'Selma' Overlooked at Oscars Because Cast Wore 'I Can't Breathe' Shirts at Premiere, Say Those Involved

As the protests to demonstrate against the killing of George Floyd continue across the U.S., many have been drawing comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s with the 2015 film Selma at the forefront of peoples' minds.

Now actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Martin Luther King Jr in the movie, has said that he and his castmates' support of Black Lives Matter six years ago impacted their chances during the awards season.

The Oscar-nominated film, directed by Ava DuVernay, follows the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by activists James Bevel, Hosea Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis.

Its release occurred not long after the death of black man Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. His last words, "I can't breath," have become a powerful symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement—made even more prevalent by the same final words of Floyd—who died last week after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Speaking on Screen's Screen Talks live Q&A series this week, Oyelowo described how he and his castmates wore t-shirts that read "I can't breath" at the Selma premiere.

"Six years ago, Selma coincided with Eric Garner being murdered. That was the last time we were in a place of 'I Can't Breathe,'" he said.

True story. https://t.co/l7j8EUg3cC

— Ava DuVernay (@ava) June 5, 2020

"I remember at the premiere of Selma us wearing 'I Can't Breathe' T-shirts in protest. Members of the Academy called in to the studio and our producers saying, 'How dare they do that? Why are they stirring s***?' and 'We are not going to vote for that film because we do not think it is their place to be doing that.

"It's part of why that film didn't get everything that people think it should've got and it birthed #OscarsSoWhite."

DuVernay corroborated Oyelowo's story, simply retweeting: "True story."

Oyelowo continued: "They used their privilege to deny a film on the basis of what they valued in the world."

Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo attend the "Selma" premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. Lars Niki/Corbis via Getty Images

The movie's huge ensemble cast also starred Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tessa Thompson, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephan James, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo and André Holland.

Selma received critical acclaim was nominated for best picture and best original song at the Academy Awards that year, with the song "Glory" picking up the accolade. But the 2015 Oscars were criticized for a lack of viersity as all 20 acting nominees were white.

Birdman, starring Michael Keaton won best picture that year, with Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore taking home the best actor and actress accolades for their roles in The Theory of Everything and Still Alice respectively.