Monday, January 19, 2015

The 'Selma' Controversy And What It Says About Race In America

The Oscars this year are mired in controversy.

Many blacks involved in the industry (and others whom aren't)are highly upset that this years' nominees in the major categories are all white. And especially that  there weren't any Oscar nominations for director Ava DuVernay or lead actor David Oyelowo for the motion picture 'Selma'.

The new, trendy hashtag is #Oscarstoowhite, and of course, the cause has to be racism, since obviously blacks have never been nominated for Academy Awards, let alone won.

Much is also being made of the lack of diversity in the Academy and the film industry in general, even though the Academy's President is this woman,Cheryl Boone Isaacs:

She happens to be black, of course, but that doesn't matter. Never mind that she worked her way up through the ranks at Paramount to a position of Executive Vice President of a major division in the company, has a decades long career of accomplishment, has worked on a number of huge box office hits and was even inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame last year.

She's obviously just a token the industry put up there to cover for its racism. Because that's what serves the narrative just now.

Being that her role has a large public relations component, Ms. Boone Isaacs made the expected remarks about how Hollywood is seeking increased diversity in an attempt to call the dogs off, and it remains to be seen how well that works. But the fact that this became controversial at all shows us that as usual, a nation's popular culture reflects what's really going on.

What we're seeing here, essentially, is an attempt at special, race-based pleading. That's especially ironic in view of the who the film at the center of the controversy, 'Selma' is supposed to be lionizing.

So let's take a look at the film in question.

'Selma' is purportedly a film about the famous civil rights march in Alabama by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his allies, which included a number of whites, particularly Jews, whom also were instrumental in creating and financing the entire civil rights movement.

The actual founders of the NAACP were whites Mary White Ovington, journalist William English Walling, Henry Moskowitz, and black lecturer and author W.E.B. Dubois. Jewish leaders as Jacob Schiff, Jacob Billikopf, and Rabbi Stephen Wise served prominently on the organization's board. Kivie Kaplan, a vice-chairman of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations actually served as the national president of the NAACP from 1966 to 1975

Another Jew, Stanley Levison was one of Dr.King's closest advisers and his speechwriter. And the key funder of civil rights organizations, among many others, was Julius Rosenwald, chairman of Sears Roebuck. Aside from his major contributions to civil rights organizations, twenty black colleges (including Howard, Dillard and Fisk universities) were established in whole or in part with his money.

And the Jews were definitely on the receiving end of racial violence because of their championing of civil rights.

In just a single year, from November 1957 through October 1958, synagogues and other Jewish communal centers were bombed in Atlanta, Nashville, Jack­sonville, and Miami, and undetonated dynamite was found under synagogues in Birmingham, Charlotte, and Gastonia, North Carolina. Out of the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964 for registering black voters, the incident portrayed on the screen in the film ' Mississippi Burning,' two of them, Michael Schwerner and An­drew Goodman, were Jews.

Without that help, the civil rights movement would have been delayed and possibly much less successful than it ultimately was for quite some time.

There were a lot of whites in Selma for the march that day, whom put their bodies on the line and faced the same brutality.

For instance the bearded man on your right next to Dr. King is Rabbi Abraham Heschel, one of King's chief supporters, who was by his side during the entire march. But you would never know that from watching "Selma."

Not only is he not mentioned or even pictured in the film he is literally erased, and so are Dr. King's other white allies, particularly Jews. And so is their role in what led up to Selma and to the march itself.

The film is deliberately slanted to avoid the reality. Instead of allies, almost all whites in the film are portrayed as demonic racists or cheering on the brutalizing of blacks at worse or as very occasional window dressing or tepid fence sitters at best, noticeably then-President Lyndon Johnson.

Ava DuVernay, the film's director openly told Rolling Stone in an interview that this was deliberate. “I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie,” she said.

So instead, she turned it into a racialist tome, even admitting to changing the script to portray LBJ as an obstructionist rather than the ally of King and the civil rights movement he actually was. And that's basically the entire view of the film. Rather than showing how decent people of all races united to defeat evil, it features graphic scenes of white on black violence and shows black triumph over the Evil Whites in a racialist scenario.

So, did 'Selma' rate any Academy Award nominations? Maybe, maybe not. But it definitely wasn't entitled to any Oscar nominations simply on the basis of the race of its director and lead actors, which is exactly what those angry at the Academy and its 7,000 members are livid about.

What's even worse and what bothers me the most is the film's hypocritical stance. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. devoted his entire life and ultimately sacrificed it for the idea that blacks and whites could live together in peace, and that people could be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

A film like 'Selma' could have been a tool to help that dream along and bring people of all races together, something that's badly needed just now.Instead, it was deliberately crafted to push people further apart along racial lines, and perhaps even to justify in some of its audience's eyes the current epidemic of black on white violence.

I'm sure that stance on the film didn't occur to most of the Academy voters minds, at least not consciously. And certainly no mainstream film critic would dare say it in today's hyper- racialized climate.

But that was indeed the message of the film 'Selma', and I'll leave it to you to decide whether it rates any kind of award.

Res ipsa loquitur...the thing speaks for itself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have not seen Selma. Not really interested in seeing it. I know some history ad know of copurse that LBJ was very involved in bringing about integration and, even remarked upon signing the legislation that the Dems had just lost the South.

What annoys me a bit, though, is the absence in history of Harry Truman's help. It was Truman who integrated the armed forces in 1950 --years before the nation integrated--and thus showed that integration could be done.

I had served twice in our army. Once when it was segregated, and then, called back for the Korean War, when it was integrated.