hold the position), recently told the New York Times,
We are committed to do our part to ensure diversity in the industry. We are making great strides, and I personally wish it was moving quicker, but I think the commitment is there and we will continue to make progress.Basically, we’re really into diversity, but let’s not push it, okay? One anonymous Academy voter told EW, “The Academy loves to be liberal. But they like to be nice and comfortably liberal.”
Other members also opened up (anonymously, presumably on account of not wanting to be called for their close-minded bullshittery) on the reasons why they didn’t vote to nominate Selma:
“It’s almost like because she is African-American, we should have made her one of the nominees,” says one member. “I think that’s racist. Look at what we did last year with 12 Years.”Yup, the cinematic equivalent of I can’t be racist, I have a black friend. Along with this gem:
“[The filmmakers] misrepresented history with the way LBJ was presented,” says a member of the actors’ branch. “They had an obligation to present it correctly and they didn’t.”Which, as EW points out, is hard to imagine would still be an argument if the film had been directed by Spielberg. Of course, we can’t know that for sure. But we do know that Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything and American Sniper all played fast and loose with their accuracy and are still being honored within the Academy.
Vivian Kane supposes you could have seen Selma and just not thought it was that good, but then she really doesn’t know what to do with you.