Corvese ’15: The Oscars should matter for Brown students

Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

At its core, Brown is a diverse community of creators. Plays, experiments, computer code — everyone here makes something. Though most of us create out of passion, it’s not selfish to expect recognition for work every once in a while.

I’m sure Hollywood’s denizens feel similarly. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the nominees for the 2015 Oscar Awards. Many of the Best Picture nominees also received nominations for Best Director, including Richard Linklater for “Boyhood,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “Birdman” and Wes Anderson for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

We can’t say the same for Ava DuVernay, the director of “Selma.” Though her Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic earned a Best Picture nomination, her name was curiously missing from the Best Director list. Had she been nominated, DuVernay would have been the first black female director to receive the honor. Likewise, there was no acting nomination for David Oyelowo, who plays King.

The overall stats for this year’s Oscars are unsettling. Five Best Director nominees, all men. Twenty Actor and Actress nominees, all white. And who comprises the prestigious Academy itself? It is 77 percent male and 94 percent white. Full disclosure: I’ve yet to see “Selma,” but if the growing outrage from critics is any indication, DuVernay and Oyelowo’s exclusions are unacceptable.

The snubs are startling to those fighting for equal representation in the film industry, and they should startle Brown students as well. Brown may lack a more traditional film program like those at New York University or University of Southern California, but there are plenty of devoted students behind rented cameras and deep in the editing labs crafting their own film education. I know from firsthand experience that the pool of aspiring filmmakers is not as homogeneous as the Academy would have us believe. We should not settle for an industry that refuses to recognize talented filmmakers just because they tell stories about characters other than white guys.

I might not watch the Oscars Feb. 22 — potential homework or midterms aside, I don’t have cable — but that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore them. As superficial as the star-studded, red-carpeted event may seem, it’s responsible for establishing our cultural canon, the list of films a cinephile should consider to be the best. Right now, the people making those films and pictured within them look awfully uncharacteristic of the society filling the theater seats.

Rather than discourage us, the unfortunate Oscar spread should motivate us to challenge the status quo. This task may seem daunting, and an award show interruption — a la Kanye West shutting down Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards — would be more laughable than laudable.

First, we must recognize our internal privileges and biases that might affect what we consume and how we feel. Snubs like those faced by the cast and crew of “Selma” stem from much more than intentional ostracism. Ultimately, we must create. We must learn from as many people as we can, not just those whose faces appear most often on our screens.

And what about those who won’t be shooting, producing or starring in a film? Engage with the work of your peers. Watch and listen to stories outside of blockbuster scripts. Maybe some of us will even be members of the Academy some day — all reasons to try to succeed where they failed.

Even if our names don’t end up in lights, our creations can still have influence. The depictions in “Selma” of fights for justice chillingly mirror the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests across the nation. The movie inspired community events such as a private screening hosted in early January by the Providence branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Rhode Island Coalition of 100 Black Women. And in New York, 27,000 tickets were made available for middle and high school students to see the film for free. “Selma” is important. Cinema is important.

That being said, our university is no revolutionary utopia free of all forms of discrimination. An illusion of pure meritocracy masks the barriers faced by many students at the end of high school, raising questions about the fairness of our accepted student body. In December, The Herald reported on racism at Brown, documenting experiences of prejudice that affect students, staff members and faculty members despite our school’s welcoming progressive aura. Brown’s community is not perfect, so we all must become aware of problems inside and out in order to evoke necessary change.

“Selma” is currently playing at the Providence Place Cinema downtown. Instead of taking your friends out for drinks this weekend, perhaps a movie night is due.

Gabriella Corvese is a former Opinions editor and can be reached at

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  1. TheRationale says:

    Does anyone actually watch these?

  2. “I might not watch the Oscars Feb. 22 — potential homework or midterms aside, I don’t have cable”

    The oscars are on ABC. No cable required.

  3. stoplyin7722 says:

    Re : “Full disclosure: I’ve yet to see ‘Selma,’ but if the growing outrage
    from critics is any indication, DuVernay and Oyelowo’s exclusions are

    You haven’t seen the movie, but even if you had, you are in no position to judge whether it deserved a nomination for directing. This applies to other critics as well. People who actually direct movies for a living judge them using more technical criteria than somebody who doesn’t.

    The movie did not receive a directing nomination from the Director’s Guild or the BAFTAs either (British Oscars).

    In my opinion, this whole “I was snubbed” is just marketing for the movie. The director owned a public relations firm before she became a director.

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