Black Hollywood got to celebrate an awards triumph for Selma Wednesday night in Los Angeles—even if the whitest Oscars since 1998 is still weeks away.
In what’s likely to be a rarity given the Oscar odds against them, director Ava DuVernay raised a Best Picture trophy triumphantly alongside producer Oprah Winfrey and star David Oyelowo when the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic took home Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director from the African American Film Critics Association.
In fact, in its sixth annual iteration the black critics played host to what might be the most diverse lineup of Hollywood players to gather in the midst of the least diverse Oscar season in decades.
Or as Tyler Perry put it as he received the Best Supporting Actor award for his non-drag, non-Madea role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl: “This room represents a group of people who were shut out and decided to do it for themselves.” (Perry tied for the honor with Whiplash’s J.K. Simmons.)
Even embattled Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal, who caught heat and had to apologize publicly when hacked emails exposed a racist email exchange about President Obama in December, showed up to fete old pal Stephanie Allain, the producer of films Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and Beyond The Lights.
The two met decades ago when Amy Pascal was an exec at 20th Century Fox. “I didn’t last very long at Fox,” she quipped. “I worked for Scott Rudin. And since you all know about my relationship with Scott Rudin you can imagine how much fun that was.” Allain, she said, found a script called Boyz n the Hood “and decided we were going to make it.” The rest was history.
Said Allain: “Amy Pascal held the door open for me so I could hold it for others.”
If the Oscars are 94 percent white and 76 percent male, the African American critics turned the tables, if just for one night. It was so antithetical to the lavish telecast coming to the Dolby Theater later this month that actress-singer Salli Richardson kicked off the awards show performing an excerpt of her own tribute bioplay about Lena Horne and her struggles to carve out a showbiz career for herself despite Hollywood’s institutionalized racism and need to define her by the color of her skin.
Let’s see the Oscars tackle that pickle of a hot topic this year.
While we’re at it, consider the gauntlet thrown for repping diversity this awards season. Over half of this year’s AAFCA awardees were female, while special honors went to Universal chairman Donna Langley, The Princess Diaries’ Debra Martin Chase, and veteran producer and LA Film Fest head Stephanie Allain.
The Selma crew wasn’t the only one with high profile snubs on the brain. Oscar omissions were on people’s minds with the celebs who crossed the dais as well. “Life Itself did deserve an Oscar nomination,” shouted Chaz Ebert, the publisher-wife of the late, great Roger Ebert. The film criticism documentary nabbed top doc honors. “AAFCA you got it right.”
Presenter John Singleton, too, went off-script to chide the Academy as he introduced Best Actor winner David Oyelowo. ‘This actor was well deserving of an Academy Award nomination for his performance. And a BAFTA. What David brought to this role was something very few actors could, in the sense that he made King a man – not an icon, not a martyr… he humanized King, he showed his strengths, his candor, and his faults.”
After unloading on the Academy mere days ago for rewarding black performers "when we are subservient; when we are not being leaders or kings or in the center of our own narrative driving it forward,” Brit thesp Oyelowo took a safer tack in his long, emotional speech Tuesday night. “When God told me I was going to play this role in July of 2007, before anyone else felt like I should play the role, the panic I had was very real that there would be a lot of African-Americans annoyed at me,” he said. “I have been so embraced by you, so loved, so encouraged by you. Thank you so much for that.”
Selma director DuVernay, the former publicist turned director who tangled with Lyndon Johnson supporters on Twitter and has weathered the microscopic lens of awards season with grace and grit, pointed out that even the unlucky road to Oscar has so far been conspicuously, well, white.
“Having gone on this award season trip, we have been in rooms where no one looked like us except us. Boyhood just kills us every time,” she sighed with a bittersweet smile. “God bless Boyhood.”