Oscar voters vowed not to support Selma because of cast's 'I can't breathe' shirts, David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay say

David Oyelowo and Ava Duvernay attend the 3rd annual National Day of Racial Healing on January 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California
(Image credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Oscar voters surprisingly didn't show much love for Selma in 2015, and Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo have an idea of what might have held it back.

Oyelowo, who starred as Martin Luther King Jr. in DuVernay's critically-acclaimed film, in an interview this week described how after DuVernay and the Selma cast wore "I can't breathe" shirts in support of Eric Garner at the movie's premiere, the studio received complaints from Academy voters who pledged they wouldn't support it at the awards.

"I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing 'I Can't Breathe' T-shirts in protest," Oyelowo told Screen International. "Members of the Academy called in to the studio and our producers saying, 'How dare they do that? Why are they stirring sh-t'? and 'We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.'"

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Oyelowo added that the protest is "part of why that film didn't get everything that people think it should've got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite." DuVernay backed up Oyelowo's account on Twitter, writing, "True story."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded to the story by tweeting, "Ava & David, we hear you. Unacceptable. We're committed to progress."

Though Selma was nominated for Best Picture in 2015, its only other nomination was Best Original Song, an award it went on to win. Oyelowo unexpectedly didn't get a Best Actor nod, nor did DuVernay get nominated for Best Director. The Academy has long faced criticism over the lack of diversity of its nominees, especially the year Oyelowo was snubbed, when no actors of color were nominated at all.

"The Academy has a problem," Oyelowo said in 2015. "It's a problem that needs to be solved."

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.