David Oyelowo revealed in a new interview that members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science complained about the cast of Selma attending the movie’s premiere wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts to protest Eric Garner’s death.
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’ [a slogan for the movement taken from Garner’s last words before he died at the hands of US police]...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.
Selma’s cast, including director Ava DuVernay, wore the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts at the New York City premiere for the film in 2014. “I think that the next step for us to be able to really articulate our demands,” Oyelowo said at the time, of the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the country. “What is it we want out of this? In Selma, it was voting rights, and now it’s police reform.”
This is not the first time Oyelowo has called out the Academy’s treatment of Selma, which won John Legend and Common an award for Best Original Song but lost for Best Picture that year to Birdman, the only other category it was nominated in. “A year ago, I did a film called ‘Selma,’ and after the Academy Awards, [then President Cheryl Boone Isaacs] invited me to her office to talk about what went wrong then,” he said in 2016, in response to a lack of diversity in Academy nominations. “We had a deep and meaningful [conversation]. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.”