David Oyelowo Says Some Oscar Voters Snubbed Selma After Cast Wore 'I Can't Breathe' Shirts

"It's part of why that film didn't get everything that people think it should've got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite," said actor David Oyelowo, who starred in the 2014 film

The Academy Awards, which has long been criticized over the lack of diversity among its nominees, has responded after actor David Oyelowo said that some members didn’t vote for Selma after the cast and crew protested against police brutality.

In a new interview, Oyelowo, who portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 2014 film, said the film was snubbed after many associated with the film wore "I Can’t Breathe" shirts to the film’s New York premiere, which took place one day after a march protesting against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two unarmed black men who were killed by police officers.

“Six years ago, Selma coincided with Eric Garner being murdered. That was the last time we were in a place of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts in protest,” Oyelowo, 44, told Screen Daily. “Members of the Academy called in to the studio and [said to] our producers saying, ‘How dare they do that? Why are they stirring s---?’ and ‘We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.’ ”

Selma cast
Selma actors and filmmakers at the New York City premiere of the film.

“It’s part of why that film didn’t get everything that people think it should’ve got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite,” he continued. “They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world.”

Selma received two Academy Award nominations in 2015, one for Best Picture and one for Best Original Song. Both Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay, who would have become the first black woman nominated in the Best Director category, were snubbed. That year, all 20 acting nominees were white.

DuVernay was quick to back up Oyelowo’s account of what happened. “True story,” she wrote on Twitter, alongside a link to the interview.

Hours later, the Academy responded, saying that the actions of some of its members was “unacceptable.”

“Ava & David, we hear you. Unacceptable. We’re committed to progress,” they wrote in a statement shared on social media.

After #OscarsSoWhite first began trending in 2015, the Academy has made strides to diversify its voting body, inviting a record 683 new members the following year.

That year, the Academy also promised to double the diversity of its members by 2020 by adding 500 non-white members and 1,500 female members in the next five years.

However, the Academy has still struggled with issues of diversity. When nominations for the most recent ceremony were first announced in January, Variety noted that there are only five black nominees, representing a three-year low for the awards show.

Ahead of the ceremony, actress Cynthia Erivo, who was the sole nominee of color in all acting categories, spoke out about how changes still needed to be implemented.

“It feels a bit like I’ve got a responsibility to represent all the people of color who have done incredible work this year,” she told Variety. “I want hopefully for this to serve as an example as to why we need to start celebrating people of color as well — really paying attention to how we vote for them and how we vote for the people who are nominated. We need to see some changes."

Updated by
Maria Pasquini

Associate Editor, Human Interest - PEOPLE

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