Director Ava DuVernay delivered a wakeup call for me as I found myself stuck in a #OscarsSoWhite funk over the lack of recognition she deserved for Selma. If my attitude was ignited over Selma’s snub (the best picture nomination, while good was overshadowed by non-recognition of the directorial triumphs of DuVernay and David Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. King), it was stoked by this interesting historical look at Oscars struggle to celebrate diverse storytelling created by Bard Edlund.
I loved how Ava DuVernay put the whole Oscar controversy into perspective.
When we get to the statues and the patting each other on the back it isn’t as important as the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act is violent and ongoing and very much an emergency.”
Today is a rainy Oscar day, and because I live in Southern California this means I will not be traversing the L.A. freeways today. Since I am stuck in the house enjoying the rain with some coffee, music, the New York times and some books (the perfect rainy day set up), I will not be watching the Oscars tonight. I see Hollywood as a monolithic institution that has not challenged itself to innovate, grow, or change. The other day I heard that the Oscar producers, in a gesture mindful of “optics” (corporate speak for lip service), wanted us all to know they will be featuring people of color in presenter roles during the broadcast. Ok, that’s nice, I will not be buying.
What I appreciate about Ava DuVernay during this Oscar journey is that this was not all about her. We have made it that way in making this a story about how she was snubbed, but during this process she has been mindful of bringing others into the spotlight in a selfless way that I have truly found refreshing. In her depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. and Selma she also chose to tell the story of the people around him.
A good leader knows how to “amplify” the people around them. In every video I have seen of her she has chosen to highlight others, one of which was cinematographer Bradford Young, who DuVernay has worked with in both of her feature films. Young’s eye is such a great complement to DuVernay’s vision. That level of creative synergy was beautiful to see develop. Young’s use of shadow and light is incredibly stunning and is equally strong in static and dynamic contexts.
The work that Young did for MGMT’s video for Cool Song #2 is some of the best work I have seen in a music video. Young’s simple comment on his evocative process: “I like to fill the frame with heads. I use faces as landscapes, as architecture. That always feels like the right place to start.” He has a way of capturing intense emotion with his close crops and subtle yet strong use of lighting. It was a characteristic of the film that I have remembered long after seeing Selma.
For more on DuVernay’s thoughts on the Oscars and Hollywood’s Diversity problem including those who are actively trying to change it, check out this piece by Democracy Now.