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Congratulations to Ava Duvernay for not being nominated for an Oscar. Mainstream award shows have never been a good judge of African American art and African American artists should not expect or desire recognition from them.

Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, recognized as two of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, never won a Grammy. The Grammys did not even have a category for “Best Hip-Hop Album” when hip-hop groups and artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Nas were putting out classic albums like Low End Theory and Illmatic. Although The Wire – which had a predominantly African American cast – is recognized by critics as the “best TV show ever,” while it was on the air, it was never nominated for an Emmy.

The Oscars have a long tradition of slighting African American directors, putting Ava Duvernay in good company. Robert Townsend’s classic film The Five Heartbeats did not receive any Oscar nominations at all. Spike Lee, who had a string of classic movies considered timeless by critics, has only been nominated for an Oscar twice – once for “Best Screenplay” (Do The Right Thing in 1990), and again in 1998 for “Best Documentary,” (Four Little Girls).

Spike Lee’s most memorable film Do The Right Thing was not nominated for “Best Film.” Still, unlike the other films that were nominated in 1990, including Driving Miss Daisy which won for “Best Picture,” Do The Right Thing is recognized by the AFI as being one of the 100 greatest American movies. Obviously, the effect that Do The Right Thing has had on American culture and the way it has stood the test of time far outweighs the impact of any statue or award.

Spike Lee’s classic film Mo’ Better Blues did not receive any Oscar nominations at all, despite brilliant performances by Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, and one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. Instead, movies like The Godfather III, which is largely regarded as a horrible movie that tainted the franchise, and forgettable movies like Dance With Wolves and Awakenings were nominated.

Dances With Wolves won seven Oscars that year, but in terms of the test of time has not had the impact of Spike Lee’s films, which were not nominated at all. Jungle Fever, yet another timeless Spike Lee classic, did not receive any Oscar nominations even though it boasted brilliant performances by Samuel Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, on top of incredible music by Stevie Wonder.

Ava Duvernay’s Selma and its lead actor David Oyelowo are in good company with Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, if we’re discussing epic movies about African American leaders that were snubbed by the Oscars. Unlike Selma, Malcolm X wasn’t even nominated for “Best Film,” not to mention both Ava Duvernay and Spike Lee were both snubbed in the “Best Director” category.

It’s hard not to compare David Oyelowo’s performance in Selma to Denzel Washington’s performance in Malcolm X. While it may be near impossible to capture Martin Luther King Jr.’s charisma as a public figure, Oyelowo did something very few actors have done when portraying epic historical characters – he humanized him.

Although Washington was nominated for “Best Actor” for Malcolm X, he lost to Al Pacino, who won for a forgettable performance in Scent Of A Woman. Still, his performance as Malcolm X may be the greatest work of his career, far better than his performance in Training Day, which did win him an Oscar.

So, congratulations to Ava Duvernay for joining great directors like Spike Lee and Robert Townsend in getting snubbed by the Oscars, and congratulations to David Oyelowo on joining great actors like Denzel Washington, Samuel Jackson, and Wesley Snipes in getting snubbed as well.

The true reward of a great film is the impact it has on people and society. So, if you want to reward Ava and Daniel make sure your friends and family members watch Selma – not just today, but tomorrow, next year, and forever. Show it to your children and your grandchildren, and years from now no one will care that Ava and Daniel were not nominated for Oscars.

Casey Gane


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