The Academy that hands out the Oscars has said it is “committed to progress” after actor David Oyelowo claimed members said they would not vote for civil rights film Selma after the cast showed support for a black man who died in police custody.
Director Ava DuVernay backed Oyelowo’s statement, saying it was a “true story”.
Stars of the movie, as well as DuVernay, wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “I Can’t Breathe” for Selma’s New York premiere in 2014.
They were the words gasped by Eric Garner, who died after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold in July 2014, months before Selma’s release.
The cast donned the T-shirts over their formal attire and also raised their arms in the “don’t shoot” pose for photographs.
Mr Garner’s case has attracted renewed attention in the wake of George Floyd’s death in similar circumstances which has sparked a wave of protests against police treatment of black people.
British-American actor Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, told Screen Daily that following the cast’s show of support for Mr Garner, Academy members called the studio saying they would not vote for the film at the Oscars.
He said: “I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts in protest. Members of the Academy called in to the studio and our producers saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring S-H-I-T?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that’.
“It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite. They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”
The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Academy Awards, replied to DuVernay, writing: “Ava & David, we hear you. Unacceptable. We’re committed to progress.”
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) June 5, 2020
Selma, which is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, was a huge critical success and earned two Oscar nominations, for best picture and best original song.
It won the latter. That year’s Academy Awards were accused of a lack of diversity after all 20 acting nominees were white.
Many critics argued Oyelowo was unlucky to miss out on a best actor nomination while DuVernay was also seen by many to be deserving of a best director nod.