Unlike the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards or Golden Globe Awards, The Academy Awards offered Selma – the biopic detailing the events of the Selma Civil Rights marches of 1965 as seen through the eyes of historical civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – had merely two (2) nominations during the 87th Oscars. One was for Best Picture, which is quite the nomination. The other was Best Song, an important yet historically less prestigious award when compared to the illustrious Best Picture prize. Certainly to the typical nominees in a music category – artists and producers – this award is perhaps their primary concern given their focused passion on music; however, it’s not best film. I say this as an objective outsider who has witnessed many Oscars and listened to the Hollywood culture so readily through my choices of media consumption. In short, Best Picture is largely regarded as the big award of the night; They save the biggest for last.
Does this mean that Selma’s win of Best Song but not Best Film leaves it as a less prestigious film? No. I see the film’s single win in the Best Song category as a definitive acknowledgement of the profundity and power offered by Ava DuVernay’s piece.
People were predictably begrudged, to say the least, when Selma was seemingly snubbed for what seems like an Academy-safe maneuver: Pick the weird, interesting artsy film. ‘Ya’ll’ had your moment last year with 12 Years a Slave. To be honest I’m not even sure of what is the title of that film. This is not to disparage the film, but it is to point out the Selma is memorable as a film not only for its content matter but for its master film making. The King television mini-series was memorable for its content, and the acting not lackluster either. But juxtaposed against Selma, and the film making King – while not horrible most people’s measurements – just does not hold up to the work done in Selma.
So what does this mean. I suspect nearly anyone without a steeled soul who has seen Selma can testify to the emotion that this film evokes. Selma’s uncompromising re-telling of the events preceding and following “Bloody Sunday” facilitated tears in the many who saw the piece, and if the credits rolled as of the last frame of the film it would be no less moving. And yet the photo montage at the end featuring the song “Glory” as performed by ” rapper Common and singer John Legend punctuated and summarized the essence so exactly. From the lyrical truths of Common to the jarring vocals of Legend, the experience was moving. The song was saved for the end of the film, not appearing even to a small degree beforehand. It served to punctuate a poignant and robust experience.
The live rendition of this song at the 2015 Oscars served to underscore how accurately this song captures the power of this film. Standing ovations were organically offered by nearly every person in the room that night. They were not forced by the subject matter or cajoled by the ubiquitous peer pressure to submit to obligatory post-racial guilt. No. They were compelled from the crowd by the unabashed presentation of the film’s message and meaning through the ethereal and emotional spirit of the song itself.
And thus Selma does not need vindication of its’ awe inspiring finesse from the accolade of Best Picture. It is already enshrined and preserved through the chords, lyrics and vocals of Glory, just as the film is itself not dependent on the Academy for praise, but rather dependent on its own truth for the prestige and veneration it deserves because the truth of equality is self-evident.
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