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The Contenders

A conversation with David Oyelowo

The acting genius is circumspect about Black Hollywood this awards season


Kindly allow David Oyelowo to be cautious.

It’s encouraging to see the bevy of projects coming out this quarter, filled with fully rounded and complex characters of color with layers, positioning themselves to be considered for one of Hollywood’s top prizes.

It is.

But actor Oyelowo has seen it before. About three years ago, Hollywood was patting itself on the back considering that compelling films such as The Butler, Fruitvale Station, 12 Years A Slave and a Nelson Mandela biopic were a signal to — we hoped – a better, far more diverse film community, box office — and thusly — awards season. Didn’t exactly turn out that way.

In 2014, the British Oyelowo remarkably transformed himself into perhaps the greatest American civil rights leader of all time, Martin Luther King Jr., in Ava DuVernay’s Selma, and Hollywood failed to recognize his efforts with an Academy Award nomination. On the day of the announcements, #OscarsSoWhite dominated the social media space, chiefly because of it.

Ditto for this year. And now here we are again — with a number of black actors, directors and producers creating top-notch film content. How this all shakes out remains to be seen. And that’s why Oyelowo is being … well, judicious.

“I think it’s a great thing, of course, but we’ve got to be careful … we don’t misread the moment we’re in,” he said. “There’s the lack of consistency … based on the fact that not enough people whose perspectives reflect the society are in positions of power. So we struggle for years. A United Kingdom, that was six years of a struggle. Selma, seven years of a struggle. I was there for The Butler and how many producers it took to cobble that film together — no studio trying to make that movie. That’s what’s amazing about Disney making Queen of Katwe and the other films that are coming out. But what we have to be careful of is that we don’t then get apathetic and think … things have changed. They haven’t.”

We chat.

Liner Notes

This video was produced by Lois Nam.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.