Editorial: King, 'Selma' and a conflict of perspectives

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/18/2015 1:01 AM
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  • The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the march on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963.

    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the march on Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963. Associated Press File Photo

Let's start with something that seems a little trivial -- the controversy that blew up last week over this year's Academy Award nominations.

"Selma" is an excellent movie. There's almost universal agreement on that, and its Best Picture nomination reflects that.

But there's a certain rule of thumb in the Oscar competition: If a movie's director isn't nominated, the movie itself almost certainly won't win on Oscar night.

Instead, the movie's viewed as being in a sort of second tier of Best Picture nominees -- the ones not to be taken seriously.

When the list of nominations came out Thursday morning, "Selma" was on that second tier. Nominated for Best Picture, but passed over for Best Director and Best Actor.

Let's keep in mind that every year, there are debates about who and what the Academy left off. It's not a perfect science. (We have yet to get over Tom Hanks being snubbed last year!)

But let's keep in mind also: None of us, not even the artists in Hollywood, view these things in a vacuum. We all bring our own biases and prejudices to them. And as importantly, our own perspectives.

Consider if a movie were made that glorified terrorists. No matter how well the movie was made artistically and technically, could any of us seriously consider it for an award?

We don't view these things in a vacuum. We bring our perspectives to them.

If you are white, it is easy to watch "Selma" and to marvel at it. To feel aghast at the overt prejudice and violence of the time and to wonder how the world could have been like that. To be inspired by the heroism it portrayed. But in the end, you are apt to view it as a movie.

And when it gets passed over for Oscar nominations, if you are white, it is natural to say: "There were a lot of great movies this year and more great performances than slots to be nominated. It's a shame, but somebody had to be left off." It is natural to say that if you are white. Because you saw a movie. That's your perspective.

If you are black, "Selma" is more than a movie. "Selma" is your story. It is your heritage. It is a generational struggle, the suffering of discrimination, the courage to overcome, the hope for a better future. It is more than a movie.

And when it gets passed over for Oscar nominations, if you are black, the affront feels deep and personal and intentional. It is natural to feel that if you are black. Because you saw your story. That's your perspective.

As we reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., whom we honor with a federal holiday Monday, let's understand that divide.

It's not just a divide over a movie. It's the divide in Ferguson. It's the divide between wealth and poverty. The divide between management and labor. The divide between languages, between genders, between sexual orientations, between cultures, between faiths, between ages.

If we are to come together as people, if we are to build a just world, if we are to realize The Dream, we have to start by better understanding that we come from different perspectives.

And to strive actively to understand the perspectives of others.

It's not just about a movie. It's about the divide.

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